There’s a popular DPW saying that goes “Killing time ‘til Resto”. Often seen as a button or a patch, the implication is that, compared to Playa Restoration, everything else, from your year-round work in the default world, to DPW’s pre-event setup, to the burn itself, is all merely preamble: dead time, defined only by its relationship to the singular, peak experience of Resto. It’s a sentiment that recalls high wire artist Karl Wallenda’s famous assertion that “Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting.”
According to Playa Restoration veterans, once you’ve worked Resto, the rest is just waiting.
Is this just more DPW snark, or an earnest attempt to communicate something important and true? Why would 180 people volunteer to remain in the desert long after Burning Man has ended and their campmates have gone home? Is Playa Restoration really that special? And why does MOOP matter anyway?
Welcome to the 2017 MOOP Map Blog, where I’ll try to answer all these questions and more!
The big news this year is the size of the Resto team. As mentioned above, we number over 180 strong, and draw from virtually every department on playa, including Rangers, Gate, ESD, DPW, and Census. And we have more volunteers from theme camps than ever before. Once almost unknown outside of DPW, Playa Restoration has gradually become one of the most sought-after volunteer positions at Burning Man.
While this growth has created some new logistical challenges, it has allowed Playa Restoration to significantly expand our efforts, including expanding from 3 MOOP lines to 4, allowing us to cover more ground at once, and the creation of a brand new “Pre-Restoration” crew, which started line sweeping some areas of the city as early as two weeks ago. (I’ll write more about Pre-Resto in another post.)
It is my pleasure to present to you the 2017 All-Star Playa Restoration Team:
By this point in the season we’ve all moved off-playa and back to the neighboring town of Gerlach. After breakfast each morning the Resto crew piles onto several repurposed school buses for transport onto the Black Rock Desert. It’s a weird, dusty commute, made stranger by the memories of childhood the yellow buses evoke. Imagine attending high school with a bunch of punk rock circus clowns somewhere on Mad Max’s Fury Road and you’re partway there.
Upon reaching the shoreline, MOOP sticks were distributed and roll call was taken. For all the shenanigans of Resto, the desert remains a harsh and mortal place and nobody here takes that for granted. Keeping an accurate head count of the entire crew is critical to safety, and this year that job falls to King Louie.
Louie, a veteran of oth the DPW and the Oregon Country Fair, takes roll for the entire crew on arrival at the shoreline, after lunch, and before the crew departs the playa, whether at the end of the work day or due to an emergency change in the weather. With the nearest town some 20 miles away, it is critical that no one be missed or accidentally left behind—especially in a dust storm.
With roll call completed, D.A. introduced the assembled crew to the MOOP Map and explained the work ahead. D.A. is the Playa Restoration Manager, a role he originated—along with the entire concept of Playa Restoration. He’s dedicated the last 18 years of his life to this program, which may explain why, during Monday’s DPW meeting Cobra Commander introduced D.A. as “the living embodiment of Playa Restoration”. Just how committed is D.A. to Resto? They say that if you cut him, his blood leaves no trace.
The MOOP Map is both our guide and our goal. Over the next two weeks, the Playa Restoration team must cover every single block of Black Rock City, collecting any remaining micro-MOOP and assessing the overall condition of each area they traverse. This information then gets transferred back onto the MOOP Map, with each day’s progress being marked in red, yellow, or green to indicate the relative cleanliness of a given area.
Today Resto began our work in the back blocks of the city, sweeping in clockwise from 2:00. Due to high winds from the southwest we soon loaded back onto the buses, redeploying at 6:30 so that we could walk counter-clockwise and place the winds at our back.
“Resto is a dance with the weather,” observes D.A. “This desert can change in a moment, and you have to respect that. Weather can be your ally. Or, if you try to fight it, your worst enemy.”
Historically, the Black Rock desert turns harsh and cold in early October. This year that seasonal change has arrived earlier, and the Playa Restoration team began their labors under dramatic and threatening skies, with cold winds that gusted over 40mph.
“This is perfect Resto weather!” says TonyDollarzzz, a 7 year Resto veteran. “Okay, so this wind is insane. But I’d rather MOOP under cloud cover than clear skies any day.”
With the wind at our backs and an unprecedented number of volunteers we were able to make excellent progress. Our pace was also helped by the cleanliness of the city. The less MOOP we find, the more steadily the lines can move. On the MOOP Map, an even walking pace is indicated with green. Today, block after block kept coming up almost entirely green.
“The better the participants do, the more manageable our job becomes. Without the Leave No Trace (LNT) efforts of the citizens of Black Rock City, this would be an impossible task,” D.A. explains. This is an important point, and one many people misunderstand. “The fact that we find MOOP shouldn’t be seen as a failure on the part of the participants. Rather, the fact that we find so little is a huge success. There’s no other event of this size whose participants are so effective at LNT. And they’re getting better every year. It’s amazing.”
In the morning there were concerns that we might need to cut the day short if the wind grew any stronger (which can cause whiteouts that make it impossible to work). But apart from a single runaway MOOP bucket the crew proved more than up to the challenge presented by the weather. After lunch the decision was made to continue through the afternoon, and the 2017 Playa Restoration Team was able to complete a full day of work. This meant that we covered more than half of the city, sweeping blocks H-L from 6:30 all the way to 2:00.
Back in Gerlach, the Scribes had the job of translating their lines’ progress onto the MOOP Map, which we can share with you below. It’s important to understand that this is NOT the final map, but a work-in-progress. This rough draft will undergo further refinement throughout Resto and beyond in order to integrate and reconcile all the various data collected during line sweeps. (If you want to see the final results of the MOOP Map, contact the Placement department in the new year.)