Fence Day 2016: Stories From the Front Lines

Black Rock City’s trash fence was invented by Lawrence Breed in 1996 to ensure Burning Man leaves no trace.

On August 5, 2016, the trash fence went up once again, establishing the borders of what will be Black Rock City. Below are accounts from some of the hard-working DPW members that accomplished the Herculean feat of laying nine miles and 6,000 fence stakes of the iconic trash fence.

Thanks to Flophouse, Eva, President, Duchess, Jenn Kotila, Kimba for sharing their stories from the front lines.

Eva from Man Base beautifully illustrates Fence Day…

“On Friday morning (night) I woke up 2 AM to drive with my friends Lew and Lyndsey from Reno straight to the playa in Black Rock Desert to arrive there just before the sunrise to pound T-stakes and tie orange-colored fence around the constantly arising Black Rock City. It’s this time of the year again! The reoccurring dream for the 8th time for me.

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“This will be the year of celebrating the work and ideas of the mastermind Leonardo da Vinci! Can’t wait to get the mister Man up on a wheel and turning!”


— Eva Reiska www.storiesindrawings.com


Shaye Harty aka “President” takes us along on her first Fence Day

Flophouse’s detailed account of his day on fence…


dawn-patrol
Photo by NotNinja

“Dawn Patrol is indeed the Fence team that claims the most glory, as they walk (or run!) the entire perimeter with heavy-ass pounders and drive countless fence stakes deep into the playa. How many resounding chink-chink-chinks does it take for every stake to sink into the surface, and how many blisters grow on every pair of hands that lifts those pounders so many times? And even in the brisk dawn air, every pounder’s biceps soon glisten with sweat against the beautiful backdrop of an orange sunrise over the mountains.”

Duchess chimes in on Dawn Patrol’s String Team…

“Another important and oft overlooked facet of Dawn Patrol is the less-glorious but no less bad-ass String Teams.

Two squads of precision string tiers gather and set out to tail the Pounder Crews, horizontally running three different heights of string as tight as we can get it, leaning our body weight into it, looping and pinching clove-hitch knots until our tape-wrapped fingers blister and our legs are jelly. The bottom line is the hardest line to hold (isn’t it always?), but once you find the rhythm and technique, the willpower of laughter, electrolytes and common goals are unstoppable. It’s always a race against the sun and yet this year Point 3, where our two teams eventually collided, arrived faster than we thought.

Dream team. #stringteam #fenceday #dpw2016 #stickyblisters #laboroflove #blackrockcity

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Still, no rest for the wicked- the sun was at a threatening angle as we piled into our support truck among spools of plastic string and our lunches, and rolled over to the main-body teams, dropping in alongside to kick, pull, and secure that iconic orange stretch of horizon line for Black Rock City.

Fence Day is one of the only times our Department, without division of Crew, gets to work together side by side, bonding in a way we don’t really get to the rest of the season. I think that’s important, and the ritual of it lends to the feeling that keeps us coming back, year after year.”

—Duchess, DPW Volunteer Coordinator.

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Now back to Flophouse…

“Alright troops, line up and count off!” was our welcome from ‘Just George,’ and we immediately did just that. With just 28 crew-members on hand to build fence, however, I could see the consternation on his face as he made the difficult decision to set off with just one fence crew… In past years we’ve had two or three crews working simultaneously, each about that size.  It’ll take a little longer this year, we all realized, but we’ll get it done either way.

“‘Le Wrench’ led our team from Point 1 in the direction of Point 2, backed up by ‘The Deacon’ with his megaphone-decibel voice. ‘Duck Hunt’ and ‘Mancandy’ left in the back of the Shade Crew’s other rig, El Cap, throwing down the weathered rolls of orange fence material at 300-foot intervals. ‘Saw’ and ‘Bees Knees’ kicked out the first roll, ‘Wrench’ and I pulled the other end of it around Point 1, and the tiers were ready to start tying it to the posts and to the blue rope.

We've got a trash fence, folks! #buildingbrc #dpw2016 #burningman #blackrockcity #trashfence #fenceday

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It took some time to get our rhythm going, to find the perfect balance between each of the moving parts so nobody was waiting on anyone else.

28787864196_4ee6a902d1_b The tying team. Photo by Flophouse

“The cutting team was in the shade trailer cutting spools of rope into short and long lengths to supply all the tiers. Two people kicked out the fence rolls, followed by the surgeons who stitched overlapping sections together with a bunch of short-rope knots. The pullers then yanked the fence taut at each successive stake, while the long-rope tiers tied it on with double-wrapped knots at the top, middle and bottom. The short-rope tiers came in behind, tying at least three sets of square knots onto the top, middle and bottom ropes between each pair of posts. A dedicated mooper rounded out the team in the rear, picking up any loose scraps of dried-out rope from previous years before it could hit the playa.

IMG_1673 2Photo by Shaye Harty aka President

“This whole tying process is essentially a constant game of leapfrog, where you walk past all the other tiers to the fence-front and set to work on your top, middle, and bottom knots, and by the time you’re done you find yourself back behind everyone else again. The repetitive knot tying takes its toll on the hands, with specific blister spots where we pull each one tight every single time.”

The kickers have their own pains, unrolling roll after roll of old fence for miles.

The pullers have to put their fingers into the fence’s lattice and yank it while the long-rope tiers do their thing, so their fingers are repeatedly dug into by the net-like mesh.

The rope cutters worked from the shade trailer, but it’s not exactly ergonomic: wrap rope around your arm about a dozen times, then force your blade through one end of the loop for longs, and twice for shorts.

Cowboy Carl sipping a juice box. Photo by Kimba
Cowboy Carl sipping a juice box. Photo by Kimba

“The clouds cleared up soon enough, though the wind remained strong. Our fence team worked steadfast into the heat of the day, cutting, kicking, stitching, pulling, tying and mooping. It was glorious to eventually see Point 2 in the distance, and know that we were nearly done with one of BRC’s five sides.


Cigarette Babe. #dpw2016 #blackrockcity #fenceday #laboroflove #lovemyfriends

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“Time for ‘Just George’ to lead us in a round of victory push-ups! After all the pounding, the squats, and the miles of walking under the sun, he was still ready to mess with us by restarting the count every time we thought we’d done enough. Then a few extras for good measure, and “Hua!”

IMG_4192Photo by Shaye Harty

“This year we installed over nine miles of perimeter fence by 3pm, with a reduced but dedicated crew of hard-working DPW. The Dawn Patrol team finished pounding shortly before 9am, and got straight to work tying fence. Bolstered by other crew members who joined from their respective crews later in the day, I’d say that this year’s method worked out pretty well.”

—Flophouse


Just a couple of T-stake pounding, push-up doing, beer drinking gate logistics workers #burningman #buildingBRC

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Desert Sisters. #benedeadlies #stringteam #dreamteam #fenceday #blackrockcity #dpw2016 #lovemyfriends

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#dpw #fenceday #mvps #pounders #shinobi #everyotherone

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#dpw #burningman2016 #fenceday #finished

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The ride back to point 1 after finishing fence. Photo by Anthony Vincent.


Miles and miles and miles of trash fence never looked so good. #10milefence #fenceday #blackrockcityisopen

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(Lead photo by John Curley)

About the author: Shalaco

Shalaco

San Francisco based dreamer schemer and explorer.

22 Comments on “Fence Day 2016: Stories From the Front Lines

  • Tiger Lily says:

    Thank you DPW for all of your hard work!

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  • Hardon says:

    I had no idea putting up the fence was so involved. Great effort and thanks for putting it up.

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    • Corvus says:

      One thing I’ve learned from my few years in just one little corner of the event is that *everything* in Black Rock City is more complicated, more involved than it looks to the casual observer. From the smallest art piece to raising Center Camp to erecting the fence enclosing the City involves a lot of planning before you get to the playa and a lot of sweat when you do get there.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    Fence Crew – You are the ass-kickin-est team on Playa!

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  • The Hustler says:

    Thanks tremendously for all of the back breaking (and probably monotonous) work with the trash fence, and everything else in Black Rock City.

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  • FlutterFace says:

    You guys seriously just get it. F-in hard work for the benefit of the community! You guys put most of us to shame and wish I could be out there laying the fence down with y’all. Great work and soooo many of us appreciate what you are doing to the MAX!!!! Put some coconut oil on those blisters after isopropyl alcohol and a bandaid. Heal quickly. I know you guys have lots of work left to do. But be careful and I love y’all!

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  • Hayseed says:

    Thanks to each and every one of you for hard work and community effort. Hugs!

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  • Cindy parker says:

    I want to do this next year!! How do I sign up!!?

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  • Flophouse says:

    I submitted a full-on entry to Shalaco on the day after Fence, but he instead chose to pick a few excerpts for this collaborative entry rather than get my full story published. So… if you’re interested in reading the whole “detailed account” he referenced, here’s my 2700-word story of Fence Day for you, in a few installments to respect the per-post limit:

    Gerlach has become quite the bustling little town over the past few days, as more and more folks have been rolling in to join their respective crews. Our morning meetings seem ever more crowded as we all pack into the community centre at breakfast, while our evening revelries at the Black Rock Saloon play host to an increasing lineup of characters.

    Every day brings new reunions, as returning veterans make the rounds to hug all the folks who got here first. And we’re also welcoming plenty of rookies into the fold, each of whom will soon find their place within this wacky subculture of hard-working souls we call the DPW. We’re all here for the same thing: to build Black Rock City!

    Most of us have been gradually piling into the Gerlach Estates: the janky-ass trailer park we call home pre- and post-event. Travel trailers are parked two- and three-deep, while in the trailer homes all the bunks were already claimed several days ago. “I know it’s considered a cultural thing, a rite of passage, for everybody to be crammed in together… but I’ve held off using that excuse with folks until now,” says ‘Still Sean,’ our trailer park manager for the third year running. At this point he’s literally assigning newcomers to the last few unclaimed corners of floor in the trailer homes.

    The survey crew returned to town on Wednesday, after spending over a week camped out in the playa’s vast expanse. Starting from the Golden Spike at the centre of what will soon be Black Rock City, City Superintendent ‘Coyote’ led his crew to flag out what will soon be the familiar features of streets, keyholes, plazas, Centre Camp, Rod’s Road, Gate Road, and on and on and on. With these features marked out, the rest of us can get to work on-site surveying our respective contributions to BRC’s vast cityscape.

    ‘Just George’ has been out there with his crew for most of the week, placing little blue survey flags to connect the five points that mark the corners of our pentagonal city. At 25’ intervals, these flags mark the points where some 2000-odd fence stakes support over 9 miles of perimeter fence. It’s only once the Fence is up that we’ve tangibly defined the city, and can start installing the essential infrastructure to accommodate our work crews on-playa. Most of us will still be holed up in Gerlach for nearly a week until that infrastructure is ready for us, but following Golden Spike and Survey, Fence Day is the next big step in creating our ephemeral desert metropolis.

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  • Flophouse says:

    There’s always been a lot of hype around Fence Day, and for good reason. It’s a substantial operation, involving way more moving parts than its humble product may suggest. It went down a little differently this time around.

    In years past, we’ve put the Fence up on Monday, immediately following Sunday’s barbecue in Gerlach. The Gerlach Barbecue is the unofficial launch of the full-on DPW crew out here, as ever more volunteers roll in to build on the legwork the rest of us have been working on for the preceding days and weeks. This has worked well, because the first all-hands-on project for the expanded crew has been to install the Fence. Except that as our operations expand each year, our capacity in Gerlach is pushed to ever more ludicrous limits.

    The logic goes that if we get the Fence installed a few days before the barbecue, a skeleton crew can move out to playa by Sunday and free up some precious space for the next wave of folks to stay in Gerlach. On the other hand, given that many of the people here this early can’t really take a day off of their usual mandates to work on Fence, will there be enough crew to put up over nine miles of Fence in one day? This question weighed on all of us, but it was definitely worth a try.

    The pageantry usually begins several days beforehand, when ‘Just George’ literally rallies his troops at the morning meetings with his signature style of humor-infused military barking. His orders sure seemed subdued on Wednesday, when he followed his description of Fence Day’s key starting times with a mellower talk on how we need to be ready for the challenge of undertaking the operation with fewer hands this time around. “Let’s keep the ritual alive,” was one of his closing remarks that morning, which roused an enthusiastic “Hua!” from the crew of mostly-veterans packing the dining hall.

    Thursday morning was our last briefing, and ‘Just George’ decided to hold up a blank piece of cardboard instead of the schedule of start times he usually sharpies on for us. We know the drill: the Dawn Patrol team of pounders and stringers depart Gerlach at 0500 hours, followed by the Main Body of kickers and tiers at 0700 hours. A bunch of hands went up when the crowd was asked who was signing up for Dawn Patrol.

    ‘Fluffer Nipps’ then took her turn going over the checklist of things each of us would need for a successful Fence day, with ‘Shotgun’ fabulously modelling her hat, bandanna, water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, gloves, lunch, and so on. We were ready to go. Hua!

    ‘Coyote’ stepped in for the last few words, touching on both pride and safety. “Even the gnarliest ranchers out here who have little love for what we do at Burning Man,” he reminded us, “can’t help but respect how much fence we install in a single day.” Yes, there’s definitely glory, but he also warned us not to overdo it out there in the sun. There’s no glory in heatstroke.

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  • Flophouse says:

    I heard the bus roll through the trailer park at 5am, and peered through the window to see a twilight sky dotted with little fluffy clouds. What a beautiful day to build the Fence!, I thought to myself as the Dawn Patrol team headed to the playa to get started. The Fluffers had been up even earlier, and had breakfast ready on playa for the pounding crew. Fence crew’s semi trailer and the slanted flatbed ‘Santaram’ were deployed first in opposite directions, dropping the 2000 fence stakes at every blue survey flag. The pounding crew’s work was ready for them!

    Dawn Patrol is indeed the Fence team that claims the most glory, as they walk (or run!) the entire perimeter with heavy-ass pounders and drive countless fence stakes deep into the playa. How many resounding chink-chink-chinks does it take for every stake to sink into the surface, and how many blisters grow on every pair of hands that lifts those pounders so many times? And even in the brisk dawn air, every pounder’s biceps soon glisten with sweat against the beautiful backdrop of an orange sunrise over the mountains. Yes, I’m definitely missing John Curley’s classic Dawn Patrol photography this year!

    The Main Body was at the chow hall by around 6:30, having breakfast and making bag lunches for themselves and their lunch buddies on the pounding team. Two buses were standing by, and at 7am we started loading in. I got into ‘Hamburglar’s’ bus, and was one of only four passengers… Uh oh. We did one last pass through the trailer park for stragglers, but everyone had apparently already left. On to Point 1!

    Point 1 is the corner of BRC where we begin, and there were plenty of vehicles already on-site when our buses arrived. And there was a beautiful line of fence stakes installed in the direction of Point 2, and another beautiful line installed to Point 5. And they’d even strung the whole length up with three taut lines of blue rope, so we could get straight to work attaching the fence rolls. Thank you Dawn Patrol!

    “Alright troops, line up and count off!” was our welcome from ‘Just George,’ and we immediately did just that. With just 28 crewmembers on hand to build fence, however, I could see the consternation on his face as he made the difficult decision to set off with just one fence crew… In past years we’ve had two or three crews working simultaneously, each about that size. It’ll take a little longer this year, we all realized, but we’ll get it done either way.

    Though a few hours earlier I was encouraged by a calm and beautiful dawn in Gerlach, the winds were pretty strong and constant by the time we assembled on the playa. “We’ll start out going in the direction of the wind,” ‘Just George’ announced, “but watch out once we round the far end of the city that the unrolled fence doesn’t blow up and twist around in the wind.” With a heavier cover of clouds and the cool morning air, at least we started off with some respite from the beating sun we’re used to out here.

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  • Flophouse says:

    ‘Le Wrench’ led our team from Point 1 in the direction of Point 2, backed up by ‘The Deacon’ with his megaphone-decibel voice. ‘Duck Hunt’ and ‘Mancandy’ left in the back of the Shade Crew’s other rig, El Cap, throwing down the weathered rolls of orange fence material at 300-foot intervals. ‘Saw’ and ‘Bees Knees’ kicked out the first roll, ‘Wrench’ and I pulled the other end of it around Point 1, and the tiers were ready to start tying it to the posts and to the blue rope.

    It took some time to get our rhythm going, to find the perfect balance between each of the moving parts so nobody was waiting on anyone else. The cutting team was in the shade trailer cutting spools of rope into short and long lengths to supply all the tiers. Two people kicked out the fence rolls, followed by the surgeons who stitched overlapping sections together with a bunch of short-rope knots. The pullers then yanked the fence taut at each successive stake, while the long-rope tiers tied it on with double-wrapped knots at the top, middle and bottom. The short-rope tiers came in behind, tying at least three sets of square knots onto the top, middle and bottom ropes between each pair of posts. A dedicated mooper rounded out the team in the rear, picking up any loose scraps of dried-out rope from previous years before it could hit the playa.

    This whole tying process is essentially a constant game of leapfrog, where you walk past all the other tiers to the fence-front and set to work on your top, middle, and bottom knots, and by the time you’re done you find yourself back behind everyone else again. The repetitive knot tying takes its toll on the hands, with specific blister spots where we pull each one tight every single time. It’s also a constant exercise of squats with every set of knots, so although our asses were probably getting toned throughout the day, our knees were definitely feeling all the ups and downs.

    The kickers have their own pains, unrolling roll after roll of old fence for miles. And where the rolls’ lengths didn’t line up with the spacing of their staging, the kickers would have to run up to the next roll and drag it back to where the previous one ended. Fence rolls are heavy and awkward!

    The pullers have to put their fingers into the fence’s lattice and yank it while the long-rope tiers do their thing, so their fingers are repeatedly dug into by the net-like mesh. Their role is also vital in setting the proper height, to ensure a good lip a the ground level to intercept any moop that tries to blow through. Where the top rope had been installed a bit too high, a three-person operation formed ahead of the pullers to slide the clove hitches down: two people pushed the fence posts on either side to give a bit of slack, while a third loosened the knot on the center post and moved it down.

    The rope cutters worked from the shade trailer, but it’s not exactly ergonomic: wrap rope around your arm about a dozen times, then force your blade through one end of the loop for longs, and twice for shorts. It’s a repetitive pressure on the wrapping elbow, and a repetitive force on the cutting elbow, and it only gets harder throughout the day as the blade inevitably blunts from all the cutting. The cutting team is social though, constantly visited by tiers coming for more rope or taking a few minutes in the shade.

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  • Flophouse says:

    The clouds cleared up soon enough, though the wind remained strong. Our fence team worked steadfast into the heat of the day, cutting, kicking, stitching, pulling, tying, and mooping. It was glorious to eventually see Point 2 in the distance, and know that we were nearly done with one of BRC’s five sides. ‘Wrench’ called the Fluffers over, and our team took a well-earned break in the shade of the trucks while we fuelled up on snacks and electrolytes for the next push. Those of us with skin showing put on more sunscreen, and then it was time to start the stretch from Point 2 to Point 3!

    The sun was in full force, but at least the prevailing winds helped to keep the fence against the ropes while we tied it on. The challenge on that side of the city was to ensure a good lip at the bottom, since the wind wanted to push it right through to the other side. Sprits remained high, Deacon continued to regale us with plenty of festival anecdotes with his booming voice, and we kept a good pace. We were at least halfway to Point 3 when we broke for lunch at noon, when some respite from the sun was especially welcome.

    Our home stretch to Point 3 seemed to take forever once we could see it on the horizon. Is it getting closer yet!? But as we approached, our morale suddenly jumped: there was already fence installed in the direction of Point 4! Jokes immediately ensued: “Oh no, we’ve been going around in circles!,” or “that’s the bit we forgot to take down last year!”

    The truth is that we have to thank the Dawn Patrol team once again, because once they finished pounding and stringing, they jumped in and created another tying team. Sweet! Our team loaded up onto the shade trailer and followed the line about halfway to Point 4 to either join them, or start from another point.

    To our delight, we saw a third team approaching from the other direction, both teams quickly leapfrogging towards each other out around the 10:30 axis. We hopped out, helped out with a few sets of knots, and cheered as the two teams’ fences met and got stitched together. Woohoo! We all knew what time it was then…

    Time for ‘Just George’ to lead us in a round of victory push-ups! After all the pounding, the squats, and the miles of walking under the sun, he was still ready to mess with us by restarting the count every time we thought we’d done enough. Then a few extras for good measure, and “Hua!”

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  • Flophouse says:

    This year we installed over 9 miles of perimeter fence by 3pm, with a reduced but dedicated crew of hard-working DPW. The Dawn Patrol team finished pounding shortly before 9am, and got straight to work tying fence. Bolstered by other crewmembers who joined from their respective crews later in the day, I’d say that this year’s method worked out pretty well.

    Essential infrastructure has been getting delivered to BRC since Fence Day began, and crews are making quick progress with their installs already. The trailer park is still comically overcrowded, but a few teams already have people on-site at their camps. The rest of us will follow over the coming week, even as our ranks continue to swell in town. The Gerlach Barbecue marks a good transition point this year, as the flow of people is both coming and going.

    We’re excited to move to the playa so soon, to continue working on the framework that will soon welcome 70,000 of you to showcase all of your creativity. With the Fence up, our ephemeral city is now physically on the ground for 2016, and we look forward to Black Rock City’s imminent rise from the dust!

    – Flophouse

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    • Moonbat says:

      Hats off to the crew for all that hard work putting up the fence – but I have a question. Why not put some tall poles with floodlights on a truck, then put a generator on the back of the truck and work at night?

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  • Molotov says:

    If you start getting short-handed every year, you migfht consider investing (or renting) a hydraulic T-post driver that goes onto the front end of a Bobcat skid steer loader. It might free up post driving crews for fence erection… https://youtu.be/GwgzuHstqBo

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    Thank you

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  • FlutterFace says:

    Thank you Flophouse for the much needed detailed journalism pre burn/build. Sad to see you got edited but now it’s on here for all of us to see. It brings tears to my eyes to see you guys out there working your asses off for the community. One of the most beautiful acts of teamwork I’ve ever seen. Makes me feel like a weak rookie even at 5 burns. If I see ya out there I promise goodies! -FlutterFace

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    • FlutterFace says:

      Name you favorite whiskey and its yours! I realize Jameson is the norm but I’ll cruise out to the ghetto and depot and give ya guys whatever ya might need. Anything and everything!

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  • dragnet says:

    Such a great crew! I have placed 7 projects out there on the fence through the years. I so appreciate the opportunity to place some fun art out there. I have always thanked the fence crew and encouraged people to volunteer helping with the fence. Carl and George are amazing selfless BRC citizens and their contribution to our city is huge. Thanks to each of you and enjoy my SEYENZ out there next year! (video below was 2015 project)

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