The in-between time

At the last spire party yesterday
At the last spire party yesterday

We’re caught between the now and the almost now in Black Rock City.

The work’s not finished, but it’s getting close.

The streets are as busy as they’ve ever been. The big theme camps have rolled in, and so have the artists. It’s a weird in-between time when it’s still ok to drive your car, but the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists has shot way up.

There was a giant kickball game outside the Center Café last night, and judging by the shouts, it was World Cup intense. We first thought it was incongruous that all the dusty funky types would be so into the competition, but this isn’t really a hippie encampment. It’s more broad than that, more diverse, in temperament, outlook, and, while we’re at it, age.

We know the Black Rock Census keeps excellent track of the demographics of the participants, but it seems to us that an even wider mix of people here in the build-up.

Today was the first day almost since we can remember that it wasn’t bright and sunny. Early last week there were a few days when the sun and moon were shrouded in a red haze from distant wildfires, but of late the skies have been crystalline, the clouds dramatic, the sunsets mind-numbing.

We saw pictures of our friends back in the Bay Area, and KarltheFog was much in evidence, although it seems like a heat wave is baking the area lately.

After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition
After the spire was planted, it was time for the sledge toss competition

Here, the temperatures the past few days have only been in the mid to high 80s, and the nights have been chilly. The big weather news is that high winds are supposed to be coming our way. By the time you read this, the predictions could have changed, so the best thing to do is check the Burning Man website for the latest info. But better to get the big winds behind us now, rather than when there are tens of thousands of cars kicking up dust on Gate Road. All the people here already will get an early test of just how well they’ve tied down their stuff.

The last spire was pounded into the playa yesterday, and all the crews plus a bunch of looky-loos came by to celebrate.

There was all sorts of general jank strewn about the site. Random trenching was done for no apparent reason, and holes that were dug were immediately filled in with kicked dirt. There were cars hoisted in the air, a compost pile and random pieces of fence. There were radio antennas and road signs, including one for Spoono’s Road.

Rushing the spire
Rushing the spire

In general, it was a celebration of the end of the build. The last spire usually takes place the last Thursday before the event, but in the past couple of years, rain and other interruptions have pushed the work schedule back and its been held on Friday. But this has been a relatively smooth year, work-wise and weather-wise.

The Spires crew did the honors of getting the whole thing started, because spires is what they do. Marleyne was shooting anvils, and the sledge-throwing contest rounded out the festivities. (River was the winner.)

You can check the whole thing out at 4:20 and Esplanade, right near the Thunderdome. It’s a quite amazing collection of … stuff … put together by the most amazing people anywhere. See for yourself:

You need something? These folks can probably get it
You need something? These folks can probably get it


Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote
Stinger fashioned an OSHA blindfold for Coyote


The yellow bike crew moves in
The yellow bike crew moves in
The last spire goes up
The last spire goes up





Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
Pope Phabulous, his Hyster, and a contribution
All the way from Georgia
All the way from Georgia









The last spire
The last spire





Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it's not true
Cowboy Carl may look a little taken aback by it all, but we know it’s not true







The dread crew
The dread crew















Doyle's car is street legal in Detroit, where he's living
Doyle’s car is street legal in Detroit, where he’s living
There are some great dogs out here; this one's everywhere
There are some great dogs out here; this one’s everywhere




Rain, the sledge-toss winner
Rain, the sledge-toss winner


Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Marleyne got a necklace from Spoono several years ago
Goatt's on the the Artica build this year
Goatt’s on the the Artica build this year
The finished project
The finished project



The sign team has been working since the middle of July on creating and signs that help you find your friends, find your way back to camp, and help others find you when you might need help.

But something really crappy has been taking place over the past several days. It’s not a new problem, but it might be surprising in that it’s going on when the only people out here are supposed to be working, either setting up the city or building art.

The signs crew, the people you're hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down
The signs crew, the people you’re hurting the most, besides yourselves, when you take the street signs down

The street signs are being stolen. Already. Even before the gates have opened. Most of the signs on 4 o’clock were gone the day after they went up.

“It’s at the heart of the event,” said Jenerator. “Nobody steals art at Burning Man, and the street signs are our art.”

There are 300 intersections in Black City, and each of them has a double-sided sign with the names of the streets – Arcade, Ballyhoo, Carny, Donniker, Ersatz, Freak Show, Geek, Hanky Pank, Illusion, Jolly, Kook and Laughing Sal. They are all hand-painted by the sign shop crew, then installed all over the city.

It’s not a new problem. Folks have been taking the “souvenirs” for as long as they’ve been put out, but the deal is you’re supposed to wait until Saturday of the event to take them down. The Burning Man organization even has a special program to deal with the problem – Adopt a Street Sign, aka ASS. You can read all about it right here but essentially, if someone takes off with a sign from your corner, put a new one to help the people who’ve lost their way, and to help the people who may be trying to help you if there’s an emergency.

“You wait until the Man burns, or you’re a dick,” as Bam Bam put it, ever so succinctly. “We want you to take them”, added Stabby Abby, “but just wait.”

Bottom line: be an ASS, don’ be a douche.


About the author: John Curley

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.

11 Comments on “The in-between time

  • ShadeStructure says:

    Great! Now it’s almost that time of year again, when DPW get’s to run around pretending they built the city and wreak havoc on the incoming tourists until it’s time to clean up the mess.

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  • Chaps says:

    Great pics & portraits y’all! Looks like fun! Almost as good as being there!

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  • Tyno says:

    Spot the Trustafarians.

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  • Q says:

    Marleyne’s pendant is from 2001, when Pyrosutra (my fire dancing troupe) and Alien Love Nest still camped together, we had a stage upon which folks would do basic stupid human tricks for a pendant. Good times.

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  • Charlie says:

    Get a good look at the folks who will be stealing your beer and banging your pre-teen daughters over the next week. Burn safe!

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  • JackiePants says:

    I miss you guys! After 4 years with DPW I had to move on. I’m just wondering if BMorg has done anything this year to help prevent the outbreak of pinkeye within the DPW Ghetto. It was always a problem and we almost had it under control last year. Education is a must! Wash your hands after using the shitter. I can’t stress this enough, my DPW brothers and sisters.

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  • Clever Monkey says:

    Make secondary signs that are functional and undesirable. The street signs are mounted on 2×2 poles, either stencil the sides or mount vertical signs with the time or letter. Use a plain, boring font; do not include logos or anything interesting. A wooden square with “D” is not an appealing souvenir. Go ahead and mount the pretty signs on top, they’re fun for a few days (or hours), and then gone.

    Stealing the street signs is always going to happen, and it’s impossible to change everyone’s behavior with finger-wagging or cultural norms; accept it and solve the navigation and safety issue another way. Use good design language to convey functional vs. decorative.

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    • Connie-Lynne says:

      There’s “stealing signs is a cultural norm” and then there’s “someone stole two entire radials worth of signs two days before the event even opened.”

      That’s worth calling out as wrong.

      It’s likely the culprits won’t read this or care, but it’s still worth calling out.

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    • Corvus says:

      Doesn’t help, CM. I was on playa until Wednesday morning and by then a majority of the white markers were gone. These were the plain heavy plastic sleeves slipped over one of the four T-posts that mark an intersection. Standing about four feet high, all that was on them was a piece of reflector tape so you can spot them in the dark, and stenciled in black the time and letter (not name) of the intersection. I cannot imagine a duller “souvenir” yet people were stealing them.

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  • G says:

    It was sort of fun when the street signs were respected until Burn Saturday, and then they went away. Suddenly no man and no street signs. LOST! Another disorienting factor on the most disorienting night of the event.
    It seems I remember last year there were letters & numbers written on the street sign posts last year for the sake of the emergency services people.

    Maybe it is time for some sort re-think street signs. Make ’em metal on metal posts then bolt them to the posts with security bolts that require special tools to remove.

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  • Wash says:

    Why do all these people look the same?

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