Burning Man Cleanup: Lint Farmers on Tatooine

In this one time at burning man by summerburkes0 Comments

Sept. 19, 2007
Black Rock City, NV

They changed the name of what the DPW does from “cleanup” to “Playa Restoration” a couple years ago. The Burning Man Borg are as aware as anyone that naming is power, and that naming something right lends the right ideas and attitude. And the DPW are not Black Rock City’s janitors. We are its guardians — carrying out the final task to make sure a Burning Man can happen next year. That Burning Man is indeed, once again, the single largest Leave No Trace event on the planet.

Lollapalooza, Coachella, the Love Parade, Tour de Fat — at every single one of these festivals we’ve attended and worked, a metric ass-ton of crap covers the ground both during and after showtime.

We know, we know, Burning Man is an entirely different animal — a city of willful interaction and self-reliance rather than a passive concert-environment of spectation and consumption — and it shows. Events based on commercialism always hire an army of blue-collar workers to pick up trash and clean up the puke after everyone leaves.

At Burning Man … well, the community’s standards could always improve, and a couple bad apples spoil things considerably … but it bears repeating: The workers of Black Rock City are not out here because we’re janitors. We’re here striking and winterizing the infrastructure of the City — and then, we spend about three weeks doing a massive idiot check. Which allows the BLM to give us the go-ahead to throw it all again next year.

Three weeks of a 75-person crew stooping and MOOPing, and the desert floor once again becomes cleaner than ever in the years between when the Gold Rush-era settlers first crossed the playa and when Micheal Micheal and friends first suggested moving the burning dude out here. Out to the place where it looks like Luke Skywalker’s parents might pop out of the ground and Jawas lurk at the base of the mountains by Frog Pond.

Breakfast is served on the playa now instead of at Bruno's in town, so we can have our daily fire-barrel experience before Morning Meeting. We might live in town now, but DPW cannot work efficiently without the regenerative effects of live fire.

Breakfast is served on the playa now instead of at Bruno’s in town, so we can have our daily fire-barrel experience before Morning Meeting. We might live in town now, but DPW cannot work efficiently without the regenerative effects of live fire.

D.A., the head of Playa Restoration, said in his welcome-to-line-sweeps speech yesterday that, with the way we clean up after ourselves, we citizens of Black Rock City can teach the world how to be. We say with this little trash on the ground where two weeks ago, a teeming city of 48,000ish people got into some weird shit — we are already teaching the world how to be. Most folks who come out to Burning Man can’t help taking this kind of behavior home and spreading it around and leading by example, even just a little bit. It’s just so … easy and satisfying to make things better. To work for fun. Work is art. Art is work. Do stuff.

The ratio is this: One cleanup worker for every 800 or so residents of Black Rock City. But nobody seems to be worried.

Good job, everybody. Except you over there. Tape your Astro-Turf and stop bringing unshelled seeds and glitter to the desert, jackass.

The ravens score all the good stuff before we do. Jewelry, shiny tokens, mystery pills. We’ve always longed for an ornithologist to compile a photo essay of birds’ nests on the borders of this half of the Desert. We’re sure they’re disco-fabulous.

By the time Line Sweeps start, most of what’s left for us to pick up is: coals, wood chips, string, shade cloth bits, carpet pieces, Astro-Turf frayings, Zip-Ties, glittery pieces of tinsel, and human hair. Let’s just put it this way: The amount of work done does NOT correspond directly to the tonnage accrued at the end of the day in one’s MOOP bucket.

So, SO much bending. Muscles hate it / love it.

Why do we slave, then? Because we get to be zombies together. You don’t need drugs when you’re lurching over the hot desert floor in the bright sunshine, with repurposed water receptacle in one hand and MOOP stick or Leatherman in the other (Thirteen says: It’s like a bird’s beak!), scrutinizing the ground for the tiniest of particles to retrieve and dispose of. Walking around in swoops like a pigeon on crack for 8 hours a day for three weeks. Having batshit conversations and teetering on the brink of dehydration.

It’s fun if you think it is. Where else in the world can you find a Post-It note that says:

Danny said: My friends are going to hell. I said why? D: Because they’re dirty … I’m really gonna miss my friends when I’m in heaven.

Another anomalous wall of dust came up, as they do, sometimes …Then the rain started to come down, and we all got to go home early.

This doesn't look to-scale at all. The thing was mammoth.

This doesn’t look to-scale at all. The thing was mammoth.

We saw three different crazy-looking prehistoric bugs today.

No Jawas, though. Not yet.

*

Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter.

Leave a Comment