Episode 42
E42
Burning Man Live | Episode 42 | 12|08|2021

Chef Juke’s Wild Art Car R.I.D.E.

Guests: Chef Juke

Let’s take a trip from Burning Man in 1994 to Sotheby’s Auction House in 2021; from the Department of Mutant Vehicles to the Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Stewardship Group; from Oregon to Nebraska to Las Vegas; from a sense of wonder to BRC 2022. Listening to this may inspire you to do something you hadn’t considered before.

Burning Man Culture: Radical Inclusion, Diversity & Equity

Burning Man: Sotheby’s Art Auction: Boundless Space

Burning Man Staff: Patrice Mackey aka Chef Juke

Burning Man: Henry Chang and Artgineering

Burning Man LIVE

[email protected]

Our guests

Chef Juke first went to Burning Man in 1994. Since his first Burn, he has run a large communal kitchen for his village at Burning Man, and started volunteering for the Black Rock City Department of Mutant Vehicles in 2002. He is the founder of the JukeShop, a community-focused makerspace in Eugene, Oregon. He’s also User Success Manager on the Technology Team at Burning Man Project.

Transcript

STUART: We have a fun show lined up today. Every once in a while we like to bring in a guest who’s just such a charming personality, but also just because we like talking to interesting people. So today our guest is (How do I even begin to describe him?), I will start by saying he is an old school Burner with a history nearly as long as my own.

He has had roles both formal inside the organization and as a volunteer and as a participant over many interesting years.

Currently he still has a volunteer role with our Department of Mutant Vehicles Council, getting those fabulous art cars onto the playa. And he works in the Burning Man Technology Department as our head of User Success. His government name is Pat Mackey, but we don’t call him that, we call him Chef Juke. What’s up, Juke?

JUKE: Hey, Stuart. How are you?

STUART: I’m doing great. I’m so glad to have you on the program.

JUKE: I’m glad to be here. Actually, I was listening to your intro. I’m going, “Wow, that guy sounds cool. I want to meet him.”

STUART: Well, let’s see if we live up to it. Why don’t you start with that interesting compound playa name? Where did that come from?

JUKE: Oh, okay. Well, Chef Juke. It started off as just Juke. My first time at Burning Man was in 1994, and through a friend I met the wonderful Alex Utterman. Alex was, in 1994, she was the press liaison for Burning Man. And we ended up camping with her, and friends. And during that four or five days we were there, at some point the subject of music came up.

I have been a fan of music and music trivia for many years. At one point somebody mentioned a song and they thought it was by Al Green, and I said, “No, no, no. That was by Bill Withers.” Lean on Me. Classic song by Bill Withers. And I started to sing it. And they questioned me and I started telling them the dates of the song and all of this trivia about it. And they went, “Wow, that’s really cool that you know all that.” And then they started testing me. So it became this impromptu version of “Name That Tune.” And I could not only name the tune, but I could, I could sing them as well and tell them data about it. At one point, Alex looked at me and said, “You’re a human Jukebox.”

STUART: Juke.

JUKE: And, two years later, I am arriving on the playa and I find their camp, and I walk up to a gal I don’t know and she pointed at me and said, “You’re that juke guy.” I said, “What?” “The jukebox guy.”

When I joined the Burning Man email list a week or two later, I noted that everybody had a nickname in their signature. And so I just started signing my name, “That juke guy,” and it stuck.

STUART: On the old DIOX list, that must’ve been.

JUKE: On the old DIOX list.

STUART: You’ll notice by the way that I have never had a nickname. I’ve had some aliases along the way, but I’m not a playa name guy.

JUKE: That’s a strange thing. We might be. It’s never too late.

STUART: Yeah, my two rules of playa names are: people have to call you it and you have to answer to it, and I have not answered to anything yet. People have tried to pin them on me, like the tail on a donkey, but so far, nothing has stuck. So 1994, first year?

JUKE: 1994. First year.

STUART: I got you by one year, bro.

JUKE: Yeah. You’re the older school burner.

STUART: But you’ve probably been to more burns than I have because I took some years off. How many burns do you think you’ve been to overall?

JUKE: I think I took two years off, but other than that, so 20… Well, now the last two years, it’s really hard to keep my count even.

STUART: Numbers are hard, and plus, memory, at a certain point. So wow. Starting in the nineties, pretty much straight through all the time. I’ll just ask you this: Why do you keep going? What does it mean to you? What’s the value of this thing to you personally?

JUKE: You know, I used to say that the reason I keep going back to Burning Man is to commune with a small group of people who we have the shared experience, but to continue this ongoing conversation that we have been having for 20 plus years, and the topic of the conversation is: Why do we keep coming to Burning Man?

But for me every year, I either come with, or I see people who have never been, it’s their first time. And every year I see their jaws drop, their eyes get wide, that they experience the same thing that I experienced back in ‘94. Burning Man to me is this place that creates a sense, it helps people connect with two things, their sense of wonder and their sense of inspiration.

They get inspired. I see people get inspired at Burning Man every year to do something back out in the world – whether it’s to bring it back to Burning Man, or just to do something that they hadn’t considered before. The other part is the wonder piece. And, I’ve talked a lot about this with my friends. As we get older, when we’re a kid, kids are so in touch with their sense of wonder. You can show a kid a rock and they go, “Oh my gosh, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” And they will play with that rock. You know, the meme of the cardboard box. A kid will play more with a cardboard box than the gift that came inside of it. And then we hit teenagerdom and other stuff, and it’s not about being in touch with that sense of wonder, it’s the opposite. It’s oh, be cool. Don’t show your feelings. Act more adult.

I see Burning Man helps undo some of that false “We don’t have to show our emotion. We have to be cool.” Yes. It might have some protection mechanism going back that, oh, you don’t want to show your feelings. But when you see people get gobsmacked, when they look around, they turn their head and there’s a giant mechanical octopus shooting flame out of its tentacles driving by, and their mouths just hang and they go, “Oh my God.” They do the thing that people do. They see something and they don’t even trust their eyes enough, so they turn to the person next to them, and they go “Do you see that to me?”

As long as Burning Man is providing that sense of wonder and helping people connect back with that, as well as inspiring them to do whatever it is that never occurred to them that they could do out in the world. It’s worth supporting, it’s worth going to, it’s worth connecting with. So that’s what keeps me going back.

STUART: Well, let’s go back briefly to those days of initial wonder, back in those crazy 1990s. I’ll be frank here, my memories are sometimes a little hazy about what happened back then. What was your first year like out there? How did it blow your mind in particular?

JUKE: So my first year out there was traveling with seven friends, mostly from my workplace at a tech job, and we’re all going to caravan together. And just as has always happened with Burning Man, at the last minute all of the plans fell apart. So we ended up leaving Oregon two days later than we intended, not having slept for 35 hours, and then we leave on an eight hour drive, and ended up getting to the playa at about four in the morning. And we arrived to the “gate” which was…

STUART: Two heavily armed men in a shitty trailer?

JUKE: …in a shitty trailer with firearms. We had just seen a car drive off into the desert and we pull up, and they just yelled at us, four in the morning, “Burning Man?”

“Yes!” We’re looking for our tickets or whatever it was we had.

“Yeah, just follow that car. Go 11 miles. Turn right. Go two miles. If you hit water or the mining camp, you’ve gone too far.”

We’re like, “OK.” And we take off and it’s dark. We lose the lights immediately of the car we’re supposed to be following. And pretty quick I realize I can’t see anything. I’m driving 60 miles an hour in total darkness and realize I have no way to tell if I’m turning, if I’m driving straight. And after a little bit, I see a little tiny blue light off in the distance. And I thought it was like a

Coleman lantern just sitting on the ground. So I aim for that and slowly but surely it elongated, it grew taller and taller. And then we realized, Hey, it’s the Burning Man. So we head for that.

We get to the Man and it felt like, when I look back at photographs. (I took a lot of photographs on film, way back.) It’s Friday morning before the burn at 4:00 AM. And there’s only like 25 cars there, 25 cars and the Man standing on the ground. And I remember thinking, “I can’t tell if it’s much larger or smaller than I thought, but it sure looks interesting.”

There’s nobody awake. The only thing going on is a little generator by the Man that’s powering the neon. The Man standing there alone. So we got out, pitched our tents, the first place we could and crashed.

STUART: And then you camped at, what did we call it before it was Media Mecca, we called it “Press Here,” right?

JUKE: I think at the time it just said the “press tent.” “Media check-in here” was the sign. One of those like five by seven pop-up shades. It wasn’t even a tent, there was no inside. The press people were supposed to walk up and Alex would come out and meet them, and she would basically make them take an oath.

And the oath was, “I promise not to interfere with anyone’s immediate experience.” And the story was the year before there’d been some film crew that had come out. And they had just gotten in everybody’s way saying, “Oh, get out of our way. You’re getting in our shot.” And pretty quick, the masses started getting angry at them and throwing things at them. And they ran off into the desert and got stuck in the mud.

The press liaison basically warned people: We’re not here to feed your shot. You can capture, but don’t get in the way.

STUART: Did you come to Tiki camp?

JUKE: Oh, uh, “Drink or get out.” I actually have some photos. Later in the day, walking around and like, “Look, there’s this place with all these palm trees and Tiki stuff, and they’re making drinks.

STUART: Did we meet each other that year?

JUKE: Who were you? Who were you back then?

STUART: Who were YOU? New friends. Hi, new friend.

JUKE: I do have some video from ‘95, but if I recall correctly, the first Tiki bar I went to, you were supposed to bring mixers. They had the alcohol, you would bring the mixers, but if you were in there, inside the shade, about every minute and a half, somebody would yell out, “Drink or get out!”

STUART: That was Big Wave Dave. That was when we were still figuring out what participation really meant. It’s kind of a ‘no spectators’ thing, but yeah. Bartenders were a little bit rough-edged back then. I know that we scared a few people away.

One of our bartenders, he brought this big industrial can of turkey Vienna sausages, and he would start slipping those into blender drinks to get people meat drinks. I know, it’s just, it’s terrible. You’re bringing back terrible memories, Juke. Let’s move on.

Did you meet Larry Harvey that first trip up?

JUKE: I met Larry. I think I may have been four hours on playa, having… The first thing that I saw when I came out of my tent was Ripper the Shark Car driving by. So I’m waking up already disoriented, I see the shark drive by being chased by a boat car with somebody with a harpoon on the boat, chasing the shark, being chased by Harrod Blank’s “Oh My God” – the little Volkswagen with all of these things stuck on it. The first thing I said: “I am so not in Kansas anymore.” Got some coffee and now we went and found the press tent.

And Larry comes over to do an interview with I believe some Japanese reporters. I’m like first thing doing, sitting down, just met Larry and he sits down and gives an interview. And I remember, the part that I found most interesting was, the way he described Burning Man at that time was that Burning Man was a monument to impermanence.

He said out of the regular world, we live our lives believing that everything in our life is going to be there tomorrow. Our friends will be there tomorrow. Our job will be there tomorrow. We will be there tomorrow. And there’s going to be a day when that’s not true. We lose people. Our job goes away. But we live these lives with so much complacency that everything’s going to be there.

And out here, we come out here, we build this great sculpture. We build it knowing it’s going to go away and we celebrate it. We enjoy it while it’s here. And then we set it on fire and we let it go. It’s this monument to impermanence.

And what if we treated those things in our lives that we take for granted every day as if they’re really important to us? And so maybe people go back to their lives and what we now call, they go back to the default world, and maybe they engage a little differently because they remember that this stuff isn’t going to be here forever.

So that was my first meeting of Larry and the first takeaway that I had from him. And I think it was the first thing that I told my wife when I got back. “Honey, no let me tell you about this monument to impermanence. This place was amazing! Lotta neat stuff!”

STUART: And also a good first glimpse of art cars – as we call them back then. Tom Kennedy’s Ripper was a fabulous piece that had a huge impact on me too.

How did that lead to your involvement in the mutant vehicle world? What’s that been like for you over the years? A lot of people just show up and they see all these fabulous, strange vehicles out there, and they’re not really aware of what all goes into getting them out there and supporting them and all that stuff. How does that even operate?

JUKE: As a lot of folks know, over the years Burning Man has changed a little bit. The first years you could just show up and drive around as you wished. As the event grew, that started becoming more dangerous and, there’s a point realizing that having a large group of people at a party in the desert all driving around willy-nilly was not going to be sustainable.

So after ‘96, a lot of people call “the scary year,” there were some accidents and some injury accidents related to vehicles. It was decided that, okay, we can’t have people just driving around. So you could drive in, park at your camp, and then not drive your car until you were ready to leave.

But they’re already at that point was a history of people bringing some wild and wacky cars out there, like Ripper the Shark Car. Burning Man wanted to keep that spirit. That was something that was already part of the Black Rock City zeitgeist.

So they created the Department of Mutant Vehicles. The first few years it was, “Hey, if you’ve got a decorated vehicle, yep, you can drive it around.” And then it’s like, “Well, we got to give you something saying that you’re okay, so drive over to this one spot and we’ll give you a little sticker that says you can drive this.”

But as more and more people started bringing more and more vehicles, it started becoming a thing we needed to have some way of better designating who can drive. And the BLM, the Bureau of Land Management, they get concerned about how many people are driving. So there’s a point where we started having a limit of how many vehicles, and then that created the need to create a criteria.

I first got officially involved with the Department of Mutant Vehicles in 2002. A friend of mine, from the camp that I got involved with, The Blue Light District, Jewels Cody, was the first head of the Department of Mutant Vehicles.

So over the years we developed a criteria and a process that helps us invite as many vehicles as we can, in a way that doesn’t get the BLM too concerned about the number of vehicles, and do it in a way that’s really fair and reasonable, and considerate – and considerate it is kind of the big piece.

So we have a group of 120 volunteers. Every February when we open up registration we get, nowadays, about 900 applications for people to bring their vehicles. We get together in groups of 25, review the applications, and the ones that are well mutated, that don’t look like something you’re going to see on the streets. It really needs to be something that is unique, and not a golf cart with things on it, not just a paint job, something that you’re not really going to see somewhere else. And if they meet that criteria, we invite them.

STUART: And so 900 applications, and in recent years, how many have actually been approved to drive on playa?

JUKE: So we invite 800, that’s sort of our limit. And the actual goal is to have under 700, but we have a pretty consistent 20% no-show rate. Part of that is because

STUART: Because Burning Man.

JUKE: Because Burning Man, and for any number of reasons, you know. Number one, I think most people don’t make our cars and vehicles out of, say, a brand new Tesla. (We have had one.) But meaning they’re often not necessarily the most reliable vehicles underneath, and yeah, there’s any number of stories every year. A week before the event, “Hey, we blew our engine on the way to Burning Man, so we’re not gonna make it this year.” But generally speaking, we license about 625 vehicles each year.

STUART: And it sounds like you’ve got like one person on the committee for every vehicle that gets approved. How do you manage that scale of a process? Those groups of 25 even seem like they’d be difficult to manage.

JUKE: So we’ve created a consensus model. We get together in groups of 25 from February through June. Basically every other day we’re having a meeting. We pull up the application from the folks. We look at the images of either what their vehicle looks like or the design they have or what they’re going to build. And we discuss each vehicle for maybe five, 10 minutes. We look for a consensus. If people have concerns, we talk it out. And one of the things that I’ve discovered over the years was that, if we just said, “Hey, let’s look at this, this application for five minutes and vote.” you actually get a very different result than if you look at it for five minutes, we discuss it for five minutes, and then vote. We did some tests with that. And in one case, we looked at it, just voted and the result was, it was 15 to 1, saying we don’t want to invite this vehicle.

And then we discussed it for five minutes, some really good questions came up, and after discussing it for five more minutes, voted again, and the second vote was exactly the opposite. It was 15 to one in favor.

What I discovered in this is that if you just vote and nobody really talks about it, and you miss things. You’re just almost like skimming the surface. But when everybody has an opportunity to present their perspective, and one person don’t something that somebody else didn’t and everybody gets to voice their opinion, even if the vote, the end result, is not the one a person wanted.

Bob wanted to not invite it. Bob will feel better about it even if we do invite it, if he has an opportunity to talk about it.

I did some research and found out that the method that we came up with, 150 years ago, the Quakers came up with a way of consensus building and decision-making that mirrors exactly what we do now.

STUART: Is that full consensus or like ‘consensus minus one,’ like Red Cross does? I mean your example, 15 people said up vote and one person said down vote. Did that vehicle eventually get in? Was that guy persuaded to change his mind?

JUKE: It’s not unanimous. The key is having a facilitator who everybody respects. There’s a person who’s facilitating the conversation who ultimately either makes the decision to, “Okay. It seems like the consensus is this. Is everybody is okay with that?” And generally speaking, that’s where we end up.

And if we really can’t make a decision, if it’s close, we’ll put it off to the next meeting. And there’ll be a slightly different group of people. They’ll look at it again, and they may come up to another decision. Sometimes one group of people will have a hard time with it. Maybe it’s 50/50. If it’s that close, let’s let the next team decide. They can have a fresh conversation about it.

Our goal is to include as many people as we can, to include as many different sizes and styles and vehicles as we can, and to give everybody the opportunity to bring their vehicle.

STUART: So I’ve seen you doing a lot of crafty stuff over the years. You’ve had a camera in your hand just about every time I’ve seen you out there. I know you do woodworking. You do some machining. I’m just wondering what are you obsessing about right now? What’s happening in Jukes workshop?

JUKE: Oh my goodness. Yeah, I’ve always been, I’m a tinkerer. I’m a putterer. I realize that I’ve become some kind of like 1950s middle aged man.

STUART: “I’ll be in the garage, honey.”

JUKE: I’m puttering. Well, I have pretty much a full machine shop in my garage that I’ve built over the last six years mainly because with my work with the Department of Mutant Vehicles, I’ve met such incredible fabricators and craftspeople who make amazing, amazing things that that has inspired me to build more. I want to build and make things. I do a lot of refurbing, refurbishing of old tools. So take getting 1950s Craftsman table saws that are all rusty from somebody. You know, somebody gives them to my shop like, “Oh, can you do something with this?” Pull it apart, clean it up, oil it, paint it, and then sell it to buy some more stuff for my shop. My shop, The Juke Shop, is basically a small maker-space. I have about 30 members who can come over and use the shop any time.

I collected all these tools. I have all these tools and it makes no sense to me to just have them for me to use when I have a full shop, and so created the space where people want to come work on something, they can come over. If they don’t know how to weld, I’ll help them figure out how to weld, but I like showing them. We’ve had classes for people to learn how to weld, use the plasma cutter, use the machining tools.

So the shop in itself is kind of my big project. Right now I’m doing a few creative secret things for gifts for friends and family.

STUART: Okay, well, we won’t blow your secrets. Well, quite the Renaissance man, Juke. Look at you. I like to draw things on cocktail napkins, but that’s usually as far as it gets until I find a great friend to collaborate with and do all the heavy lifting. So I have some ideas, Juke. We’ll talk later.

JUKE: Yeah. Show me your napkins.

STUART: So, I want to talk a little bit about R.I.D.E., the Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equity initiative that’s going on at Burning Man. And I know you’ve been super involved in that. What’s an overview of what that work is like and why it matters?

JUKE: So when I joined Burning Man full-time staff in 2019 there was a lot of discussion about the lack of inclusion at Burning Man. And the challenge is, I think, Burning Man throughout the years felt like, “Hey, we opened this gate. Anybody can come in.

You know, Radical Inclusion.” A piece of that that was missing is if you look around Burning Man, you kind of noticed that there wasn’t as much diversity as you might think or want.

And there’s some folks who had been pointing that out. I think it was a challenge for some people to see, “Hey, but we opened the gate. Anybody can come in.” But just because you open a gate, doesn’t mean that people outside the gate look in and say, “Oh, there’s something that I might want to do in there,” or “Am I going to be welcomed if I come there?”

So there was a lot of discussion internally at Burning Man on how can we look to not just open the gate, but also make sure people know that there’s something in there for them. I come from a background. I grew up in the sixties, a child of an interracial marriage. When my parents got married – my dad was black, my mom’s white – When my parents got married a year before I was born, it would have been illegal in 18 states for them to get married.

STUART: Wow.

JUKE: Both of my parents were involved in the civil rights movement. And so I grew up in a household that before we called it civil rights before we called it social justice, but was sort of the daily, that was the dinner table conversation.

STUART: Wow.

JUKE: And so these are conversations that I’ve always felt very comfortable having. So when I came to Burning Man internally, having a few discussions I was asked to take part in R.I.D.E., the Radical Inclusion, Diversity and Equity stewardship group that they were building to help work on addressing some of these things, both with Burning Man the organization and how the organization can be more inclusive, and Burning Man the event in Black Rock City.

It’s touchy. Not everybody sees it the same way. But we’ve been doing a lot of work with a lot of folks to try and figure out how we can approach these things in a way that is inclusive. It’s not performative that we’re just doing it for a headline to, say, pat ourselves on the back.

The place we’ve started and where we’re starting to move is how to be more welcoming, how to get more folks engaged, to see what’s there, and what might be there for them. There’s been some great work done by both participants outside of Burning Man, and we’re starting to do some of this stuff ourselves.

I’m really happy to be part of that and helping connect some of the dots so that we do get more participants who bring different perspectives into Black Rock City so that it doesn’t become, even within Burnerdom, a monoculture.

STUART: So look in your crystal ball. Burning Man 2022. Wait a minute. Pause. Let me just say that again. Burning Man 2022. Yeah. Do you think it’s going to look any different on the ground because of this work?

JUKE: I hope so. I think the biggest challenge we have and have had for years is we have our limits. You know, there’s only so many tickets, there’s only so many things. I’m hoping that over the last few years, some of the conversations that we’ve had have gotten more people interested, some of more of the camps interested in supporting this work. And that we’ll see more people coming who haven’t come before, who will find the compelling things that I was just discussing.

We’ll see. This is, as all Burning Man is, it’s an experiment. It’s an experiment we keep poking and tweaking and adding a little this and adding a little that, and we’ll see…

STUART: then breaking all the test tubes and starting all over again.

JUKE: Yeah. We will see. Crossing fingers.

STUART: My fingers are crossed too. And sort of related to that, I’ve been curious about whether, in this crazy pandemic world, whether international travel restrictions will lift a little bit, because one, I think, under-appreciated aspect of the diversity of Black Rock City is the international diversity.

In our theme camp, in our bar, one year we counted 27 different languages coming through that place. And so I’m really hoping that a lot of my friends all over the rest of the world will be able to participate. I think we got up to something like 20% international participants last time around. But yeah, the more people from different back, that’s what makes Burning Man great is that we’re not all a monoculture. We are not all single-minded thinkers. It’s not – sorry, Larry, it’s not a cult. It is a culture. And the more input that can come from new sources, the more vigorous it’s going to be. So I really do appreciate that work and hope that it continues to bear fruit for you, for all of us.

Hey, next thing I want to talk about. What about that crazy Sotheby’s auction? Did you participate in that program?

JUKE: I did, and boy, when you say crazy, it was such an interesting thing. The first I heard about it. Just like a lot of people, I think that from the outside it may not be clear how, when people go, “What Burning Man? Sotheby’s. Huh? Uh, how does that work?”

I don’t think it’s clear from the outside for folks who may not have as much visibility to the internal workings of Burning Man Project the organization. I think we all did that. Every single person involved. I was involved early on with two hats; one, the

Department of Mutant Vehicle hat, because we were looking to have some vehicle related things in the auction.

And also from the R.I.D.E. perspective, because we wanted to make sure that we were doing this in a way that was living out our commitment to the R.I.D.E. principles. And I think we did that. The majority of the artists involved were BiPOC, female. We had some amazing, amazing artists who can contributed from Mexico and all around. We manage that, but still it’s also Sotheby’s.

When you think of Sotheby’s the high-end auction house, what you envision is not exactly the same thing you might envision when you think of Black Rock City.

STUART: Yeah, we had Kim Cook on the program not long ago talking about that, and honestly Sotheby’s is the epitome of commodification of art, right? It is the auction block where the hammer hits the pad, back to what, like hundreds of years?

JUKE: Yes.

STUART: It was kind of an interesting melange. So how did that work out?

JUKE: A lot of great art sold and a lot of artists who aren’t usually visible in the, uh, art world, the art collection world, got a lot of visibility that they didn’t have before.

I ended up going to New York for a week, week and a half, to participate in the auction. I was at the auction house every day. It was wonderful because there was incredible art there, but it was also wonderful just seeing how people engaged with the art.

People who were unfamiliar with Burning Man would come through and ask wonderful questions, and in their own little way had that jaw, if not totally dropping, opening and going, “Wow, this sounds really fascinating.” I ended up being a little bit of a, kind of, a docent standing there, you know, explaining about the mutant vehicles, demonstrating some of the art car related stuff.

STUART: Which Mutant Vehicles were in the catalog?

JUKE: We had a few items that were mutant vehicle related. One of the biggest ones is a mutant vehicle artist Henry Chang who does incredible, large scale, stainless steel, custom vehicles that are just gobsmacking.

STUART: Those are at the far end of the fabrication scale on art cars, right? It’s not just an old Valiant with a bunch of dolls glued to the hood. It’s ground up fabrication, right?

JUKE: These are custom, from scratch, stainless steel, which is one of the more challenging materials to work with, very, a particular style of, you know, a lot of math involved into making these creations.

And he had created a design and what was going to be auctioned was he would make a custom vehicle for the winner. It’d probably take him about a year to build. And as part of the presentation of the auction, we had a lot of on the ground entertainment and other things.

STUART: Because Burning Man.

Henry was going to drive from Las Vegas, where he lives, and haul out one of his top creations, a vehicle called Valerian Steel. And bring it to the auction. We were going to display it out in front on Second Avenue (or is it York?) in front of Sotheby’s for a week, parked on the street, this incredible 28 foot, stainless steel vehicle.

He was going to haul it out, and that’s why I was going there, to help make sure that the vehicle got taken care of, Henry got taken care of. That was one of my main reasons for going. And then we had a little mishap. Somewhere literally, and I mean that literally, literally in the middle of the country, just outside of Kearney, Nebraska, Henry had a mishap and, he had a little bump in the road, a little accident, banged up his knee and basically couldn’t make it the rest of the way to New York.

The first thing we wanted to make sure was that Henry was okay. And he was relatively okay, but he had had a little surgery on his knee. And so he was stuck in a hospital in Kearney, Nebraska for the duration of the auction.

And when I was talking to him towards the end, he didn’t have a way to get back home. He couldn’t fly, because his knee was banged up. and he couldn’t rent a car and drive. And so I said, “Well, do you need a ride?

And he said, “That’d be great.”

You know when you look at a map and you think that, “Oh, that’s not that far.” You know, “It’s only halfway across the United States. What’s that? It’s a little road trip,” but anyway, I offered to go. Once I got back from New York, I offered to drive out to Kearney and pick him up and drive him home to Las Vegas. Didn’t realize it was gonna end up being a 4,300 mile trip, but it did!

STUART: Well, you got to see a lot of America, at least the west half, right? That was Oregon to Nebraska to Las Vegas and back home to Oregon.

JUKE: Yes.

STUART: Holy crap.

JUKE: I certainly realized how flat so much of our country is, wide open spaces, indeed. Eugene to Reno to pick up our co-worker “Devin from the Internet” who agreed to be my copilot. So Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska.

So on the way out to pick up Henry, it was very last minute, I literally flew into Eugene on a Saturday, got in at 10 at night and then started out on the road 3:00 AM the next day, because I was worried that they were gonna release him from the hospital, and he’d be standing on the side, on the sidewalk, waiting for a ride now that he was healed enough to be released. So we kind of rocketed out. Uh, I did get my first speeding ticket in 20 years, but don’t tell my wife. Anyway.

STUART: She won’t listen to this.

JUKE: And then on the way back we ended up having to dodge a huge storm front and just miss three tornadoes. That was my first time in tornado country. The three of us having great conversations about what Burning Man means to us. So Henry’s history. You know, Henry grew up in Wyoming, and being the only Asian person he knew in school was absolutely fascinating to hear his experiences.

We tried to do two bits of sightseeing on Americana on the way back. We stopped and stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. And for those who don’t know there is, in fact, a flatbed Ford there.

STUART: There’s also a, isn’t there a statue of Jackson Browne, now?

JUKE: There’s a statue of Jackson Browne and now there’s a statue of Glenn Frey. He passed away. Oh yes. We took pictures with those statues. And we tried to get to the meteor crater, but we spent so much time in Winslow we missed getting to see the meteor crater by five minutes, they had closed.

STUART: And the world’s biggest ball of string and Wall Drug, and all that stuff. You got to pick your targets, right?

JUKE: Ended up going through something like 12 states just to get that one trip back, but we got him back safe and sound.

STUART: Great. Well that’s a happy ending and a lot of very gracious volunteer work on your part. It’s a big lift to be that kind of a friend, so…

JUKE: One of the best things that I’ve gotten out of Burning Man over the years is. I have met so many incredible people through the mutant vehicle community, so many people who are incredible craftsmen, but also, especially in Henry’s case who, you know,

Henry will tell you that Burning Man changed his life.

Henry had never made a mutant vehicle, or even thought about making a mutant vehicle, until he came to Burning Man. And now he’s made three of the most incredible ones I’ve ever seen. And his commitment… You know, he is basically committing, in participating in this auction, he is committing to saying, “Okay, I’m willing to spend the next year of my life making a vehicle for whoever wins this auction,” you know?

I felt as somebody who’s been a connection point for him into Burning Man with his mutant vehicles each year, this is somebody who’s given so much, and continuing to offer so much to us in our community, the very least I could do is give him a ride.

STUART: That is great.

JUKE: So that was fun. And then I got to see Henry’s shop in Vegas. And when I say “shop,” you know, my little maker-space is a two car garage. His is a huge warehouse full of many fun and magical things. That was a great bit towards the end of the ‘mission accomplished.’

And Burning Man has a Monday morning meeting every week, an all staff meeting, and Devin and I got to participate in that from the road. Devin was managing the… I wasn’t texting and driving, but that was interesting, giving people updates from the road, live. Ahhh. We live in the future. Live video feed from somewhere in Eastern Wyoming.

STUART: Speaking of living in the future, any big tech projects on your horizon from your role in the tech department?

JUKE: At this point, after two years of not having an event, we’re just trying to get back in the groove of all of the things that we need to do to help make the event happen. A lot of people don’t have a good idea about all the stuff that happens behind the scenes and year round to make Burning Man happen. I think that the Tech Department is really sort of right in the core of that, because there’s a lot of logistics and almost all of those logistics rely on technology in some way shape or form.

If you try to compare this to any other large scale event, it really doesn’t compare. If you’re thinking of some large festival, most of those have some kind of year round, like, a county fair has a county fairgrounds, you know, state fair has a fairgrounds. They have things that stay in place all year. We don’t, so everything has to move in and out, and all of that takes logistics. And most of those logistics live somewhere on a piece of technology. So, we’re working hard on just making sure all of that stuff works so that your mutant vehicle applications, your theme camp applications…. We’re also trying to simplify a lot of that stuff.

So there’s a lot of work, but everybody’s really excited to get back on that train because we’ve had two years of all the work and none of the payoff. You know, sometimes it is that thing where, hey, when you get out to the event, you go, “Wow. This is where we went through all of that Sturm und Drang, and pain and effort. And you go two years without that release. It’s like, uhhh, we need that. So that’s what we’re looking forward to.

STUART: When I see you out there next August, which hat are you going to have on? Are you going to be working with DMV, working in tech, doing neither, just chilling over in Blue Light, or? What does your burn look like this year?

JUKE: It will be probably a little bit of everything. The last burn in 2019 was my first time wearing the two hats. Luckily most of my tech work is the year-round, before the event stuff. So I have lighter tech duties on playa than most, but I’m still engaged.

Usually I’ll still be mostly at the DMV because that’s, that’s the thing. There’s a night every year. And it’s usually the second or third night where we’re processing all the, licensing all the vehicles. And it’s usually night because night is when they come to show off their lighting and show what they do.

I’ll walk out and I’ll walk up and down the line of the cars waiting to get licensed. And the mutant vehicle owners will be waving at me, they see me, recognize me, come over to talk. But I just look and go, you know, I haven’t yet made a mutant vehicle. Most of the stuff that I do is facilitating these artists coming out. But when I see them all out there and I see this, my sense of wonder just go through the roof. If I help in just this little way to me, that’s my participation with the event is, that I help these folks bring their amazing stuff out to the event, and I get a little teary.

STUART: Juke, I can’t thank you enough for hanging out, and I look forward to seeing you out there – Can we just say it together? – next year in Black Rock City.

JUKE: Next year in Black Rock City.

STUART: All right, my friend. Thank you, thank you, Juke.

JUKE: My pleasure. I so look forward to seeing you out and whatever you happen to be wearing.

STUART: Groovy-ness. Alright. Yo.
Burning Man Live was, is and shall be, a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project. Yes, that is a thing.
Hey, if you like what you hear, why don’t you send us a note at live@burningman.org?

If you don’t like what you hear, why don’t you send us a note at live@burningman.org and we’ll see what we can do.
Also, if you really like the show, please feel free to drop a few coins in the slot at donate.burningman.org. We rely on our listeners to keep this funky train moving on down the tracks.

I’m Stuart Mangrum. Thanks to my Producer Andie Grace, to my fabulous Story Editor and Technical Producer Michael Vav, to all of you, and, oh yeah, thanks, Larry.


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