Here and There and Everywhere

The smoke has come back in recent days, and because we are in a black hole of cell and wifi, we don’t know the details of the heartbreak that is producing such spectacular visuals here in the desert. The sky has become a giant softbox, and the light source seems to have an orange/red filter on it. The conditions have produced an eerie, dystopian effect, as if we are in a real-live version of Blade Runner 2049, or maybe we have just landed on Mars.

Juno remarked on the strangeness of it all, and she said it feels as if maybe we’re the last people on earth, and we just don’t know it. Or perhaps some giant bubble has been placed on us in this desert petri dish, and our robot overlords are experimenting with environmental impacts on this human colony.

Either way, we almost feel guilty making pretty pictures of the blood-red sun or moon. We always have in the back of our minds that this beauty comes at a terrible price that other people and anials are paying.

Another facet of law enforcement arrived on the playa on Tuesday as Bureau of Land Management officers took up residence at the Joint Operations Command out near Point One. We received the appropriate warnings about their presence at the morning meeting, but Sweet Ride, who is in charge of assembling their headquarters, said it seemed like most of the personnel were happy to be back in Black Rock City. “It’s like a reunion for them,” he said, with a considerable amount of affection in his voice. Both sides, the org and the BLM, have spent a lot of time improving the quality of their relationship, and the effort would seem to be paying off.

Speaking of that relationship, Burning Man, the BLM and other authorities spent what we are told was a considerable amount of time developing an appropriate plan for fire safety, in response to the death of a young man last year on Burn night.

You may remember that a fence was erected around the Temple before last year’s burn, and fences were under consideration for all major burns this year. But you may also remember that hundreds of volunteers helped make the Temple burn safe last year when they ringed the fire perimeter with their own observant eyes, watching for trouble. And that is the strategy that has emerged for this year.

The Council of Darkness runs all things DPW

Fire master Dave X and event honcho Charlie Dolman appealed to the DPW at a morning meeting for volunteers to help on Burn night.

“We’ve been working really hard to try to straighten this out so that we could keep on burning stuff,” Dave X said.” Burning Man without burning man would just be what?” “MAN!” came the answer. “And that sounds super boring and dull and I don’t ever want to go to that event,” Dave X said.

“We’ve got the responsibility to keep control of ourselves while we watch the burn,” Charlie said. One of the biggest challenges is making sure that the people who have special passes to be inside the fire perimeter stop moving, sit down and watch the burn.

“The Rangers told us that the hardest people to control at the burn perimeter are you guys.”

So the goal this year is to have staff volunteers help control the staff members who are in the burn perimeter, much like the Red Shirts patrol the DPW parade as it careens around the city on Thursday of event week.

The second part of the negotiations with the BLM involved beefing up the fire perimeter itself, meaning that there will be more people needed to control the line. “We want to get crew out there so it’s not just the Rangers” on the fire line. “It sounds insane to say this, but you guys are the last stop on the chain of reason,” Dave X said.

The Greeters have agreed to patrol a burn, and the Gate crew will handle the perimeter on the great train wreck. “Can you believe it?” Dave X said. “We’re going to crash two trains together. They don’t do that at Coachella!” And someone one in the crowd came back with, “Coachella is already a train wreck!” And DPW will be on duty on the night the Man burns.

The Climb In to the Drive In crew

Art is popping up all over the playa, and none so prominently as Night at the Climb-In, a totem pole of seven beat-up cars with a canned-ham trailer on the top, and gigantic flamethrowers on top of that.

There will be a bar in the trailer, but the only way to reach it will be to climb up the cars, which are about 60 feet high.

“I’m scared of heights,” Matt, one of the building crew said, “and I’m up there in a harness and it’s still gnarly.” You might have seen some of Matt’s work before, too; he’s done the fire on the “Boring” sign for years.

The build crew got a boost the other night from Smoke Daddy, the person who installs the neon on the Man. Some of the signage for Night at the Climb-In was broken in transit, and Smoke Daddy came and fixed things up with leftover pieces from the Man.

“He’s a legend,” Matt said of Smoke Daddy.

Dustin Weatherford

Dustin Weatherford, the artist who created Night at the Climb-In, has been based in Reno for the past six months, working out of Twisted Metal Works, one of the collectives in the burgeoning art and maker scene there. But most of the time he lives on the road, in this country and around the world.

“I like the idea of freedom,” he said. “I like the ability to go far from where home is.”

He grew up in Michigan, in “a small Podunk world of auto mechanics and rock climbers,” which might explain some of the motivation for his piece.

“I fell in love with Burning Man my first time,” he said, which was six years ago. Since then he was one of the main builders on the Catacomb of Veils and the Tree of Tenere.

“Since the first day I came here, I was immediately in my drawing books. … and I fell in love with building great things. … I met some really cool structural engineers and metalworkers, and I could see how I could do it.”

Weatherford has unlikely influences, in that he was an auto mechanic and also went to art school. “I was really good at math, and my dad, when I was in art school, he was like, what are you, an idiot?” If you’re good at math and engineering, after all, your financial prospects are brighter than if you pursue a career in art.

But still, Weatherford feels as if he is doing the right thing. “All my life kind of led me to this place,” he said.

here are some more pics of Night at the Climb-In:

Cobra Commander had some advice for the crews after they sung a less-than-rousing version of “Happy Birthday” the other morning. He noted the relative lack of energy, and he said, “The other night, I went to bed at 10 o’clock. You gotta pace yourselvces! Get some rest! The party isn’t until next week!”

Nighttime at the Man

One of the hardest questions that any Burner has to answer is, what goes on at Burning Man? Is it all sex and drugs and rock and roll, and maybe some art in there somewhere?

The answer is yes and no.

Burning Man truly is what you make it, because the events that take place here are not supported, produced or endorsed by Black Rock City LLC. Yes, some artists receive grants to help them offset the costs of their productions, but all of the other activities here, and there are a lot of them, are wholly and completely produced by participants.

To get an idea of the scale and range of the things you can do, you can look at the paperback edition of the What Where When guide, which is given out to all arriving participants.

The What Where When guide includes 192 pages of things to do, with about 1500 listings. The online version, meanwhile, which doesn’t have to conform to the limits and deadlines of print production, has about 4,300 events listed.

So when someone tells you that you can find just about anything you want in Black Rock City, you can believe them.

For example, here is a very brief smattering of entries (which are grouped by categories that include Adult, Care/Support, Fire, Food, Games, Kid-Friendly, Ritual/Ceremony and Workshops, among others:


— Every day at midnight, the Spacedillas will be serving fresh, hot quesadillas at 9:30 and Cylon

— Not hungry? Go by the midnight tea party at New York Dangerous at the 3 o’clock plaza.

— The Beaver Dome is open 24 hours a day for a “safe and loving space fore women and trans folks.

— Kids and their families can join in-camp and field-trip activities of the Black Rock Explorers.

— The speaker series at the Center Café goes from 10am-12pm every day, and features talks on political theory, embodiment, spirituality and more.

— There are more yoga sessions available on playa than it is possible to list

— At the Lingerie Lounge at 4:00 & Hal, “Attentive gifting associates will adorn and adore you, fulfilling your lingerie and costume needs. We help all Burners remember they are beautiful.”

We asked Sarah Harpold, one of the editors of What Where When, if there were any activities that stood out as she made her way through the miles of copy in the book. “Cougars with cookies,” was one of them, she said. “I told my boyfriend that I expected him to get a lot of cookies.”

We’ll leave it at that for now. The point is, Burning Man is what you make it, and Burners have made it just about everything imaginable.

Cobra Commander noted that “we’re going to have a high of 92 today, so bundle up.” There were laughs and cheers, because that represented a distinct cooling trend. “To that end, hoodie sales will start today.”

The amazing thing is, we’ve started to need layers of clothing at night and in the morning, because it’s … chilly. In a seemingly impossible development, daytime temperatures have dipped a bit, and they are also being held down by the smoke that has returned. As we’ve mentioned, 40-degree temperature shifts are the norm here, so if it’s only 80 or so degrees during the day, you can do the math and determine that yup, a fire is going to be nice at night.

The HEaT yard glowing in the darkness

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.

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