Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sanctuary in Work - Burning Man 2010

For me, work often cures a myriad of ills. Work distracts me. Work occupies me. Work is one of the things I do best.

After a very stressful, and very expensive trip to the Burn, I was actually ready to turn around and cut my losses. What was I thinking coming out to the desert for 10 days? I wanted to be in the default world, with my family who couldn’t come.

But I decided to continue on as planned, to my first shift with the Gate Crew. I got there, checked in, got my t-shirt and hoodie, got my laminate, and then sat down in the Black Hole to take in the scene.

Old couches sat upon old carpet laid to keep the dust down. Camping chairs left in a circled formation from the night before, continued to hold council around a still smoldering burn barrel. A crewmember slept in a hammock strung between two beams of the shade structure, as others came through looking tired but motivated.
The first shift with Gate includes an hour-long orientation. We learned do’s and don’ts, safety, what to look for, what to expect. Before long, we were on a bus headed to the gate where we were paired into teams and put to work.

Gate crew is responsible for every person that enters Black Rock City. We take the tickets, make sure folks aren’t bringing in forbidden items: guns, explosives, fireworks, dogs, live plants, feather boas, people without tickets, and then send them on there way down gate road to get hugs and excitement from the Greeters.

Working Gate is a dangerous job. There are a lot of vehicles, driven by weary but excited drivers, in various states of cogency. Exhaust combined with dust and beating sun, make for challenging work conditions, as does early morning cold when working the overnight shift. But there’s nothing like seeing a horizon that begins to glow with the earliest hints of day light before the sun rises.

Working the event changed my perspective about the Burn. I realized that I was no longer merely a participant. I was now one of many who help make it all happen.

After my first shift, I felt better, more like I was Home again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hard Entry, Hard Landing - Burning Man 2010

“So how was Burning Man?”

“Good,” I say. “I worked a lot.”

It’s true, I worked seven shifts with the gate crew for a total of about 46 hours. Next time I plan to work more.

It’s a totally different Burn from that perspective. Being among those who make it happen makes a big difference in the experience. We participate, but with far more commitment. I marveled at the Gate Crew veterans, their dedication, their stamina. As a new crew member I just did my best to keep up on the shifts that I covered.

It was a hard entry into the Burn this year. After weeks of preparation, my anticipation went into a fever pitch the week before the Burn. So did my anxiety. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something felt out of wack. Low level nervousness turned into low level panic, but I had no logical reason why.

Thursday, the week before my departure brought the first blow. While in UN Plaza, in San Francisco, I somehow, lost my Burning Van keys. Gone! No where to be found. And…no spares. Several phone calls, about 5 hours and two locksmiths later, I had a fresh set of keys and a set of spares. Tragedy averted. Or so I thought.

One week later, I was in SF again, this time to pick up equipment for my riders. It all seemed to be going well, but I couldn’t help but have a serious case of the Heebee Jeebies. I was anxious for no good reason. Everything was packed. We would leave in the morning. But I felt like something wasn’t quite right.

My fears were finally realized as we started ascending the Sierra Nevada. Blinking warning lights that would seal our fate hastened my blood pressure to raise. We managed to make it to Truckee, but not without causing damage to the engine.

The news from the mechanic wasn’t good. What made it worse was that he didn’t think the work would be completed until the following Wednesday. My heart sank. He gave me a card for the local rental car company, that maybe a little to coincidentally had a Suburban available for the week. I jumped at it.

With my blood pressure causing a light popping in my ears, I drove the rental back to the mechanic’s where my travel companions took over unloading the Burning Van and loading the Suburban. We arrived on the Playa about 6 hours later than we had planned, but we made it. But, for the first time I wasn’t overjoyed to be there. I didn’t want to be there at all. I needed comfort. I needed to not have spent a small fortune to get there. I needed my blood pressure to go down.

The next morning, after some restless sleep in the truck, I found my way to medical. The popping in my ears had stopped but I still felt loopy.

“130 over 92” the nurse announced when she checked it a second time.

“It’s a little high.”

After contemplating my options, I decided to at least set up a basic camp, and work my first shift with the Gate crew, before deciding to leave. So I did just that. I set up my tent, stowed some gear, had enough time to grab some water and my Playa pack and headed to the Black Hole, headquarters for PG&E, Perimeter, Gate & Exodus crew.