Temple, Shade and Yellow Bikes, plus what Burning Man did for me

The Temple is little more than thousands of triangles laid on the ground, a furious ant-colony of activity, and the fervent hope and desire of a dedicated building crew.

“I’m happy as hell, but there’s so much to do,” Arthur Mamou-Mani said yesterday at the site. “The joy balances with the stress.” Honestly, it doesn’t look like they have more than say, oh maybe a month worth of work to do.

“Every day we solve problems, and then we move ahead, and then the next day we solve more problems,” Chocolate said as he pedaled his bicycle from one end of the build to the other. “But we’re going to do it.”

The upper portion that is now resting on scaffolding was lifted into place over two days, and it weighs 26,000 pounds. Eventually, 20 “petals” will attach and extend away from the base and provide support for the structure. It is a radical and beautiful departure from the more traditional Temples of years past. And of course it has only existed in CAD programs to this point; the playa will provide the ultimate reality test.

The Temple is the holy place on the playa, if there is one. The first was build by David Best, and it turned into a memorial for a friend after he was killed in a motorcycle crash during the build. Since then it has been a time of reflection and mourning, a silent sacred place in the midst of the bacchanalia of Burning Man. Every big city has its place of worship, and this is Burning Man’s, even if it’s not one particular deity that is being honored.

Here are some more pics from the Temple build:

We’ve got a basketball hoop in Media Mecca, thanks to Flackmaster, who knew that a lot of us like to hoop it up on playa. And by hoop it up, we do not mean that we swing a hoop around our waists; rather, we’re of the Naismith variety, launching dusty basketballs at an appropriately janky setup on the side of our headquarters.

Barack Obama (thanks Obama), aka Starchild, has had a rolling hoop on the back of his truck for the past couple of years. There is something amazing in the unlikeliness of hoops here. Sure, there is roller disco, and ziplines, and countless climbing structures to be found at Burning Man, but this bouncing and shooting is one of the most unlikely. We mourn the passing of the flaming hoop at the HEaT yard, where every time the ball went through the basket, you were rewarded with a burst of flame. But both Flackmaster’s and Obama’s hoops have nets, which make the satisfying “swish” sound when the ball passes cleanly through.

Beave on the beach in Nayarit (photo by Erica Bartel)

Do we have time for a personal anecdote? We hope so. Indulge us, just this one time, and allow us to tell a personal story. (Or feel free to skip the following paragraphs, look at the pictures and get on with your day. The TL;DR version is simply: Burning Man builds community)

People often remark on the powerful and often stunning synchronicity that takes place here. With amazing regularity, you meet people and have conversations and experiences that lead to mini-epiphanies, or sometimes even major epiphanies.

We chatted with a Burner the other night who came here for the first time in 2005. “My plan was to be here, then go home and commit suicide,” he said. “I know this is probably TMI (too much information), but what the hell, I’m half drunk. Well, maybe more than half.”

We listened warily as he told us about a conversation he had on playa with a five-year-old, and how that conversation turned his brain around. The thoughts of suicide dissipated, and, without wanting to give too many personal details to protect his privacy, he went on to become a longtime volunteer with the organization. “Why not,” he asked us. “This thing saved my life.”

This may be an extreme and by no means typical example of the transformative experiences that don’t always but can happen here. But for some people, maybe even many people, Burning Man has opened a pathway to their hearts, made them more open and accessible to themselves and others. The event, with its energy, creativity, difficulty, harshness, sleep deprivation, the general non-stop sensory stimulation, tends to expose the cracks in one’s carefully crafted public façade. You are stripped of the resources to be anything other than your authentic self.

(Side note: This does not mean that you will be magically transformed into the World’s Most Interesting Man (or appropriate gender descriptor.) People will not become irresistibly enthralled with your humorous, intelligent, insightful takes. You will most likely just be more of you, with all the attendant pluses and minuses.)

For us, though, the fact that so many disparate souls loosely come together in this experiment in community has had a profound effect. And not in some nebulous, woo-woo way; in very real ways.

For example:

This is our 14th year here, 11th as a volunteer, and this dusty playground has helped us forge friendships and alliances and helped us create a whole new network of co-conspirators. We didn’t actually know that we needed any of these things, although we can acknowledge that there always has been at least a typical, and perhaps overgenerous, amount of existential isolation inherent in our late 20th and early 21st century human experience. “Sometimes the lights are all shining on me … other times I can barely see,” as the song goes.

School and work and extracurricular activities led to a relatively small, though not hermetic, circle of friends and acquaintances. And then this thing happened.

The burn on the beach

Please understand, we pride ourselves on not being proselytizers for Burning Man. We try very hard not to be that person who can’t stop talking about “the playa.” We’ve tried to enforce a loose restriction on talking about Burning Man from the end of the event until around the time the leaves are on the ground and we are thinking about who might be around for Thanksgiving dinner.

But still, this event has wormed its way into our lives, into our experiences, in a way we weren’t really looking for, and certainly didn’t expect.

Take, for instance, this offseason.

There we were, siting in a very small, dusty, isolated Mexican town in Nayarit. We’d gone down for a brief vacation, but it quickly turned into something more. We were sitting in an all-but-empty town square, quickly using up our international data plan checking emails, when a voice came from nowhere: “Hey there’s John Curley.” What the? How could this be? No one knows we’re here, and I don’t know anyone here. The voice belonged to Marcos, someone we’ve known on the Man build for the past seven or eight years. There he was with his wife, their baby and his mother-in-law. He was building a house in town.

A mutual burner friend put us in touch with Ginger Beave, one of the Temple of Transition builders in 2011. Beave and his powerful partner Jayne are carving out a sustainable eco-tourist art retreat in the jungles outside of San Pancho. (Google the La Colina project for more information and a wonderful blog.) It turned out that Beave was a human magnet, a personality that attracts and builds friendships the way many of us might collect, say, refrigerator magnets or funny t-shirts.

We were in Mexico for the solstice on June 21st, so we resolved to participate in the day of remembrance for Larry Harvey in our own south-of-the-border way. We, or more precisely Beave, built a palm-frond Man out of an old chaise lounge that we then decorated with appropriate local items (coconut shells, etc.) and a straw hat that approximated Larry’s Stetson.

We dragged him down to the beach with a small new coterie of friends, including another burner that we reached out to on the recommendation of a mutual friend. That person turned out to be Gustavo, who, he told us, was there the night that Marian met Larry at one of the earliest Decompression parties in San Francisco. The party was at his house, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And finally, we also made friends with Madigan, a young wandering free spirit from Ireland. He had been helping Beave and Jayne carve their lives out of the jungle, and we chatted him up on the amazing experience of Burning Man that working for the DPW offers. He’s on playa this year, and is absolutely thriving. “I have you to blame for all this misery,” he said the other night as a young woman pulled him toward the dance floor.

To make a long story even longer, we decided that yes, there was something happening in that dusty Mexican town, and we decided that yes, this would be the place to put Plan B in motion. If it all goes to crap, we’ll now have a place of refuge.

So that’s how this thing sends out its shoots of connection. You meet like-minded inspirational people, who are doing inspiring things, and you are emboldened to do them as well.

To sum up: #thanksLarry.

We told you last year that you can’t hang with the Shade crew. Guess what? You still can’t. But you can check out pictures of this year’s fabulous people, still doing the dirty work in the dust, providing people with a break from the sizzling sun:

Ruin and Firey, the assistant and leader of the Shade crews



Here are some more pics of this year’s Shade team:

You also know about the fabulous Yellow Bikes crew, who work tirelessly to keep the community bike-sharing program running on the playa. This year they’ll distribute about 1,000 bikes all over the city – use them when you need them, then leave them for someone else.

The other day was Lingerie Day at the shop, and because we are the kind of person we are, when they invited us over to have some picture fun, we couldn’t say no. Hope you like:


The ladies


The men

And here are some more pics of the bike crew:

And because Belle was the little bird who tipped us off to the lingerie day, we think it’s only fair to include her in today’s festivities:

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.

5 Comments on “Temple, Shade and Yellow Bikes, plus what Burning Man did for me

  • Jolanda says:

    Awesome. Except for the lack of diversity.

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  • Robin Parsons - Willing says:

    Wonderful article. The synchronicity is vague until – whomph, there it is! It can be as whimsical or serious depending on the situation , but it never fails. This year for me happened while waiting for 5 hours at Gate. It was my 7th burn, but I’d been away for 5 years due to cancer related illness and subsequent financial hardship. I made plans to meet up with an old friend from college days and Tower Records. We planned to meet at Center Camp main stage at noon on Monday. After about 2 hours of stopping and starting our vehicles that Friday Early Arrival day, we all were more comfortable getting out of our vehicles to visit, then jumping back in to inch forward. The guys in the vehicle that had been traveling next to us got out with their boom box tuned to BMIR, and guess who it was! My college buddy. I couldn’t believe it! But yet I did because… Burning Man.

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