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In 2013, I took the advice of someone I’d met on Facebook and had known but a few weeks (Charlie), and I went out to Burning Man a week early for what is often called Build Week.

Build Week is the week prior to the official start of Burning Man and a time when select theme camps and art projects are given limited permission to enter the event, so they can begin setting up their camps, art projects and various structures. It has since become my favorite time to be at Burning Man, but when Charlie first asked me if I was going in early, my answer was an immediate, emphatic and unequivocal, “No!”

How could I? The majority of my personal gear was being transported by train and truck to the event and wouldn’t arrive until later in the week; all the support infrastructure of a kitchen, shade, water, power and gray-water collection–to name some of the necessary basics–were things my camp provided and wouldn’t be set up until right before the event; and I wasn’t about to go to the desert in a little temporary pup tent with a bunch of granola bars to keep me fed. No way. 

So, yeah, I had no plans to go in early and no interest in doing so.

But Charlie was Charlie, and he spoke of how utterly magical it was to arrive early, to watch the city get built and to be part of the crew that laid the groundwork and major pieces for a camp or village. He spoke of how different Build Week was before all the revelers arrived, and he told me it was his favorite time to be in Black Rock City–when the city population was low and the people there were often the hard-core workers: the do-ers, the builders and the makers.

Charlie also told me I could stay with him and the camp he was with (Dymaxion), which would provide me with basic infrastructure support and a safe place to sleep. Oh, and he told me I could ride in to the event with him and Dymaxion’s creator, TinMan, which was the key for me as I knew I didn’t want to rent a car to get in and out of the event.

Hmm. So now with an offer of a camp to call home for a week, a place to sleep and put my gear (they had a “living unit” I could use during Build Week, though I’d need to bring my own sleeping bag and such, of course) and a ride in, Charlie’s offer was becoming quite an interesting one. I secured an early arrival/work pass from the village where our camp would be located that year, and I called Charlie to say, “Yes. Yes, I’m coming in for Build Week, and yes, I’d love to camp with you and TinMan!”

rolling in

I arrived in Reno on a Sunday late afternoon flight, checked in to my hotel, piddled around a bit, then slept.

Early the next morning, Charlie and TinMan picked me up in a big truck with a big trailer laden in part with large and heavy gear. We stopped at a grocery store for last-minute fresh food and off we went to the playa, the Black Rock Desert and home to Burning Man for a sliver of time.

I know getting in a car with two men I didn’t know and heading off into a desert may seem a bit odd, but I trusted Charlie and Charlie trusted TinMan and while there is no rule that says “all burners are cool and trustworthy” (and, most certainly, some are not), I felt completely safe.

serious set up

After arriving on playa and getting situated by the placement team (the people who walk all theme camps’ boundaries when the first members of a camp arrive onsite), TinMan started unpacking the heavily laden truck and trailer.

Now, I’m a packer. And an over-packer. And a provisioner to the nth degree.

But I ain’t never seen nothing like this before. TinMan, a metal fabricator with a shop in Sacramento, didn’t mess around. His camp structures weren’t the typical canvas tents, fabric shade cloths or carport structures from Costco. No, they were metal. Metal, metal, metal. Big, heavy, strong metal structures. Metal structures that needed very specific set up and assembly. Metal structures that were heavy. Metal structures that required know-how and skills I didn’t have to get them up and functioning.

It was an uncomfortable experience at first, as I was used to feeling more useful. As a camp leader for the camp I’d be setting up in a week (More Carrot), I was used to being in the know, being in charge and being responsible for things getting done the way they needed to get done. But here with TinMan and the awe-inspiring Dymaxion Village setup, there wasn’t much I could do. So I did tasks I could manage such as group similar sized metal walls together (per TinMan’s instructions), organize the kitchen and make sure Charlie and TinMan had water and snacks to keep them going while they built various structures.

While I eventually camped with my crew, More Carrot, Black Rock City Farmers Market, my week staying with Tinman and Charlie in Dymaxion, was one of the best week’s ever. Included in my story is getting caught in a horrific rain storm late at night and having to travel half a mile back to camp into heavy winds and rains amidst an environment with nary a soul to find, save or protect me. Harrowing, challenging, a bit frightening, truth be told. When I finally arrived back to camp, rather than trying to find safety and comfort in a wind-buffeted tent, I crawled into my abode (the front structure on the left, below) closed my door (yes, I had a door!), and let the wind and rain howl and pound. I slept so soundly that night. It was actually one of the soundest sleeps I’d experienced in a long time; I felt utterly safe inside this incredible structure.

Photo by Phillippe Glade

I’m so thrilled to know TinMan and for his creations and genius to be honored now in this book published by Burning Man’s official photographer, Philippe Glade. If you’ve yet to go to Burning Man and to understand, year after year, the incredible **choices** any photographer has for photographing amazing art, structures and people, you’d understand even more how much of a testament being included in this book is to TinMan’s work, vision and creativity.



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