As we enter the 2018 Burning Man Build season, the hype for this year’s event is growing. What new wonders will occupy our beloved Black Rock Desert? What amazing adventures will we have cycling through the dust? The plethora of possibilities awakens wonderlust in all of us, enticing the Burner bears out of hibernation and reigniting the love for our city and community.
This springtime renewal excitement is also an opportunity for reflection on Burns past and the epic projects that brought us joy, created memories and set the tone. Soup Flavored Blankets, the fabled giant cracker box and inflatable soup can, will always stand out in my memories as a deep playa mirage of late night, instant hot tomato soup on a cold desert night.
After three years of tireless soup-making, snarky banter, disgruntled participants and manic gifting, Soup Flavored Blankets has officially retired. My favorite late-night hangout will never again grace the majesty of the deep playa. The box has been burnt, the can deflated, the soup has finally run out.
Noodles and his brother are big fans of deep playa. Since 2006, its magic has drawn them to the trash-fence wonderland, but the cold and darkness always inevitably forced them back to camp in search of snacks and snuggly stuff. They longed for a place with hot beverages and blankets, but alas there was none to be found.
Nine years later Soup Flavored Blankets was born, powered by do-ocracy and a lust for a cozy beacon with a warm bite to eat. SFB started out small: Noodles and his campmate Crash piled a bike with a propane stove, soup, water and cooking equipment and headed to the Embrace burn, where they served hot soup to hungry Burners for the first time. The next year they assembled their iconic cracker box in a friend’s garage outside of L.A. They sourced their huge inflatable soup can from a local company and in a month or so they had their base of soup operations.
Their first year was rough. The crew of seven set up shop, and their soup haven blew through 3,000 serving packets by Tuesday night. It was a self-serve situation and nobody would take their MOOP. “It was like a house party I had to clean up,” recalls Noodles.
Only 300 packets remained, so the group changed their strategy. To make the soup last as long as possible, the crew decided to stay on site. They required participants to earn their soup by telling a joke, showing off a talent, singing a song, basically any way of interacting with the soup lords and hungry crowd. The plan worked and the playa provided them with enough donations to stay open all week.
The cracker box became a hub of cool happenstance meetings, awesome moments and connection. The crew also handed out blankets in the line and even invited people into their sitting area full of their original invention — the soup blanket (basically a blanket with a pouch sewed into it where you can keep your soup cup for a double snuggle experience).
Once the crew figured out their groove, their gift of soup and experiences continued to grow. Each box operator established their own flavor, and the individual interactions became the highlight of running the art piece.
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. One participant was very irate that the Soup Flavored Blankets didn’t offer more homemade, artisanal options and declared that she would leave a bad Yelp review. Another person at the front of the line overheard the conversation and made a Yelp page for Soup Flavored Blankets immediately. Everyone at the installation started leaving hilarious reviews, transforming a negative interaction into communal joke.
In addition to sparking seriously funny online reviews, the Soup-Flavored Blankets line has created a ton of impact over the years. For instance, it was the location of two marriage proposals and the rekindling of love between a married Burner couple. Noodles received the beautiful story about this couple after Burning Man 2016.
A wife and her husband had their cups stolen from their bikes. But the husband was determined to make soup happen, so he used an old CD-ROM disc to cut open a soda can to make soup bowls.
According to his wife, “The point of this story is that I fell so deeply in love with my husband that night. In one courageous act, this man confirmed his place as my provider and the one person that will keep fighting when I am ready to give up. Thank you for rekindling our love, Soup Flavored Blankets!”
Unknown to them, SFB was sitting on a slew of gifted mugs they could have handed to them at any moment. Good thing they didn’t.
Not surprisingly, spending three years at Burning Man working until sunrise gifting soup takes a toll. Although Noodles and his team are grateful for the memories, sometimes you need to try something new, “so you’re not pigeon-holed into soup forever.”
In 2017, they burned the cracker box in a beautiful homage. One side of the box said Soup (obviously), and the other said Lost Tom in honor of Tom LaPorte from Media Mecca, who passed away last year. Tom had brought Noodles to Burning Man for the first time over a decade ago.
The double-sided box created a unique experience, with people crying on one side and others chanting “OUP” and laughing on the other side. All the emotions of saying goodbye were there. Noodles used the hot ashes of the cracker box to cook soup, and they handed it out all night long next to the soup can.
Although Soup Flavored Blankets has ended, Noodles has one reminder for all of you faithful soup fans: “The ability to make soup is not gone”. If you get a little hungry or a little cold, grab a bike, a thermos of soup and a fuzzy blanket, and bike on out there to deep playa, share with a stranger, and remember the OUP.
BREAKING NEWS update from Noodles the Soup Man: “I was going to take a year off this year. In light of Larry’s passing I think I will come back. There has been recent talk of making soup again in a more portable way. It would be nice to team up with an art car or another camp. I was kind of hoping to put out the soup signal. Email email@example.com if you want to collaborate with our shenanigans this year, one last time.”