If you are just joining us… feel free to read Steps 1-6 first.
Step 7 – Final Approach to the Playa:
On Thursday afternoon, my sister Clare (aka Clarity) met up with me and we enjoyed one last hot meal at Bruno’s… the best (and only) restaurant in town. The tuna melt was big, greasy and pretty fricken awesome… and yes, I had it with fries.
We had a leisurely twenty minute drive to the playa and stopped at Steamboat Rock, overlooking Black Rock City to take some photos. The city was looking ten times fuller than the week prior.
When we got to the Gate, the wait was only about a half hour and we ushered in by our Gate family. By then the Greeter’s Station was open… where folks are greeted with hugs, given maps, directions, rainbows and crap. I honestly didn’t want to be greeted so I flashed my Staff Credential and politely asked to be excused. Thank you Greeters for not insisting on hugging us. We really only hug our own kind.
I dropped off Clare at her camp in The Ghetto, and headed to mine with just enough time get ready for my 7:30pm Gate orientation.
After my Gate orientation meeting at the Black Hole (Gate Department HQ), I had some time to kill. My shift wasn’t until midnight so I hung out with my nephew Wyatt, known as Shirly on the playa (as in surely you can’t be serious… I am serious and don’t call me Shirly). Wyatt and Clare had been on playa since August 3rd, so they were well salted. Hanging with Wyatt at the Black Hole Lounge was pretty cool considering he’s eighteen… and I’m a little older.
I reported at back at the Black Hole for the bus to the Gate at 11:3o pm. We soon found out that many of our Gate crew hadn’t arrived yet so we were short-handed. We had just five crew members and two shift leads, about half of what we needed.
We began our shift right on time at midnight. Even though we were still in pre-event, the Gate was busy. Just to clarify, Gate is not Greeters. At Gate, we search vehicles for firearms, fireworks, dogs, plants and feathers. We have a strict NO HUGS policy… we neither have time nor desire to get chummy with arrivees… that’s Greeters job.
After our search, we scan tickets and Early-Arrival passes then tag and release folks with the proper credentials. You gotta love the Org’s sense of humor… the Lake Lahontan Retreat & Water Show wrist bands were classic.
Being short-handed meant folks had longer waits to get in. It was a long night with few breaks, but we got through it. The graveyard shift is the only shift that we are not fed a meal, so we were rewarded with a hot breakfast at the Commissary after our shift.
I was so happy to see Dusty at sunrise… and so happy that my most difficult shift was finished. My other shifts were only 6pm to midnight, a piece of cake. When I returned to camp at 7am, I promptly cleaned up, took a sleeping pill went to bed in my fresh bed inside of Betty Dawn.
My shift the following night was different. I paired up with Andreas, from Sweden. We had me the year prior and worked well together. After our meal break, we were sent to work the Apex. The Apex is basically in intersection. Each of us managed two lanes, stopping and holding each vehicle, determining where they needed to go (either to the Gate or to Will Call), then carefully directed them across 8 lanes of traffic.
It’s a dangerous job. All we have for protection is a 3-foot wide A-frame structure and orange safety cones (I used mine as a megaphone to communicate with my fellow crew). It got especially dodgy when the wind and dust picked up, making visibility difficult. It was pretty hairy but now I know I can do it. I was so happy when my shift ended at midnight.
Step 9 – Working Opening Night
Burning Man officially opened at 6pm Sunday night, and I was scheduled to work it along with about 100 other Gate crew. Had I paid attention, I’d have know it was Clown night at the Gate. When I showed up for my shift, most of the veterans were in clown make-up. It was so fun to see this bad-ass department as clowns.
Another opening-night tradition was the Exploding Anvil. That’s right… a classic ACME style anvil was blown into the air with explosives… shortly after 6pm, to signify the opening of Burning Man. By then, thousands of vehicles were parked in the staging area. These are folks that arrived too early, without early-arrival passes. Many had been waiting in staging for 12-hours or more, but had already begun to party in the lot.
We were ready for them…. with more than twenty lanes open, each with two 2-person teams. Once the cars, RV’s and trucks started rolling in… we operated like a well-oiled machine. Searching vehicles on opening day was easier than Early-Entry, since most heavily-packed theme camps and complicated art cars had already arrived. We kicked ass and took names, not to mention gifts of beer, whisky and lots of thank yous. I’m so proud to be part of this amazing crew.
Step 10 – Art Car Heartbreak & Bad News
When I returned to camp at 1am Monday morning, I was met with sad news. The art car was dead in it’s tracks. The vehicle’s fuel pump had an unrepairable fuel leak and was not safe to drive. There was a dark cloud hovering over our camp. For Eli, who had worked so hard on it, the situation brought some relief. The required radical illumination on the art car was not complete, and getting an art car to pass both a day and night inspection by DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) was not going to be easy… so now there was one less thing to do. In the end, we decided to use the art car as a hang-out platform in front of our camp. It was a sad end to a valiant effort, but it freed us up to just relax.
To top it off, the next morning, one of our campmates, Jerry (an absolute camp favorite) had to leave for a family emergency. Jerry’s departure left us all in major funk. Lucky for me… I had work to distract me.
Step 11- Working Perimeter
The Perimeter crew are the folks that patrol the Perimeter fence and surrounding area, to keep participants safely inside the fence, and to keep hippies (an official term used in the department) from sneaking in.
This was my first year working Perimeter. I scheduled two night shifts, one training and one real shift. My training was great! Veterans Zed and Yando took us out for some hands on training. We got to play hippies and try to sneak in at night… so fun.
The next night, I was partnered with Tower-50, a department veteran. We were issued a vehicle and dispatched to a couple of locations where we waited for instructions, intel and hopefully, some action.
It’s a high-tech game of cat and mouse with trucks, radios, night-tech equipment, radar and a control tower. We didn’t catch anyone, but it was more fun than expected.
Most of all, I truly enjoyed the being in the quiet desert at night, watching the chaos of Burning Man from afar. With all my Gate and Perimeter shifts complete, having earned my ticket for next year… I was finally able to go to Burning Man.
Stay tuned for the final chapter… Step 12 – Going to Burning Man.