Monday, September 17, 2012

Lessons and Realizations

Well, it's two weeks back and I am feeling the euphoria of Burning Man wear off.  The excitement of sharing pictures and videos has subsided and the reality of clean-up is about half dealt with, for me anyway.  I still can't fit my car in the garage due to piles of boxes and stuff.  Would I do it all over again?  Probably yes.  I'm really glad I didn't get laid off from my job because the bill for my extravagance was steep.  I'm also glad to have had the opportunity to learn new skills and have new experiences, but have the stability of a job that pays for my food and allowed me to fulfill a dream that had been kindled with my first visit to Burning Man seven long years ago.

About a week ago, before the excitement wore off, I was asked if I'd want to expand and add on to the art car, and I couldn't stop thinking about the idea for a whole following day.  I am a bit cooler headed now and am ready to put all additional effort onto the back burner.  Just for fun, and to see if this resonates at all with someone, I'll explain the idea.  Basically, add a sea serpent to the back of the sinking ship and recreate an epic sea battle on the open playa.  Turn the freighter into a sinking destroyer or battleship by simply repainting it and adding some boxes in front and in back shaped like gun turrets, and of course they'd be flame shooting.  Maybe after seeing what I built, people will want to get on board and really help out with the operation next year.  Because I've decided:  next year, other people will drive it.  Besides, if I relocate the controls up high then the driver won't be isolated down below and all the visibility problems would be solved.  If a crowd doesn't appear, then fuck no it won't get built and the exact same truck will be back.

Some other lessons have sunk in a bit more.  Safety Third has new meaning to me.  I put a lot of blood and sweat into this.  Tears, not so much, but if I'd had time to go to the Temple this year I might have shed those too.  My body was sacrificed in the creation of this truck: my arms were scratched up and down, large bruises, a burn from hot metal fragments while drilling.  When it came down to a dirty job that had to be done and required maximum sacrifice, I had to do it.  I couldn't ask someone else, and no one was volunteering. Climbing up 14 feet in the air on not-solid-flooring to repair a malfunctioning LED strip was required.  If I wanted to see that light strip light up, it was required.  Safety 3rd was the way it got done, and ingenuity and resourcefulness.  When scaffolding disappeared Thursday night, we used the RV as a work platform to take the thing apart.  That seemed a lot better than scampering around on a 21 degree sloping slippery playafied piece of plywood.  The single injury was when Yvonne got scratched badly by a screw in the door area which should have been a different length.  We duct taped the crap out of everything remotely sharp after that.

Other realizations: I realize I have a lot more spatial/ visualization/ ability to understand how things work and automotive expertise than most out there, and I like to use it. I.e., I like when shit happens. This is actually pretty sick, because who in their right mind relishes adversity?  When the check engine and red flashing check transmission light flashed on the drive up, I bought an OBD tester and made a judgement on if it was okay to drive up.  When the turbo hose popped off not once but twice at the highest elevation over the pass, I was able to calmly determine I didn't have a blowout and simply repair the popped-off hose.  The ability to fix these problems was directly a result of my experience on turbo cars and the last 5 years designing on-board diagnostic systems.  The fact that the only part of the art portion of the truck that broke the whole week was an LED strip tells a lot.  I don't know, I guess I'm proud of my ability and want some respect.  But forget the pride and recognize that all my efforts were to one goal.  I'm glad I put my skills to use.  I am very sure that other people had a far worse time with their vehicles at Burning Man.  The problems I had you can't just throw money at, either.  That doesn't make me lucky... it just proves something. I'm no horse whisperer; more like a vehicle whisperer or something.

A lot of people helped out.  A lot.  From herding people to operating the door without knocking someone unconscious, everyone lent a hand to the best of their ability.  Even the complete drunks were trying to be helpful by babbling incoherently to me about some pointless shit.  When the lights on the sinking ship started flashing on and off after the Wall Street burn, and then turned completely off, the community helped out.  The owner of a fine space shuttle let me have some gasoline to get back to camp with lighting on (vital to avoid accidents).  This was after the gas ran out on Friday and we borrowed 3 gallons from another camp.  Miscommunication is the cause of the gas shortage; I had no gas can.  I did have 15 gallons of diesel, but that didn't help.  I'm thinking to pick up a small used diesel generator for next year to avoid reliance on multiple types of fuel.  I was generously able to borrow a Honda 3000 and it performed flawlessly, but I can't count on anything for next year and I would like to relocate the generator to outside the passenger area.  And get that diesel exhaust routed to the back as well instead of trapped underneath because of the side paneling and fabric skirt.  I better make a list of redesign priorities.

So what next?  Time to move on. I'm slowly going to finish cleaning and putting everything away.  I don't want the alkaline playa dust to wreck all my camping stuff.  I probably won't do the RV again... the army tent was as good and way less expensive.  I need to repair the 12v outlet on the truck, figure out why the blower fan was groaning loudly after I cleaned out the cab, and buy a new air filter or two. Next year I will reach out to the community in a different way.  All the heavy lifting is done and now it's all fun details and enhancements.  Collaboration could be arranged in a not-last-minute way, and ideally all changes engineered and executed before summer even starts.  The fun part for me was designing and building it, not having it there or taking responsibility like a stern parent the whole time.  By Spring, I may just have the energy to start building and designing parts again.  The ship has a 2 Burning-Man-year life cycle, and then I set the truck free.  Catch and release, I call it.  I'm just a steward for it for a couple of years and then it moves on to someone else.  Everything is temporary... Black Rock City taught me that.  Yes, it's time to move on now.

Oh, and check out this link.  This was after the man burned.  I had at least an hour of permanent grin.   It didn't make up for all the work, but was pretty damn satisfying anyway.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Well it's been a few days now since Burning Man 2012 finished so I can laugh a little and relax a lot.  The last month leading to the event were crazy and I was basically working a 90 hour week for all of August.  It was 50-55 hours at work during weekdays, then a few hours after work, and 8-9 hour days at the shop on weekends.  It is laughable now, but I had checklists leading up to departure with to-do items like: finish art car/ steps, buy diesel containers, buy dryer duct (measure?), print early arrival pass, take ticket, change clothes.  It was insane.  I have never worked so sustainably hard in my life.  But it's all in the past now, as is the week of Burning Man.

So I built my first art car and took it to Burning Man.  I have to say it turned out pretty well and looked cool.  My only intention was to see it out there, and I succeeded at that.  While it's only been a few days since I got back, my initial conclusion is that this was the worst burn ever for me.  It comes down to the fact that I worked like a dog for the entire summer and ended up a taxi driver until I finally said fuck it on Friday last week.  That was when I took the event back and started to have fun.
The 2012 event was markedly different in feel compared with prior years (I've been going since 2006).  I have never seen such a sense of entitlement from participants.  It's like the art car was god's gift to them for showing up or something.  I don't understand how a complete stranger can expect a ride on a crowded rolling dance party when I can barely see out the front window and know damn well that the amount of people on the back is probably the limit.  Then to demand "what's the name of this art car" like he's going to turn me into the art car police or something for violating his preconceived newbie notion that "that's not the Burning Man spirit".  Later on, when I had to yell, "for the love of god, get down from there before you get yourself killed.  I built this and know it will fall through", at least people had the sense to listen.  There were exceptions, thank god, because without assistance I could not have put the art car together.  The main structure requires about 6 people to lift into place, and strangers helped there. I got a lot of encouragement and help assembling and disassembling it from Shane, Gumby, James, and Phil.  DJs Fingers, Poptart, and Lighthouse made a major contribution too.  Special props to Joe and Maggie for driving it Thursday and allowing me to ride on the back deck for the first time for once, and for Shane driving it too and for Bjorn for generously offering.    Of course, everyone that helped build it back in Orange County deserves huge applause too.

For about one hour on Saturday night, I was on a natural high and had a kind of permagrin.  This was the night.  That was some cool shit.  If I could thank anyone for that, it would be the octopus owner, Heart Deco owner, and all the cool people dancing in front of our art cars.

But all in all, I have to say the actual event was a sucky experience for me.  It was a lot of work, and not a lot of reward, other than my internal gratification for seeing the art car out there.  And that is/ has to be enough.  But seriously, I didn't realize this until this trip, and it was my 7th burn: Everyone at Burning Man is either drinking alcohol or doing drugs.  Why this is a surprise amazes me, but I think it's because I used to generally be completely sane and sober about every other day at Burning Man and somehow assumed everyone else was on a similar schedule.  Nope.  They're either wasted, in the process of getting messed up, or planning to get intoxicated soon.  That was a little bit sad to me.  And I guess I was in the same category, because I only noticed this when I was desperately trying to get someone else to drive the damn thing so I could crack open a beer on the upper deck.  And generally failed to get anyone to drive it.  So I was sober a lot last week. I only partied on Wednesday and Friday nights after parking around 1-2 am and abandoning ship for the night.  Otherwise by day or night, I was completely sober.  And the drunk people all around could become pretty annoying.  I'm really at a loss right now if I want to do this again, but I did always plan to bring the art car to at least two Burning Man events.  And since it's finished, I guess it will be no problem to take it back next year.  But I'll be with a camp that helps out and has some kind of shift sign-up schedule so it's not all my burden. And even a bad day at Burning Man is better than 99% of other days not at Burning Man.  Maybe I'll have a different perspective in a month... I'll post some more pictures and thoughts later.