Soaking the burlap and fixing the bike

On Sunday night, it was time to attach the wads of paraffin-soaked burlap to the innards of the Man, the better for the bonfire that is now less than two weeks away.

It’s a simple process, but a time-consuming one. You make a fire and suspend a big vat over it. Then you dump big chunks of  wax into the vat and wait for it to melt. Crimson Rose was stirring the strong-smelling stew with long metal tongs, as she has done for years now.  When the wax is sufficiently liquified, you dip rolled-up bags of burlap into the molten mass, which, appropriately enough, is crimson.

The pieces of burlap float in the blood-colored liquid until they are drenched, and then they are placed on a tarp to cool. Once they can be handled, the volunteers who’ve showed up on this chilly desert night attach them to the slats of the Man with metal wire.

“Maybe we should soak the burlap in bacon,” Rose was heard to say. “Then all the vegans would say, ‘I’m hungry!’ “

If you wanted to help, you needed heavy gloves and a good set of wire snips. The Man was flat on his back, and SF Slim pointed out that you have to remember to attach the bags in such a way that they don’t slide down when he is raised upright.

It’s not the most fun job you’ll ever have, but it has to get done if the Man is going to burn, and everyone wants the Man to burn.

The Man will sport something of a new look this year, which qualifies as news because, by all outward signs, he looks pretty much the same from year to year. He’s the most recognizable icon of the city, a thing of permanence at the event that celebrates temporality.

The strips of wood on his exterior were being covered with silvery tape, which Sunday night was being referred to as Tijuana Chrome. He’ll look all sleek and Deco, in the Metropolis theme, and the silver will make the neon will glow even brighter.

Smoke Daddy is the person who does the neon for the Man, and he’ll use more neon than ever this year.

“Normally, we use between 100 and 126 pieces on him,” Smoke Daddy was saying. “I don’t know why the number changes, because he’s the same every year. … But this year we got a little more freedom, and we’ll use 215.” So get ready for some extra glow.

The colors are Neo Blue and Pumped Red (which is really pink, Smoke Daddy said), plus Emerald Green with aqua accents. “It’s like he’s dating an architect from South Beach Miami,” Smoke Daddy said. The Man will also sport cuffs and spats of neon.

There are things about the Man you may not have known. For instance, he has a heart. It’s a wooden heart, granted, but it’s signed by all the people who helped make him. You can’t see it from the ground, and really, no one knows it’s there but the crew, but it’s important.

You also might want to look more closely at the Man’s “ornament”  too, the decorative girdle between his legs and rib bones. There will be some fancy silver there, in the Deco-ish theme. “We had to be careful with that,” Slim said, “because we didn’t want to make him ‘boner man.’ “ They also didn’t want to make him look like he had just won a WWF championship belt, either. The solution amplifies the Deco look, and is a little reminiscent of an old time movie house exterior. Check it out.

When the burlap soaking was winding down, we wandered over to Jub Jub, the Man Base crew’s camp with the glowing neon monkey overhead. There was a friendly burn barrel to take off the chill. It was Sunday night and time to wind down, because the 7 am meeting would come early.


My burner bike has made it to the playa for 7 years running, and she’s never let me down. But I haven’t done much to repay her loyal service, and this year the bill for my inattention came due.

Travis runs the bike shop on the playa that will offer free help if you run into trouble while you are out here. On Sunday night, he and his crew were kind enough to offer their services to the people who’ve been working on the build.

So I rolled my bike in. The front tire was close to flat, even though I had filled it with air just before arriving here. The flat was the most pressing need. The fact that it didn’t shift so well, and that the chain was funky with dust and rust … well, I had sprayed it with lubricant and hoped for the best.

Jamie Bond, one of the crew, took a look at the bike, and her face was pained, although all she said was that the bike was in rough shape. I felt guilty, but there was no lecture, just a willingness to help, which honestly is the way things go out here.

This is Jamie’s first burn. She works at a bike shop at the base of Potrero Hill, on the Bayshore side, in San Francisco. You won’t be able to find the shop, because it gets all of its business through word of mouth, and right now they have more work than they can handle.

Jamie’s a member of the Bay Area Derailleurs, a bicycle dance team in the city, and also of the Sun Tour Preservation Society, which is devoted to the makers of high quality bicycle parts, a firm so devoted to quality above all else that they went out of business.

In a half hour or so, Jamie had done “a Frankenstein job” on the chain, the gears were working, and the bike was happy. So was I.

Travis runs the bike shop.

Epona Firefly is in her third year at the bike shop.

Jamie did a "Frankenstein job" on my chain.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

8 Comments on “Soaking the burlap and fixing the bike

  • Missypixi says:

    Great job guys! I cant wait to see the man in person! And….Im so verly excited to get into the dust! Less than a week and we will be at the gates! Thank you everyone who is on the playa making this happen for all of us.

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  • Brenda Jauman says:

    I’m a first timer! AND I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!!!! My sweet-heart and I are leaving in the wee hours on Thursday (have to work) And it just so happens to be our 2nd Year “Anniversary” as well. We couldn’t have thought of a better place to spend it.

    I’d like to thank everybody as well, for all your hard work and dedication to such a wonderful event!

    We’ll be riding a red tricycle with zebra canopy and red fringe! (if the playa is agree-able to ride on) See ya on the Playa!

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  • Rick Steeb says:

    Paraffin-soaked burlap– Maybe Crimson could use a scrap of that for augmenting the efficacy of her First Flame torch this year!? I’m just sayin’…

    Lotsa Luck! -RS

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  • Nightshade says:

    Great work, John. Thanks for giving us a glimpse. I’ll see you at Jub Jub’s this Saturday night.

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  • Showerboy says:

    John, I look forward to your articles each night after my family has all gone to sleep. I am attending the Burn for the 8th time and reading your articles transports me to the playa and reminds me of my sincere and intrinsic connection to this undefinable event. Thanks man. Come by Destiny, Oasis anytime for food, libation, and a good dust rinse.

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  • Les Cole says:

    Hi All: I was there in 2007 for one of the great thrills in my life. That year I was the oldest man on the playa (83) which brought a pic and notes in the Chronicle. Won’t be going again because the heat and dust did not work for me…(I did have the advantage of living in a trailer with A/C in BOOKMOBILE Camp. I still tell my aquaintences about BM. Your newletters are always interesting, too. So…..I get some vicarious thoughts each year. Thumbs Up !!!! Les

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  • Bella says:

    This is going to be my first burn and the emotions are high. I keep going from feeling of extremely overwhlmed to feeling so excited I could cry and then I go to nervous anxioty that Im not going to be prepared enough for it all. Do I have enough water? Have I made all arrangements for my pet, son and bills? Am I really ready to spend two weeks in the desert? Is this normal? Does anyone else feel the same? I am so thrilled to be able to be a part of it all. See you on thePlaya. Just look for the huge locomotive, its the soul Train.

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  • Wayne Steed says:

    This will be my first brun and I’m excited as hell I do belive I’m prepared as for my son went last year and let me in on what goes on and I would like to take ever thing in as posable let the ride beging. Be loolking for the Mt cowboy on a bicycle horse.

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