On Coyote Patrol: Keeping Yer Shit from Getting Stolen

By Ranger Thumper

First thing's first: bad things sometimes happen in Black Rock City. Yea, I know, it's all about the love and sharing and gift economy, but whether it's from heatstroke or general bad naturedness or some unmet need from childhood that decided it was time to manifest itself, you can be sure that at some point during the weeklong event someone will help themselves to someone else's stuff. It could be your favorite bicycle, it could be a pack of cigarettes, it could be your generator. The item doesn't matter, what matters is that having any of your goods lifted is a major ass bummer, and really who needs an opportunity to practice forgiveness and compassion in BRC? There's plenty of time for that back in the world. That said, here's how to keep it from happening to you.

Hey, what is theft anyway, Ranger?
Glad you asked, because in a city built on a gift economy, it's sometimes hard to know just what theft is. Maybe it's someone helping themselves to an open pack of cigarettes, snagging a beer out of a camp's communal ice chest without asking (or being offered), or even hopping a ride on an art car without thanking the artist who built it. But theft is more than just someone 'borrowing' an unattended bicycle at a port-o-toilet, sneaking someone into the event, or lifting a $2000 generator while the owner is watching the Man burn. It's also taking your image, your energy, your efforts and your creativity without your consent. Theft occurs anytime there is an unwilling or uniformed exchange.

So who's the perp?

Some thefts are clearly planned out by what some rangers call coyotes: slinky varmints that slide around quietly at night, sizing up your camps, just waiting for you to be blissed out in some all night rave across town before they slide by and snag your goods. Most, however, occur on the spur of the moment, when someone walks by an unattended camp or public area and sees something just sitting there, and then greed and dehydration and god knows what other unmet needs rise to the surface and bang-there goes your EL Wire Pogo Stick.

Who cares who's doing it, how can I keep it from happening to me?

To stop theft from happening, here are a few common sense ideas.

1-Know your neighbors. Coyotes prey on a neighborhood not knowing each other-so know your neighbors! March right over to that truck that just pulled in with a plate of seven-layer bean dip and packets of Emergen-C to say hello. See someone near your camp you haven't met? Offer them some lemonade and introduce yourself. Most people will appreciate it, and thieves will be discouraged from going anywhere they're recognized.

2- Organize a Neighborhood Watch in your little patch o'BRC. It can be as organized or loose or as tight as you like-the important thing is giving your neighbors the gift of watching out for each other. Doing so encourages interaction, engenders familiarity and establishes trust.

3- Keep a safe and secure camp. The open nature of most citizens living in BRC is custom made for opportunity thieves. Keep them from themselves: when you leave camp, even for a few minutes, place valuable items out of sight.

4- Don't bring things you can't live without. If you bring your $3,000 titanium-framed, grip-shifted, tricked-out mountain bike to the playa to ride back and forth to Johnny-On-The-Spot, you're being stupid. If you bring it without a lock, you need to have your head examined.

5-If you take something, take it back. Sometimes the moment gets the best of us. Maybe you borrowed a bike, a six-pack, or a sequined mu-mu without asking. If so, take it back, apologize, and do something to make up for it-nothing says, "I'm truly sorry" like washing someone's crusty playa feet, hint hint.

A Word about Art Theft
Probably nothing tears at the soul of the city like stories about art theft. Art theft has immediate consequences. It discourages artists from putting forward their best efforts, or from bringing them back. A case in point: people wandering the playa at night in 1997 sometimes stumbled across a sound installation made from hundreds of small poles, each holding two speakers. Operating only at night and completely devoid of lights, just discovering the installation by following the gentle murmur of sounds was a gift, and lying amidst the soft tumult of noise in the darkness was for many their fondest memory of that year. Sadly, most will never experience that art: several speakers were stolen, and the artist has refused to bring it back. Just last year, some extremely selfish people stole some of the pieces from the Lily Pond installation, a thoughtless act that both deprived everyone else of another's effort and vision.

Art theft is wrong. Art theft destroys the community. Art theft will rain hot karmic death down on you sure as kicking a puppy. If you really can't live without having a part of something, find the artist-many might be willing to work something out.

Meanwhile, take responsibility for protecting art. If you see someone acting inappropriately-pulling a bulb from Y2K, swinging on a delicate sculpture, pulling decorations off a barter bar-ACT! Call them on their shit. And don't put up with anyone saying, "it's going to burn anyway, what does it matter?" Only the artists decide when and if to burn their work, not the Vox Intoxici.

Eye Spy
A special word about creeps with cameras: if you see a thief in the act of stealing someone's image, have one person keep an eye on them while sending another to get either the Black Rock Rangers or someone from Media Mecca. Tolerance for that is absolute zero, and image theft is prosecuted to the full extent of the playa. You've been warned.

A Thief in Your Midst
Say that in spite of all your neighborhood watch group's best effort, someone slipped in and stole something-or tried to, because you caught 'em red handed. Now what? You have a couple options. Remember: BRC is about radical self-expression AND responsibility. Accept responsibility for your interactions, and if you feel comfortable doing so, deal with it within the confines of your personal community. If you work it out to everyone's satisfactions, without having to bring in los federales, good for ya. On the other hand, if you don't feel you can or want to deal, call on the Black Rock Rangers, with outposts located at 3:00, 9:00, and Center Camp, open 24/7. They will work with you to create a solution.

Which brings up a perfect opportunity to speak directly to a would-be thief: are you sure no one's looking? Without giving away trade secrets, we'll suffice to say the Black Rock Rangers are incredibly well equipped and organized, and pity the fool who thinks they can hide under cover of darkness from the speeding cyclists of the Black Rock Ranger's RNR, or Rapid Night Response.

Common Sense, Uncommon Interaction
In parting, remember the worst times for theft are during the big burns, which makes sense in two ways: most everyone is gone from camps, and in the frenzied rush to get gussied and fueled up for the big night out, you may not take time to get everything put away. Do. Five minutes locking up your shit now = one hour you don't have to spend down at Playa Info waiting in line, only to be laughed at when you ask if someone actually returned that 17 in. Powerbook you left on your coffee table.

Again, remember that most theft takes place on impulse, between strangers, so ipso facto the fewer strangers the less theft. People are inherently good, people on the playa especially so, but not everyone can easily express themselves or meet strangers. Stretch yourself--go out of your way to talk to that new neighbor. Hey, you never know what may come of it. As an anonymous note left hanging in a dome once said "Love doesn't always call. Sometimes it whispers-keep listening."

-Ranger Thumper

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