On Friday, May 31st seven intrepid Guardians took the long drive beyond Gerlach, beyond the entry point to Black Rock City, to Burning Man’s Work Ranch adjacent to the Black Rock Desert. Our goals were to build six new fold-flat benches for the training area, and organize and inventory the Headquarters container. The work was scheduled to take until Sunday to complete.
Accommodations at the ranch are sparse. For housing, we were assigned 8’x10’ boxes, each with a platform bed, some shelving for storage, hooks for hanging items, and an air conditioner. Most of the boardwalk-style row of these rough-hewn living quarters house DPW workers who spend as much as seven months of their lives building and then disassembling Black Rock City. The housing units are actually transported out to the Playa a few weeks prior to the Burn, where they are warmly referred to as the DPW “Ghetto”.
Once we had moved into our boxes, we set out to locate the Headquarters container from among the hundreds of similar units parked side-by-side, but in completely random order. The ranch staff loaned us a minimalist truck (lacking nearly all creature comforts, including doors), which allowed us to quickly survey the mass of storage units and locate ours. Its lock was “playa-fied” from its trip but we were able to muscle it open.
One glance inside the unit and we knew we were in for some heavy-duty work. It was stuffed full with almost no room to spare. We’d have to create space to store the new benches so a complete re-packing was in the cards. By then it was getting late and the lack of light out by the containers meant that work would have to wait for morning. At dinner and into the evening, we went over the plans for the benches using a cardboard model as our initial prototype, and making modifications to enhance the design.
Saturday morning: we split into two groups. Most of us began unloading the container. One member of our team had re-designed the benches in the middle of the night and was off to one of the ranch’s hangar-size work spaces – called Commonspace — to fashion a prototype out of ½” plywood. The final benches would be built with sturdier ¾” wood.
By mid-morning the container team had emptied most of the storage unit making it ready for inventory, reorganizing, and repacking. That work was completed just after lunch, and everyone joined the bench construction effort at Commonspace, working in the shadows of magnificent, carved signage from prior Burns, including “Cargo Cult”, “Radical Ritual”, “I, Robot”, and “Carnival of Mirrors”.
Building the benches was an all-hands-on-deck effort and required that we use some of the ranch’s heavy duty power saws – equipment that most of us had no experience operating. While some of us measured and cut pieces of ¾” plywood, others drew patterns for cut-outs, and still others actually jig-sawed out those patterns. We could not have done this work without the help of ranch staff who showed us how to safely operate the power equipment, and watched over us to make sure we cut only wood and not limbs and digits.
Other steps included sanding the wood, fitting the pieces together into a finished bench, and trying out the finished products to ensure their safety and comfort. Saturday’s work lasted until after 10 p.m.
Sunday, it was up for the 7:30 a.m. breakfast call, then right to work on completing our target of six benches. We also cut the remaining wood pieces so we would be able to make additional benches later. By 2 p.m. we had stored the finished benches and extra wood in the container. Then we packed up, cleaned our living quarters, grabbed a quick lunch of leftovers from the commissary fridge, and said our farewells to our hosts.
There was a distinct feeling of wistfulness as we departed the ranch – not unlike the feeling of leaving Black Rock City. That’s probably because the ranch is part and parcel of the Burning Man experience. It’s last year’s Burning Man packed up and stored away; but it’s also the next Burning Man emerging before your eyes. The DPW folks look for all the world like construction workers, but they act like Burners, quick to offer hugs and help. We left the Ranch with a sense of satisfaction about the work we had done, and a deeper bond with the extraordinary undertaking called Burning Man.
The crew: Lashes, Perky, Build-a-Bear, Kristen, Portal, Rezak and Masha.