The weekend before Gate opens is approaching and a certain feeling has set in. I’ve been out here early before and felt the change from being part of a small group of people building Black Rock City, then having the big art come in to start on the Temple and other huge projects, then watching as the big Theme Camps arrive and suddenly landmarks you’ve been using to navigate are replaced. The great unpacking begins with enthusiastic Theme Campers smiling as they create their fabulous spaces. Once the Gate opens, it becomes a free for all as you beautiful people flood in to stake your space in Black Rock City and build then share what you’re bringing.
Towards the end of pre-event, you realize that you’ve forged bonds with people out here that can only happen in a place as dry and desolate as this. There have been challenges met and there has been solemn sadness. There’s been triumph and a lot of hard work. It is tribal and essential, sometimes feeling as if we’ve stepped into another time where big personalities build things just because they can. My job is nothing compared to what the infrastructure groups like DPW, Tech, IT and their support do out here to build this place, and it takes a certain larger than life type of person to make Black Rock City happen. During the build, meals bring everyone together and it is there that you find old friends and make new ones. I sit there eating and face after dusty face passes on their way to grab grub and these are some of the most lovely dusty people I’ve ever had the honor to live amongst, if only for a short time each year.
As big Theme Camps begin their build, you no longer navigate in straight lines to your destinations. You’ll smell your first BBQ. You hear the hammers pounding all around and containers are opened with last year’s tarps and lights and everything that makes Theme Camps strewn about. You will see the groups of serious campers standing around, hands on hips, evaluating how many people they’re going to need to raise up that 60 foot wide shade structure. Work lights are running all night as massive tents are erected and decorated. People begin visiting you because they can tell you’ve been here for a while and maybe they can use your stove to make some coffee and share it with you, or borrow some zip ties.
Bring your own zip ties people.
Riding my bike around I met Seth Maxwell Malice and I asked him how it was going. He said, “Don’t forget to bolt things together. Gravity doesn’t work like it should.” Passing all the camps that are setting up you’re greeted with constant hellos from happy folks setting up in the friendliest city on earth. They’re insanely happy to be here, but what rational person would consider packing, hauling all your stuff to this dry lake bed, working for days to build a camp, dealing with the weather, then tearing it all down and hauling it out while leaving no trace a vacation? We are a peculiar bunch.
When we got here a week or so ago, you could clearly see the one red garden LED and a white lit solar rope light on top of my Camper when leaving Center Camp at night. It was the only light out here around 7:45 and E other than the BLM compound with its billion plus lumen’s worth of towers. Now my little lights have been entirely blocked by other camps.
Work building the city isn’t complete yet, but it is getting very close. More new pilgrims arrive every day to add decor and meaning to the structures the DPW has built. Center Camp is pretty much complete, with all the camps that define it including Media Mecca, Lamplighters, CampArctica (with new wall murals this year who threw a small soiree’ last night because … ICE!) Recycle Camp, BMIR, Playa Info and Census. Administrative and decor crews are arriving. BRC Rangers can be found in the Commissary and their group seems to double in size every day. The population is still small, but different departments are arriving. Nights have been splendid and cool with camaraderie at an all time high, perhaps because we know what is coming.
Build it and they will come.
People who have never been here sometimes don’t really understand how much work goes into making Black Rock City a reality. You hear all the time, “oh, it’s a bunch of hippies or ravers or rich people landing to just party for a week” and while that is in part true, before the gates open, this is one huge construction zone in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. We are off the grid with limited water. Ice is in demand and like gold right now. Huge art projects are going up out on the playa, being built by crews of artists who are dealing with oppressive heat and blowing wind and dust. We work hard and play hard, sitting in the shade between shifts wearing goggles and dust masks sipping drinks that are at least 20 percent alkaline dust and enjoying it immensely. This environment washes away the previous year’s worth of not being here. Out here the cobwebs dry up. You are among friends and dreamers and lovers creating something somewhat unique in our culture. People talk to one another and help each other out. They listen and they get the job done. They gift each other and they participate. There is very little opportunity to just go through the motions in Black Rock City.
Just escaping television, or perhaps a job that is deadening your soul for a week can rejuvenate you. The fact that there aren’t vendors in your face every five steps or some hyped music event sponsored by a corporation that you have to get to gives you time to create your own experience and share it with everyone else. The environment, even without all the insects, is still harsh. This is not the kind of vacation most people take because it is a challenge in every respect and that harsh never-ending dessication heightens the senses.And that is all part of the journey.
We are living in Post Apocalyptic style with a pound of playa dust, sun burns and work so brutal you pass out for a nap before celebrating the days’ achievements.
We talk about how Burning Man is changing and it is. That’s a by-product of success. Today someone said “Burning Man was so much better Next Year” which sounds like a good sticker. But the early build feels right. It feels genuine and that is something that can be hard to find in our culture today. I’m not sure if the people who first brought the Man out here had any idea what this would become and how many people would keep returning each year to build this canvas of a city for so many people to paint with their art, but I’m happy they did. Yea, I’m an unapologetic fan, but make it what you make it. We need to keep Burning Man weird and we can. I’m glad I can come out here each year and hang with these wildly enthusiastic Theme Campers and such a fine bunch of lovely dusty people.