Reno's Mini Playa

Jul 26, 2018

For a select few, Burning Man doesn’t end after the burning of the wooden effigy. At the Morris Burner Hostel in Reno, people live the Burning Man lifestyle 365 days a year. The hostel hosts up to 18 full-time residents in art-themed rooms. Students at the Reynolds School of Journalism profiled one those tenants, a formerly homeless man who is now employed as a carpenter for Burning Man’s most iconic artwork, the Man.

A Pop-up City in the Desert

Burning Man takes place every year in the Black Rock Desert, 124 miles north of Reno.

Approximately 70,000 people from around the world gather for this festival, living in a temporary, 9.5-square-mile metropolis called Black Rock City. Once you attend, you’re named a Burner. The city is dedicated to art, community, self-reliance, and self-expression.

For two weeks, Burners brave the elements, including violent dust storms and harsh sun exposure. Attendees can decide to camp in tents and RVs on the playa and partake in festivities happening 24 hours a day. After the ceremonious burn of a 75-foot-tall wooden man closing night, the city packs up, and residents return to normal life.

Hidden in the Heart of the City, a Mini Playa

At the Morris Burner Hostel in Reno, full-time residents live in art-themed rooms, including the Treehouse, the Cuban Coffee Room and the Fourth Dimension, to name a few. One tenant is a man who goes by OB1 Shinobi.

“It allows you to use that creativity to better yourself, so you can actually help better other people, because people learn from example,” Shinobi said.

In 2015, Shinobi, a vacuum salesman from Oregon, found himself homeless in Reno. The 35-year-old had lost all forms of identification and had no way of getting a job. That is, until he stumbled upon Burning Man culture at the Morris Burner Hostel. Two and a half years later, Shinobi is employed as a carpenter for Burning Man’s most iconic art piece, the Man.

“It's unreal, like, I mean, I'm probably the first one there, within the first 5 crew members that are onsite, and I don't leave until everybody's gone.” Shinobi said.

Typically, attending Burning Man is the ticket into the Morris. For Shinobi, it was just the opposite. During his first few weeks, he was invited to work at the Generator, a community art work space in Sparks.

“He was like, ‘Everybody can use somebody that can push a broom. If you just want to help, then come through,’” Shinobi recalls. “So I came by and I started pushing a broom, and the lead carpenter was like, ‘Wait a minute...what else can you do?'” Shinobi said.

The lead carpenter gave him a cut list, showed him how to do it, and was impressed at Shinobi’s inherent carpentry skills. After that, Shinobi was on the crew and volunteering at his first Burning Man.

“I didn't want to leave.” Shinobi said.

“I've always worked this hard my entire life, and now that people appreciate it,” Shinobi said, “it's unreal; it's like a dream every single day. Imagine waking up in a fantasy that is actually real, like you can physically touch it. You can manifest anything you can possibly think of; it's possible when you allow yourself to make it happen. ” Shinobi said.

This story was produced by Taylor Caldwell, a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism. She participated in the NPR Next Generation Radio program and says the Morris Burner Hostel is Reno's 'mini playa.'