The Final Push

The gang’s all here

The work season has hit its peak, and now we are in a dead sprint to the finish line: The gates to Burning Man will open in less than a week, and the Man burns a week from Saturday, and holy hell there’s a lot to do.

Everyone seems to be upping their game. Even law enforcement officials seem to realize that it’s game time, because they had a strict enforcement action going on most of the weekend in Wadsworth and Nixon.

We urge you to remember that federal, state and local statutes are very much in effect at, and on the way to, Burning Man. Obey the speed limit, keep your vehicle lighted properly, and remember that drug and alcohol laws are very much still in effect.

Danger Ass was one of the not-so-lucky travelers who were stopped between Route 80 and Gerlach, but things went well enough overall. “Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?”

“Why no I don’t,” she answered with a mix of awe and alarm.

“Your license plate light isn’t working.”

“I didn’t even know I HAD a license plate light,” she said.

Fortunately, she was not required to empty the contents of her car by the side of the road while the vehicle was searched, which has happened to many people. Instead, she was issued a warning, and the exchange with the representative of law enforcement was … actually quite pleasant.

“I have to tell you, I’m a little bit nervous being pulled over,” she quoted herself as saying.

“I understand that, ma’am.”

Kelsey carried a remembrance

Also in Danger Ass’s favor was the fact that the officer involved was, according to Danger, an EXTREMELY good-looking, tall, strapping man, and she had no reluctance whatsoever about complying with his requests.

So again, we urge you to be like Helen, and act accordingly. Know your rights, but be cool, be pleasant, avoid confrontation, and keep your hands (and your stuff) clean. We’ve gone to a fair amount of trouble to get the party ready for you, and we don’t want you to miss any of it.

The getting ready continues apace, with a few brief timeouts to celebrate the work, and each other. Saturday night was Early Man on the playa, when many of the crews who have been working here for weeks build effigies, haul them out near the Man and then set fire to them in a hail of hollers and fireworks.

Black Rock City’s population continues to swell, as more support staff, artists and the people who run big theme camps arrive. You try to keep a good, open, welcoming heart to all the new arrivals, all shiny and clean and wide-eyed and energetic, and you try not to act all cracked-out and jaded. Most of the time the façade stays intact, but some times, like the morning after the night before, it’s a little harder than others.

But Saturday night was a night of nights.


Seeing double

There was Austintatious, in her coveralls and orange sunglasses, dressing the part of Fi the Frenchman. In the olden times, it was common for folks to dress like other people on the playa. One year there were no less than three Camera Girls at Early Man, the real one, plus two doppengangers.

Nowadays, though, most people just get dolled up and bring out their playa finest. The crew from Yellow Bikes was particularly spectacular as a group, and there were other stellar examples of how to dress for a party.

And this was a party on many fronts.

There was a smattering of art cars roaming about, and the flame-shooting vehicle from the Department of Spontaneous Combustion was very much in evidence. With a mere flick of the wrist, one of the people in the truck can send a plume of flame maybe six stories into the air. Maybe more than that. But whatever the height, each burst is accompanied by a tremendous “whoosh,” an intense wave of heat, and blinding light. It is a very visceral experience, and it always seems to catch you unawares.

As darkness settled over a crowd of thousands, road flares set the effigies on fire, all at once. Dave X coordinated the fireworks, which mostly shot up into the air, although there might have been a few errant rockets.

As the fires roared, the crowd’s enthusiasm soared with them. The Ghetto Bar had rolled to the scene, and cold, not-so-foamy beer was distributed freely. Bottles were passed, hugs were exchanged, pictures were taken.

Remember, Early Man came to be a thing years ago, when the Survey Team couldn’t find the spike that it had laid in the ground to mark the spot where the Man would be built. Once the Early Man’s purpose had been fulfilled – to let them easily find the spike – it seemed the right thing to do was to give him a proper farewell by setting him on fire.

Now the event has grown. The HEaT  Shade crew decided that a dozen or so flaming effigies wasn’t enough, so they put up a shade structure and a dance floor, complete with DJ, sound system and shiny lights. It was a full-fledged nightclub, and it only existed for one night.

There were at least two big after-parties: One was at the Black Hole, where the Gate crew camps. The colors of the evening were black and red: Red from the rope lights all around, and black from all the Gate apparel.

And at the Ghetto, Spindrift played an insanely entertaining set of … let’s call it Psychedelipunk Surf music, with a dash of roots thrown it. The band is one of Cobra Commander’s favorites, and Burning Man is one of the band’s favorite venues, and so it was a very good match indeed.

Doing the cleanup work

Sunday might have had a slow start, but it was no day of rest. The first thing that needed attention was the site of Early Man. All those fires and all those fireworks leave something of a mess, and by 9 am, there were dozens and dozens of cleanup people on the scene.

The work unearthed some unexpected treasures: Brooke, who collects tiny violet vases, found … a tiny violet vase. Now we ask you, what are the odds? Someone else found a corroded bike chain that had been frozen in the shape of … art. It had become art.

But there were plenty of moop sticks and moop buckets to go around (moop, as you probably know, is the ubiquitous term at this, the world’s largest Leave No Trace event: it stands for Matter Out Of Place, and we shall have none of it). In an hour, the work was done, the playa had been raked, and the desert floor looked more manicured than it did before the festivities began.

Lodog and Kale were over under another pop-up shade structure, and they were serving freshly made cinnamon-sugared beignets, as Spoono used to do on this and other occasions. Lodog believes that Spoono’s sourdough starter has been lost to time, so he uses his own.

Kale is a very active cook. He was the person who handled all the grilling at the Gerlach picnic all these weeks ago, and he also specializes in smoked pork butt at his Artica camp.

Lodog said he cheated this year and used butter in the beignets. “Butter instead of what?” we asked. “Butter instead of not using butter and having them taste like crap,” he said.

Kale and Lodog made the beignets

Soon enough the beignets were finished, the crews loaded back onto their trucks and headed off in all directions.

We’re in the final push, after all. We’re going to be ready for you.

Here are some more pics:



The busy Ghetto mobile bar crew

And even more:

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.

11 Comments on “The Final Push

  • Jenny says:

    When does the prison furlough end? Do the workers need to go back right away, or do they get a couple days to visit family/

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  • JamesSC says:

    If you get pulled over in Nixon, tell the officer that you are a Sovereign Citizen. Once they understand that, they’ll let you go. You don’t have to show your license and registration if you’re not operating in commerce. You have a right to travel freely without being stopped for statutory infractions. Ask them if you are free to go. Don’t answer any questions.

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  • It looks like a little man in the distance IMGL0002

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  • GW Martin, Esq. says:

    Pretty good stuff, you goddamn hippy. All those years of wading through fishwrap apparently wasn’t wasted.

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  • Jamal says:

    How many people of color did you notice in all of these pictures. #endracism

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    • Merfax says:

      Those “people of color” as you call they are there, perhaps they are smarter than to stand around in the sun?
      Don’t start calling Burning Man racist if you have never even been there.

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      • Jamal says:

        You mean like people with origins from Africa and Mexico? They can’t handle the heat? But white boys and girls are fine with it? And where are the Asians? Hello, Bay Area!

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  • Shalaco says:

    On my way out yesterday I saw no enforcement in Nixon(perhaps on lunch) but much enforcement in and on the way to Reno.

    I’ve heard of people being pulled over for going over the white line, for license plate lites that are out on brand new rental trucks and must have fixed themselves when inspected with the officer.

    Just sayin. Do less than nothing wrong.

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