After a day spent dodging dust storms under steadily darkening skies, no one was surprised when it started raining in Gerlach last night. What was surprising was the length and intensity of the storm.
Heavy rains pummeled the DPW trailer park long past midnight, at times rattling the Liminal Space Shuttle (my motorhome) so hard it seemed like there was a horde of zombies outside, urgently trying to beat through its thin walls with wet, rotting hands. Temperatures dropped sharply, plummeting into the 30s. Chill winds came in gusts, shaking our tiny trailers on their springs and making it difficult to sleep.
Sometimes the weather out here can make you feel impossibly small and far from home.
While it’s still possible to do Resto work after light rains, larger storms usually mean only one thing: a snow day. A full or partial day off due to weather, either because it’s impossible to get onto the playa, with the entrances at 12-mile or 8-mile becoming too wet to cross, or because the playa itself becomes unsafe, miring vehicles in the mud.
Thus it didn’t come as much of a surprise when, at the morning meeting, D.A. announced that we would not be headed to the playa for our usual 8:45 start time, but would instead remain in town until at least 11am, when he and Coyote would re-assess the playa conditions and developing weather situation.
Depending on when they fall in the season, snow days can either provide a much-needed break from our labors, or raise concerns that we may not finish in time for the critical BLM inspection in October. Last year, for example, we lost the first 3 days of Resto due to weather, putting us immediately behind schedule and making any subsequent break days unlikely.
With the memory of that setback still fresh in most people’s minds, today’s news was met with mild apprehension. Would conditions improve or worsen? Would we get to return to the playa, or be forced to spend a lazy day back in town watching episodes of Rick and Morty? (Every year the DPW seems to converge upon a favorite animated series which then gets played endlessly on the TV in the back room of the Saloon. Past selections have included The Venture Brothers and Archer. This year it’s Rick and Morty. Wubba lubba dub dub!)
Many expressed a desire to return to work. “I love walking the lines,” Your Sister told me. “That’s why I do Resto. Snow days can be fun too, but nothing beats being out on the playa.”
At 11, when the word came down that this would indeed be a workday, everyone quickly gathered their MOOP sticks and buckets and loaded onto the buses for the drive to the shoreline, eager to continue the strong progress we’d been making.
Once there, D.A. explained that another reason for the morning’s delay had been a problem with our radio repeater, which was now fixed. Given the number of crews working at separate (and often very distant) locations on the playa, an operational radio system is indispensable for coordination and safety.
“This desert is unpredictable. Weather is real. I’m responsible for you all out there, and I wasn’t going to send anyone out until we had a working repeater.”
D.A. and line boss Barack Obama (Starchild) then outlined the plan for the afternoon: we were to continue yesterday’s line sweeps from Ceremony to Genuflect, first on the west side of the city grid (from 7:30 to 10:00) and then moving eastward as weather and time permitted.
Unfortunately, by the time we’d taken roll and driven out onto the open playa the rain had returned, leading some to wonder if our already abbreviated workday might not be further cut short.
“When we got on the lines it was raining,” says Resto veteran Wee Heavy. “It was a cross between solid rain and a drizzle. Then it would start raining again. It never got bad enough to impede movement or vehicles, but it always felt like it was about to.”
“The raindrops made it difficult to see. It stopped after a while, but it stayed persistently cold and windy all afternoon. It didn’t feel like a normal Resto day at all.”
The weather wasn’t the only unusual aspect of the day. Late in the afternoon, I found my first piece of iMOOP: a broken smartphone, mud caked on its shattered screen, lying lost and forlorn upon the open playa.
I’d heard that more phones were being found by Resto this year, but until today I had yet to see one. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the ever-increasing cellular coverage reaching the Black Rock Desert. But I still find it strange that such a large and obviously incongruous item could be left behind by its owner, or overlooked by any of the many participants that must have walked and driven past this spot. And yet there it was, sitting in plain view, a wholly unsubtle black slab amidst an expanse of cracked beige.
(Note to self: Next year, carry some small monkey figurines during Resto, so I can stage miniature re-enactements of 2001: A Space Odyssey when I inevitably come upon more of these mysterious monoliths.)
Kubrickian larks aside, if you’re one of the many people who lost your phone (or other items) during Burning Man, you should be aware of PlayaInfo’s extensive lost and found program. An entirely volunteer effort, these wonderfully generous participants spend months every year cataloging literal truckloads of lost phones, backpacks, and other items.
You may also want to check the 2017 Lost and Found forum on the ePlaya. And for next year, consider using a phone case with a lanyard or other means of positive attachment to your person. Or for an even more retro, burnier-than-thou experience, pretend it’s 1996 again (HELCO!) and leave your phone back at camp.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, your phone has become an indispensable part of your burn, serving as a camera with which to capture and create amazing visual art, a navigation tool running iBurn, and a communicator to help you find your friends—just as you would in any major city on the planet.
But remember, phones are very much still MOOP. In addition to being toxic e-waste and especially bad for the environment, many cellphone models are now large enough that a single one would be enough to fail a test site during the BLM inspection.
So, to everyone who didn’t lose their cellphones this year: Congratulations, you saved Burning Man!
With that, here’s how the MOOP Map looks after Day 4.
>> Remember: this map is only a rough draft. For final MOOP Map results, wait until the new year and contact the Placement department. <<