Friday, February 11, 2011

Tales from the Black Rock Beacon

I attended Burning Man in 2009 as a spectator and was determined to get more involved in 2010. I got in contact with the fine folks at The Black Rock Beacon a few months prior to the festival and signed-up to work as a staff writer. I had finished up a gig in Portland and had several weeks to kill before the beginning of fall term at Portland State. With nothing better to do, I rolled out to the playa early and set up camp the Tuesday before the gates opened.

At that point, Black Rock City was still pretty vacant. The Man had yet to be placed on top of his pedestal and the Center Camp tent was an empty shell. I was the first Beacon staffer to show. I threw down my tent and spent those first few days sleeping late and working on an art project out on the playa. Slowly, but surely, members of the Beacon staff trickled in. Before I knew it, I was helping set up the paper's makeshift tent/office and scribbling comic strips to cover an old bench out front.

I was surprised at how devoted the staff was to the Beacon. Two veterans had dumped several thousands of dollars into a large printer that cranked out copies of the daily paper. Several editors worked around the clock, their days beginning at 10 AM with a staff meeting and often ending well after midnight. I snagged a corner of one table in the tent and dubbed it the "International Affairs Desk," where I parked my ass for more hours than I care to admit.

One of the highlights of the 2010 fest for me was staying up all night chatting with other staffers and chain-smoking while bleary-eyed Burners staggered over in search of information. We put together a chart to track the number of times we were asked where the information tent was located. If memory serves, there was around a hundred slash marks on the board by the time the Man burned.

I've worked in a few newsrooms in my time and, unsurprisingly, the Beacon's proved to be the most fun. During my week in their tent, I sat in on interviews with BLM troopers, artists, a Shirtcocker and Larry Harvey. I spent one afternoon running around the city debunking a rumor about "a mutant car being used by federal agents to bust people on drugs." After a wild goose chase, I discovered that the vehicle in question belonged to a crop of BLM employees that were cruising the city and having fun like everyone else during their off hours. The guy who built the thing laughed when I told him about the stories that were going around. Oh, I also got a free flying lesson from a pilot with a stunt plane out at the airport too.

I also took it upon myself to run around town as a newsie, handing out papers at the front gates to attendees fresh off the highway and at Center Camp. I didn't do the "Extra! Extra!" bit though.

The Beacon's neon purple sign and the staff's round-the-clock bacon-fests drew all sorts of BRC denizens to the tent. One day, a group of frat brats from SoCal decided to hold court in the office, loudly demanding acid every five minutes. We couldn't get them to leave. Finally, one staffer cut off their supply to bacon and they left of their own accord. On a brighter note, another afternoon a gorgeous, topless gal from Spain stopped by to use the internet.

The staff and the editors were a great, welcoming bunch, many of whom work as journalists outside of the city in their normal lives. There was Howeird, an awesome British expat who looked and sounded a bit like Dumbledore from Harry Potter. I should also mention Carry, a mother from the Seattle area who lets her hair down at Burning Man every year and Rocky, a journalist from San Fran who looked like Billy Idol. There was also Rhino, a gentle giant from down south and Mitch and Jane and Durgy....I'll stop now, lest I forget anyone.

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