Boy, did it rain in the desert.
Thursday brought a deluge, and by Friday the playa was limned with glinting streams – standing water just waiting to swallow vehicles and turn your feet into mudboots. And then … it rained again.
Now, we’ve been down this road before. As many of you will remember, early rains in 2010 caused the BLM site inspection to be delayed by EIGHT MONTHS as we waited for Lake Lahontan to dry. When the seasons change out here, they do it on a dime.
AND YET! Your Playa Restoration hotshots REFUSED to be grounded this year. I wish I could express to you what that means, what it takes to get people safely on and off the playa, not just people but busloads of DPW, fording actual rivers as the winds howl and the mud squelches. How many hours are spent by DA and his crackerjack team, just to find a route from the highway to the city. How many sleepless nights spent wondering… will we do it this time?
It’s not for the faint of heart.
Speaking of which, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of the stronghearted ones.
As part of my “people of Resto” series this year (read about Major Buzzkill and DA if you haven’t yet) I’m letting some of the fascinating individuals out here tell their stories. Trust me, there are some deeply moving stories in the hearts of the DPW.
This one is a love story.
Rando and Pocket are well known in many spheres of the global Burner community, and particularly in the AfrikaBurn world. This year, they joined Resto for the second time. They are a couple; he’s from South Africa and she’s from the States. They met at Burning Man in 2012, but the story starts well before that:
Rando: I was working in London in ’96, and I saw that famous article by Bruce Sterling in Wired. I read it and thought, “That’s really cool, but I’ll probably never go to Burning Man, because why would I travel so far to go to a party?”
Still, I kept up with Burning Man, and would read the website every once in a while. I kept on thinking about it. The closest thing we had in South Africa at the time was outdoor trance festivals. It took me ten years to learn to like psychedelic trance, but I loved the whole Temporary Autonomous Zone feel. And eventually, Burning Man came to me.
AfrikaBurn was started in 2007, and given my background, I was hugely into it. I rangered that first year, and from there ended up kind of doing all the things. I was a director for five years, AfrikaBurn DPW lead last year, rangering, emergency services…everything.
I said to him, “Dude, I’m gonna quit my job and come and build for you.”
He was like, “Don’t be crazy mate.”
So I didn’t. But I ended up taking a holiday and coming out to see Burning Man. And then I quit my job.
I had realized the reason I was going on all of these extravagant holidays was because I wasn’t really enjoying my life. So in 2012 I quit the corporate world and worked on farms, including a farm in Reno. While I was there, Joseph Pred, whom I had met at AfrikaBurn in 2007, said, “Do you want to come and volunteer for the setup and teardown of Emergency Services?”
So we were out there for a few weeks, and a week before the event, Pocket and a few of her friends came wandering over. The rest is history.
I came to Burning Man at first in 2012. I had signed on with a theme camp, and was able to get out here a week early. I met Rando on the first night that I came here.
I actually didn’t end up staying with the camp I came with. I got along with some people and didn’t get along with others… I got to a point where I fell face first into Burning Man: “I’m just going to go out and wander and see where I wind up.”
I wound up at a whole bunch of places that first week, which was really fun, but definitely chaotic. It was tough to get through at the time.
We’re both really shy, so I think Rando and I were trying to flirt with each other, but we also simultaneously could not tell if the other was flirting. Eventually a mutual friend of ours looked at us and was like, “Go.”
It was the Friday of Burning Man, I think.
Yeah, it took us almost two weeks to be like, “Oh, okay, so we are actually flirting.”
So you know the genesis of our relationship, but the point where it solidified was living in a hiking tent for six weeks, working AfrikaBurn DPW. We realized, if we can spend six weeks in a hiking tent without killing each other, there must be something to this.
I was supposed to fly back to America after AfrikaBurn ended, but I was just like, “Or I could stay.” I stayed for a year and a half, until the next Burning Man rolled around. I worked DPW at AfrikaBurn in 2013 and 2014, and when we came back to Burning Man in 2014, the medics let me come and work for them.
It’s interesting working Emergency Services Logistics, because in some ways it’s a mini-DPW for Emergency Services. You end up being on site from Fence until Strike, and you meet and interact with lots of DPW. So coming into Resto (in 2014), it wasn’t a completely foreign community.
2015 is my fourth year of coming back to Burning Man, and I think my seventeenth or eighteenth burn. Working with the people in Burning Man, you get to meet – I don’t know how to phrase this without sounding elitist, because one of the challenges that is faced in this environment is that the crew starts seeing itself as somehow special and ‘burnier than thou’ –
They are pretty special though. Every single person I’ve met.
The people that can come out here for this length of time are generally very interesting. They’ve lived very interesting lives. So you get a whole separate perspective, though you get a huge helping of cynicism with it.
I think my first year of working crew introduced a layer of cynicism that I’ve clawed back from. I’m like, “No, the participants are –
– The reason we are here.
That’s exactly it. Without participants, what’s the point of all we do? If no one mooped, we wouldn’t have Resto. Which would be good, but it would be kind of sad. Resto’s a lot of fun.
I like being out here when it’s mostly empty. It helps me remember that there are actually beautiful landscapes around here, not just big pieces of art. It’s nice to feel small in a good way.
It’s fascinating watching the flow from relative emptiness, to the massive peak of the party, and then the quick strike, down again to the nothingness of Resto. It’s really beautiful to see that whole cycle.
It’s like the whole festival exhales at some point and you’re like, “Wow, there’s no one left.”
It was a really good experience last year, and Resto was definitely my favorite part. Now I know why people come and sign up just for this part of it. It makes complete sense now.
I’m a freelance illustrator. It gives me a loose schedule, which is nice. It allows for several months in the desert per year.
I spend a few months of the year doing business analysis or project management consulting. It pays well, and I enjoy it. It keeps me in beer and pretzels.
Work like a consultant, live like a hippie!
Let’s Look at the Map, Hippies!
No more ado, I promise – here for you is Day Six in all its glory. Ready?
Here’s what we’ve noticed about this year’s Moop Map: It’s really busy. It is detailed. Some of this may have to do with the evolution of our own record-keeping system. But some of it has to do with the way the dust flew this year, and how it buried many of the traces of Black Rock City in snaking, sandy dunes.
The power of a line sweep is that it can break down the dunes and get the moop beneath them. Add rakes to spread the dirt out a bit, and we can recover quite a lot of what was hidden. That’s a likely explanation for what’s going on this year, though I won’t claim to have the final answer.
What do you think?
As I post this, the Resto team is wrapping up its very last muddy day, and I, for one, am glad my fingers are warm and dry as I type, instead of scrabbling in cold alkaline mud for bits of astroturf.
LOVE and respect to the people of Playa Restoration. !