Wednesday, April 19, 2017

88NV: It's a Real Airport

Having survived the scorpion fields of eastern Nevada and the meth gauntlets of Reno, I reached my home for the next two weeks, the Black Rock Desert.  For the first of those two weeks, I was going to be put to work.  There was an airport that needed to be built in that desert, and I was just the sort of unskilled laborer to help with the job.

The Black Rock Desert is the home of Burning Man.  It's a sprawling alkali flat with nothing for miles in all directions, making it the perfect place to create a pop-up city for a few weeks.  Nobody lives on the land, nobody lives near the land.  Keeping people off of that land is the blazing sun, caustic soil, blinding dust storms, and its remote location.  That last bit means anyone attending the event needs a way to get there.  While most people drive, and the occasional person rides their bike (Troy Mustache, 2013), there are others that fly in.  Before going off on a rant about affluence and appropriation, I'm not talking specifically of the celebs and Silicon Valley execs that get dropped off for the weekend so they can pose for photos in $10,000 light-up jackets before hiding in an RV to rip through brain melting amounts of blow.  I'm talking about pilots and their associates.  Think about it for a second, what better place could there be to be able to fly?  Not only do you have one of the most unique cities in the world to look down upon and giant black rock mountains all around, everything between the city and the mountains is a potential landing strip.

People have flown to Burning Man for years, and as the amount of pilots increased, so did the need for safety measures, until POOF!  88NV was created.  88NV is the FAA Identifier for the Black Rock City Airport, a temporary, FAA regulated airport that pops up in the middle of the Black Rock Desert for a little over a week in the late summer.  And that's where I going to be unskilled laboring.

I just realized I don't have a single photo from the airport without CB in it.

How does an airport in the middle of nowhere come to be?  It's actually pretty straight forward.  First, all airport team members line up along the eastern boundary fence that keeps trash from flying out of the festival into the open desert.  Next, we all strip completely naked.  After that, the lead air traffic controller distributes the ceremonial daggers.  Finally, we sacrifice a family of goats and paint ourselves with blood and dust while loudly chanting to our pagan god, Larriel, The Keeper of the Hot Winds.

No, wait, that's something else.  To build an airport, a surveyor first goes out into the open desert to mark out miles of runway and plane parking (according to a certified plan).  While that's going on, the non-surveyors take inventory of goods and start building the different structures (traffic control tower, customs, ticketing, gates, etc.).  After the desert is surveyed, it's marked off clearly so that planes know where to land and where to park, leaving the surveyor free to mark off internal roadways within the internal airport setup.  More buildings go up, roads are clearly marked, bus stops go up, a filling station is added with tons of warning signs, windsocks are erected, and assorted runway markers are put in place.  That all takes a little less than a week, and then the planes start landing.  From empty desert to functional airport in no time flat.

That first week, I hammered posts, put up walls, pounded concrete stakes, marked survey spots with lathe, took broken tools to welders, and pretty much anything else they told me to do in order to help get the place in order for the party.  By Thursday, we were good to go.  We had everything you could need to run airport, including air traffic controllers from all over the world.  Including a giant tripod tower with a crowsnest for watching the rest of the city build itself from the ground up.

At least he has the aviator glasses for the job.

Once built, I was able to head into the city to meet up with my campmates.  As much fun as the airport was, I wanted to be in the city center during the event.  But I was sure to still go out for visits during the week.  One of the nicest parts about the airport is its remote location.  Far enough removed from the heart of the festival, the thumping bass from the playa can almost be ignored.  Far enough removed that random drugged-out passerbies don't pass out on a shaded couch after talking your ears off about the meaning of life from the perspective of a fairy shrimp.  Far enough removed that you can escape the whirling frenzy going on a mile away without being pulled back in by its cyclonic tendrils.

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