A couple dozen or so people rode down to the Gates last evening for the “soft” opening of Burning Man 2011.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the gates to the city don’t open until midnight on Sunday night of the event. Buuuuut, for the last couple of years, there has in fact been an unofficial official opening, when the powers that be have said that it’s time to let folks in and get those lines moving.
There are already a LOT of people here; as of about 2pm on Monday, there were officially 15,431 people in Black Rock City. That number is not an exact one: it’s the average of the population in the past 24 hours, so we can assume that there are at least several thousand more than that here now.
Most of those here have early arrival passes, so they can set up their camps and their art. But as of last night at 6:30, all were welcome.
Gerbil was one shift commander at the Gate last evening, and he popped up on top of a container, waved his arms, and the influx commenced. Many people had been waiting in line for hours already, but in general the mood was festive.
Many of the Gate workers were wearing clown makeup. Why was that? “You don’t want to f— with a clown,” MissFit said. Gerbil had another explanation: “It’s a f— circus out here!”
Still, working the gate is a tough task. You have to be friendly, but firm. You have to get a look at the tickets, but more importantly maybe, you have to check to make sure that there isn’t any contraband being smuggled into the city, humans included.
And not everyone about to begin their Burn is in the greatest mood. “I had one guy calling me a ….” Vasha was saying. And she wasn’t alone in her complaints about rough treatment.
One Gate worker’s playa name explains it all: it’s Kiosk. And they earned the name when they were pinned between a car and a kiosk.
Later last night, around midnight, a much larger group of BRC residents went down to the Gates to welcome the new arrivals. There were bullhorns and beers and rolling in the dust as the “official” Opening Night party got underway.
Either way, early or late, it’s really official now: It has begun!
These folks were first in line when the Gates opened. They had early arrival passes, too.
Gerbil climbed up onto a container, waved his arms, and the gates opened.
These two bicycled their way to Black Rock, he from Memphis (!!!), she from Reno. They met up in Gerlach and pedaled the rest of the way together.
Vehicles moved from one staging area to another as they made their way closer to the entrance.
It’s hot, it’s dusty, and tempers can be short. It’s not an easy shift down at the Gate.
Vasha has had her share of rough encounters with people waiting to get into the city.
They had left at 1 am the previous morning. What took so long to arrive in Black Rock? “We were having too much fun!”
A bus full of people from the Bay Area made it through the gates.
Sean works the Gate, and he’s a Black Rock Ranger, too.
Just for the record, that’s not a real laser.
MissFit was one of many people in clown makeup at the gate for the evening shift. “Who’s going to f— with a clown?” she asked.
The first vehicles made their way into the city after the “soft” opening.
After an hour or so, there was only one person left in the viewing stands.
John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since.
I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University.
I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.