A dust storm Sunday night at dinner came on like a monolithic white swirling entity with enough force to sand blast the surface of Mars and the huge Commissary tent where we ate creaked and shivered. You could hear the plywood walls out back straining against buckling as the Commissary crew and us ran into the white out to tighten straps and ropes, attempting to keep her from launching. Brad, the drink Man from Spectrum said he’d rushed out to the kitchen tents to keep them in place.
Afterward, as always, those pounding white walls of grit cleared like passing phantoms and glorious towering clouds hung over the mountain range to the west, moving slowly in the darkening sky into a long twilight of infinite sunsets.
And the Commissary cleaned up.
Much has been most eloquently written of the DPW by Mr. Curley who’s captured the spirit and tenacity, the skill and true steel forged strength of these roughnecks who build Black Rock City and also the raising of the Commissary Tent. I can attest, after being here as DPW is setting up structure after structure in the 100 plus degree heat, working hard to set up the template upon which you will bring your insanity, that they do, indeed, deserve your beer.
However, I’ve been hanging out at the Commissary, helping Mr. Barcoderino and Sgt. Slaughter set up meal databases and meeting Hayseed’s crew of 10 or so people plus the Spectrum folks who are doing the cooking and they’re all actually also pretty baddass.
Hayseed runs the Commissary and this year he’s got his Tunnel of Love, a container packed with rows of sinks that carries the motto, “A Kinder, Gentler Commissary 2012: Don’t Make Hayseed Yell, WASH YOUR HANDS”. This is his mantra and he’s all about keeping things sanitary to avoid any unpleasantness that could occur when you land a small advance group of settlers ahead of the wagon trains you know are headed your way that, once they arrive will change life forever, or at least for a week.
The Commissary crew arrives a few days before the full DPW and sets up the floor, kitchen and other food infrastructure and then DPW helps them get their massive tent up. They feed the DPW during set up who, without them, may well be living on a lot of beef jerky. Commissary also spends four days tearing down and MOOPing. Hayseed was pleased to tell me the Commissary was “green on the MOOP map last year” which is always a good thing.
Von Solo has been here the longest at 7 years acting as Tent Master and Facilities Manager.
They like to say they’re working out here too, but in a hot kitchen.
During the meal service the door folks scan laminates or check other means of meal pogs and they really enjoy when people acknowledge them there. They tell me it’s always good to get a smile or a hello and I’ve sat there watching our colorful cast of characters filter in, bright eyed and ready for the day at breakfast and tired as hell after a long day at dinner. The superheroes working the check-in table can be Sylkia, Shoshi, Wendy, Pamela, Sarah Ann, Mama Lo or other volunteers. Ezra, aka Gravyfoot, DJs meals and he, Von, Yeshua and PI Joe are sentinels of the recycling and compost bins, watching every person as they sort their post meal stuff into the proper containers and intercepting noobish misplacement of throw aways.
Hayseed runs a tight ship and is pretty much beloved by his crew. Last night he was dancing up front to “YMCA” and the people leaving were drawn like moths to a flame to dance with him, and as it is with meals everywhere, the Commissary creates a shared temporary space of camaraderie where everyone meets to exchange information, stories and plans, or simply to revel in the din or nod a glance of recognition to someone you saw working today. It is a place that is alive with what we are doing out here, and it is a place of relaxation. The hard work is happening in this moment with the party to come later where meals will be had in camps across the playa, but for now, this is the nexus of the operation when it comes to eating and it is as grand a restaurant as any.
I’ve also met some of the kitchen crew. They’re a caterering group called Spectrum out of Houston Texas. They work large music and sports festivals all over the country, recently ran the kitchen at Bonnaroo and they work a lot of golf events like the PGA. I spoke with Georgia who told me Burning Man is their most challenging and for many of them, their favorite event. They get out during the event and take in that Burning Man culture and they’ve got several excited newbies with them this year. This is their third year feeding the working masses.
They take care of the DPW and the other people working out here in style and seriously, you should see the amount of work that goes into building this place.
Hayseed told me, “Look at the environment we work in and the amount of people we feed and feed safely. This is one of the most challenging environments in the world to feed people. We’ve got Veterans, who come in here and say, ‘This reminds me of the Commissary when I was at so and so…’ It’s harsh, almost war zone challenging. But we’re fighting a war towards positivity instead of death and destruction out here.”
Indeed they are. Monday we had another massive dust storm that hit well after dinner thankfully. Total white outs, lightning, a spattering of rain. Tonight we’re expecting frogs and perhaps locusts, but through it all, the Commissary will no doubt be open for business.