One More Time

Melanie McClanahan has been keeping watch over the 747 for the past two months

The art piece that people love, and love to hate, is peeking over the fence at the north end of the playa, set to make one last appearance in Black Rock City.

The 747 is back, in all its gargantuan splendor.

The jetliner/art piece/party space spent the offseason parked a few miles north of Black Rock City, on privately owned land adjacent to the Black Rock Desert. It got the ok to begin its voyage back only a couple of days ago, after crews spent many hours meticulously mooping its home away from home.

We’re told that this will be the 747’s final appearance at Burning Man, at least under the auspices of Big Imagination, the organization that rescued it from the aircraft graveyard in the Mojave and repurposed it for Burning Man.

As we wandered around the 747, a person appeared from beneath the fuselage to see what we were doing. “Nice evening for photographs,” she said, and indeed it was.

Melanie McClanahan has been standing watch over the 747 for the past two months, keeping the looky-loos at bay, and giving impromptu informational talks when warranted. McClanahan, a Gerlach resident and a relative latecomer to the 747 project, says she was most definitely a skeptic, until she met Big Imagination’s CEO, Ken Feldman.

She was working at Bruno’s and Feldman would come in and start talking about the plane, “And I was just rolling my eyes. … And he said, ‘Have you ever been out to see the plane?’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you come out?’

“And I’d been going through this huge transformation, where I’d say yes more to things, so I went out. I was seven miles out on Soldier Meadows Road, and I got a flat tire. And (Feldman) said, ‘Well ok, I’ll come help you out.’” Then they went off to see the jet, and, as fate would have it, there were people visiting the site.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you just give them a tour,’ and he got all excited and did, and just to hear the way he talked about it, and whole way it came to be,” well, that got her hooked.

“It’s not a quick buck thing for him,” she says. “He’s not a trust-afarian, he’s a good person.

“Afterwards, he’s looking at me, and he says, ‘What?’ And I said, I have something to confess to you, I’m like your biggest heckler online. I’ve talked so much shit about this plane. And he goes, ‘You want a job?’” … And so she got the care-taking gig.

“I just love to be out here. I like the absence of sound, I like the absence of people. … I’m good one-on-one or in small groups, but when it gets large its too much.”

There have been more than a few people randomly coming by to take a look. “People were coming out, and they’re not understanding. … Most of them were coming out because they camped in the High Rock area, and they’ve been coming out for years, and all of a sudden there’s a plane. They don’t see it’s half a plane, they don’t see it’s an art car, all they see is a plane. They come out and they’re like, whoooaaaa, what is this??

“The argument isn’t is it art or not. If you’re angry about it, it causes emotion … it’s art.

“But it’s more than that. There’s a whole graveyard full of these planes. … Everyone gets these junk cars, and they try to make them into art cars … [Feldman] got a plane that was abandoned, and turned it into an art car. I mean, come on, it’s pretty cool.”

Still, the strong feelings about the jetliner have touched her life, as well.

“I’ve lost friends over this,” she says. “They say, ‘Your moral compass is askew,’ and I say, this isn’t what you think it is … and this is how we all need to come together. If you can’t come together with art, then …” and her voice trails off.

The 747 will make its entrance into the city in a week or so, and McClanahan will be out there till then. After that? She’ll be bartending at the DPW’s Ghetto bar.

But that’ll be a big change. “I miss it already,” she says. “I feel like I’m escorting her back for her last hurrah. She makes a lot of people happy.”

About the author: John Curley

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, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

44 Comments on “One More Time

  • Dennis says:

    Thanks for digging into the story. Love it or hate it, it does make a statement

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  • Melanie Mcclenahan says:

    Correction: I will be at the bar not working for. :)

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  • Candice says:

    See you at the trash fence…… one more time <3

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  • Keru says:

    Great writeup and photos Mr. Curley and yes Melanie is the best! She has added much soul to that plane :-) Its a lot of fun to show random desert folks through the 747 and see their reactions. I’ve been out there working on it quite a lot. Be back soon!

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  • Nikki Finnemore says:

    Thank you John! Melanie, we are so grateful for you and for your willingness to say “yes” and scratch beneath the surface of appearance.

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  • Alan Johanson says:

    Oooooh I wish I could take it off your hands and truck it up to my place in Wa. State but transportation would bankrupt me into perpetuity… Have you researched the N-number (printed on the nose gear doors) to learn when it was “born”? Would make a great guest house!

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  • Gatsby says:

    It’s a nice story. Let’s not forget the countless stories about people being turned away after the door people looked them up and down and deemed them not attractive enough to visit. This happened to a few of my very favorite people, and it really hurt them.

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    • Kip says:

      Dude…..
      Try getting into Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge this weekend.
      You probably won’t be able to. It won’t be because you are not attractive.
      Popular attractions attract many people.
      70000+ people at the burn last year and a jet with physical space limitations.
      It’s a 747 not a TARDIS.

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      • David says:

        That makes absolutely no sense. The people weren’t turned away because of overcrowding. They were checked out, judged and rejected. Also to try the..art cars do it too..excuse is lame. Because they do something crappy we should be okay if you do it too? I’ve been on the plane and found it pretty boring and totally lacking in any creativity. Blue fake fur benches and that’s it. Not worth the effort.

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  • RonL says:

    it is not true that only art creates an emotional reaction. So does a junkyard. So does garbage. So do acts of privilege.

    I was turned away from seeing inside the 747. Many others were turned away from seeing the inside of the 747. There was little or no effort to make this an inclusive part of BM.

    There are good reasons that many do not support this “art” piece.

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    • Kai says:

      Isn’t it about time to get over that? Haven’t you read enough about the security issues of having too many people on board and the camp’s private party (like every camp is entitled to do) and that it was their first year and that everyone is entitled fuck-up and try again? Put a band-aid on your ego and try again this year. Maybe the Ken and his camp can make a better effort at managing traffic flow to welcome more people.

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  • Rich says:

    I get the sense that so many of these ‘art car rejected me because I wasn’t pretty enough’ stories are people who don’t know the whole story around that situation, don’t really care to know, and want to dress themselves up as victims of some outrage narrative.

    There could be many other explanations for why you weren’t let on when you arrived: no space/too full at the time, there was another incident onboard that was being managed before the crew could pile on more revelers, you or someone with you were being too drunk/obnoxious, etc…

    Of course these other possibilities require patience, awareness, and effort to surface, often requires that you’ve been involved in the logistics of a project/event of such scale/traffic, and attempting to add such nuance and texture to the story doesn’t really make for very compelling red meat that other keyboard critics can sink their teeth into.

    Unless someone on the 747 crew actually told you were “not attractive enough” (highly doubtful), your explanation says more about your self image than it does anything else.

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  • Slapshot says:

    Hi Rich,

    Have you ever seen so many people complaining about a single art car or art project before? I’ve seen art car gripes, but with almost 1,000 on the playa they’ve always been pretty evenly distributed. This thing has the single largest volume of complaints I’ve ever seen about any art car or installation on playa. The Dancetronauts a few years ago are the only thing that comes close and that came from them misbehaving during the man burn–literally in front of the entire city.

    No no, the post above yours doesn’t mention attractiveness–there’s too much noise to handwave this one away.

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  • Pop mantis says:

    Good riddance, what a catastrophic failure on every level. A project with an identity crisis. Becoming nothing more than an eye store and exclusive retreat for those who still need to feel “better than”. You came, you did nothing, and now you’ll leave. After all of this…what was the point?

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  • Andrew Johnstone says:

    I had a great conversation with Ken at Esalen and finally “grokked” what he was trying to achieve with this.
    Yes, it is audacious and the scale and ambition sets itself on a likely trajectory of failure… but that is what “radical expression” (self or collective) means. It is easy to to play it safe but that is not what burners do.
    We reach into the imagination and bring giant dreams that would normally die on the vine into full fruit.
    These things are hard enough without people kicking at the ladder.
    Ken… go for it mate!

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  • BobC says:

    The kool-aid flows strong in this one.

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  • Dave M says:

    The best part of the inaccurate “we were turned away because we were judged for our looks” is the fact that our camp is full of engineers, nerds, dreamers and the least vain group of misfits that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with for the past five years.

    Enjoy what we came together to work on, for you, with our blood, sweat and endless energy fueled by nerdy love.

    The stair truck should be in full repair this year, and allow more folks on and off with a secondary route. Enjoy the hulk of art + science + endless love kids!

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  • Rebeka Newbold says:

    I had so many of my elderly friends and plain Janes who told me they were turned away. Even when there was room and others were let in. I read the comments above. Maybe the nerds let e douchey doorman in who only picked pretty kids. I dunno… I’m fairly attractive I will admit. I have been in there twice. And was super excited about it…So it was really heart ringing to hear my friends say.. “I wish they would have let me in.. They said no… and there was people behind me that they said yes to.” Not cool. Radical Inclusion is the corner stone of our community. We don’t want last picked at gym teams feelings here. No siry. Fly away..

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  • Jason says:

    So i went inside the 747 last year and just didn’t get it. What do folks see in this? Is it just about scale? It didn’t seem like something anyone had “made”, just a chunk of a plane plopped down on the playa. For folks who really liked this piece, what was it that you got from it? I’m usually an easy sell when it comes to art on the playa, but this one just didn’t spark any interest in me.

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  • Pad says:

    Seeing a 747 reminds me of work .. dragging myself through airports.. stuck in airports..on business travel going to meetings.. then trying to get home to my family – Sad to have this reminder on the playa… but hey.. people can express what they want…

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    • Dan says:

      Sounds like a good opportunity to come to terms with the difference facets of your life and shed a more playful/joyful light on one of the areas you seem to be struggling with!

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  • your mom says:

    worst burning man idea ever. so thankful this colossal waste of resources will finally be gone.

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  • Smith says:

    Everything that has a beginning has an end.

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  • Raveler says:

    I don’t understand why we have yet another “journal entry”/Burning Man “all is good” piece about this project.

    Are we supposed to give kudos to someone who needed rescue (wasn’t radically self-reliant), did not practice civic responsibility or leave no trace – and from other reports – was not radically inclusive?

    TechCrunch.com, in 2015, easily prophesied what we have seen come to pass. https://techcrunch.com/2015/02/17/big-imagination-747/

    It was Burning Man LLC that made the biggest mistake in listening to a proposal from another silicon techie and self-described “serial entrepeneur” who “doesn’t know of any other way to express himself.”

    I think it’s safe to say that someone(s) in the approval process got warned this would happen a long time ago – especially the warning that moving thousands of pounds on a tripod would not be a good idea. All we should be getting now is an apology. If it’s not an apology.. please just keep quiet… we are all exhausted watching Burning Man LLC try to whitewash this phallus-shaped disaster.

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  • Allan says:

    The plane is awesome and even reading negative peoples comments is quite entertaining and makes it even better.

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  • Allan says:

    The plane is awesome and even reading negative peoples comments is quite entertaining and makes the story even better.

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  • Chuck T says:

    We are so unbelievably lucky.

    I’m constantly amazed at and grateful for the crazy big ideas and the tiny, meaningful interactions created in our city every year.

    It’s seventy-thousand-plus people. Support what you find engaging- leave for others what doesn’t resonate with you.

    To the *participants* in our city: Thank You.

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  • Splat says:

    I didn’t try to get on the 747 but went on it when the top half was sitting on the playa a few years ago. I liked the way it looked then and, because it is audacious and outrageous, I love it now. My friends volunteered to help get it off the playa last year. Had I known, I would have helped. Ken, if y’all need a ruggedly ugly 65-year-old doorman this burn, give me a shout. I’m experienced and judicious but can frolic with anyone. Let’s have a great Burn.

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  • Elizabeth says:

    It’s not a fucking art car.

    Chopping the wings and tail off a plane don’t make it an art car.

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  • Specialburner says:

    yes yes must like dusty party in the desert, it is great, I am free because I attend burning man, I am special because I attend burning man, I am unique and am DEFINTELY telling myself I’m changing the word by tripping at this massive rave in the desert.

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  • RN2 says:

    I do not know any of the creators or the people who were involved in bring the 747 to the playa for so many years. But bravo to you all in the feat of bringing it Burning Man. The first year I was aboard the 747 was 2016, awesome staff at the door and killer cockpit time. Last year my wife and I (our ninth year) had the most amazing Burn experience of all. From the beginning getting onto the plane (the searching and frisking was awesome) The TSA was in full effect! We then had the pleasure of dancing behind Atish & Mark Slee for the sickest sunrise sets in my life. What people need to remember is those magical moments just “happen” at Burning Man. Private partys happen. Sorry. Don’t take it personally, it’s not about offending you. Many other things to do or look at. Try again this year…

    Awesome Good Burn Vibes to ALL!

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