Airlifting in the Challah

Our compendium of Cargo Cult cyberspace coverage begins with this gem from Bloomberg – who seem to be having a bit of a love affair with Burning Man at the moment. Maybe last year’s Burn Wall Street really did help get Wall Street’s attention?

gluckstern300_0“We’re airlifting in the challah again,” said Steven Gluckstern, as he stood chatting recently with a few people. “Enough for 2,500 people,” he added casually, taking a sip of his cocktail.

A siege on the Upper West Side?

Burning Man, actually. It was to be the fifth year at the festival in the Nevada desert for Gluckstern, a venture capitalist and chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners, and his wife, Judy. Every August, about 40,000 people pay $380 to attend the weeklong celebration of countercultural art, music, sexuality and lifestyles. The festival operates on a barter system, and each camp is expected to offer entertainment, food or some other service. The Glucksterns’ camp, now numbering a little more than 90 people, offers French toast. Hence the challah.

…Reached for further comment a few days later at his house in San Francisco, Gluckstern, 62, explains how he came to be an impassioned ringmaster for what the Burning Man crowd calls French Toast Thursdays. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the line to the Glucksterns’ tent is long enough that it can be seen from space. Last year, a satellite photograph of the festival showed a thousand people lined up for breakfast. 

Burning Man 2003 - 475 200308311223 FrenchToastBreakfast NoryWhen they say “seen from space”, I’m pretty sure they’re talking about high resolution satellite imagery, not an astronaut peering out the window of the Space Station…or my former guest Sir Richard Branson (White Kinght Too, Space Ship 2, Eve)’s or Burner Elon Musk (Grasshopper and Dragon) ‘s latest Spaceships . From space these days, they can probably see exactly what strain of weed that is you’re smoking while you wait in the massive line.

1000 people in line for French Toast? What is this, England? Mecca? Miami? In San Francisco, you can’t even get 1000 homeless to line up for the soup kitchen. At least in Vegas, you can comp your way past the line. I mean, I love French Toast, but I’m not standing in line behind 1000 people for anything at Burning Man. Well, except maybe the gate. This year Camp Hot Mayo threw an Irish Car Bomb party at 4:20 (location: 9:15 & Holy), it was well attended and had deep lines for the cocktails. Too much for me and my neighboring Fucken Prawn Distrikt 9 camp-mates, who preferred to help themselves to cold beers from the fridge and watch the line from air-conditioned comfort (Burner-than-thous, let the bashing commence!)
Anyway, we’re small time. Air conditioning and refrigerated beers, woo. We obviously can’t be Burners. But what about these guys?

The couple’s involvement began four and a half years ago, when they were invited by their daughter to take part in her honeymoon, which was held at Burning Man. “We rolled in that first year with a camp of about 20 people,” says Gluckstern. “We decided we would purchase a simple set of things to make a misting tent, which wasn’t very successful.”

OK, so, weddings at Burning Man, I kinda get it. Like, for Rockstar Librarian, that’s dope. If I were ever to get married, it’s about the only way I could think of where I could get most of my Burner friends in a single hyper-focused place at one time, and also most of my family and last remaining hold-out friends and Juno Reactor and Jamé Forbes and Subsqwad to be there at Burning Man at the same time.

But, isn’t a honeymoon supposed to be a romantic one on one with the newlyweds? Not, Orgy Camp and Comfort and Joy and Critical Tits? To each their own. For this particular VC, his daughter’s honeymoon, inspired him to take the SACRED PRINCIPLE OF GIFTING to another level. French Toast? How can that be Commodification? It’s just feeding the hipsters… (BTW, of all Larry’s 2004 “ten principles to rule them all”, Gifting has been the least popular in our Burner poll, neck and neck to be Biggest Loser with Civic Reponsibility…)

As he wandered the festival, Gluckstern noticed lots of camps serving pancakes. The old analytic skills kicked in. “That was too easy,” he recalls. “It’s a mix, and you add water.” Sensing an opportunity, Gluckstern decided to raise the stakes. “It would be much more of a challenge to do French toast,” he says. “You need fresh milk, fresh half and half, fresh eggs… “

french toastA challenge it was. “The first thing is you have to find 100 loaves of challah,” he says. “We have to commission to have them made from a place in Berkeley. One of our colleagues has his own small private plane, so we organized a challah airlift.”

Then, as they say, if you want to feed a hipster, you have to pre-break a few eggs. “Two thousand pieces of French toast is around 1,000 eggs,” Gluckstern says. “How are you going to bring in 1,000 eggs without breaking them?” He spoke to a friend in the catering business, who recommended that he buy the eggs pre-broken, and managed to find a dairy in Reno that would sell him 72 quarts of pre- broken eggs and 32 quarts of half and half.

“Then we also figured, ‘Well, hey. We’d better use real maple syrup, too,” says Gluckstern. “So we had our airlift pilot track down five-gallon buckets of grade A maple syrup.” Other ingredients, like cinnamon and butter, don’t need to be purchased on such a massive scale. 

toast girlUsing private planes to fly in maple syrup? Now that’s extravagant. Extravagant enough to get Bloomberg to cover your VC firm, using Burning Man as the hook to differentiate you from the thousands of other VC firms out there – some of whom also have representatives at Burning Man looking to cut deals (I know this for a fact including having watched a $15 million one go down right outside my RV a couple of years ago, as well as having met others of these Burner VCs).

The quality of these privately-airlifted French Toast ingredients is so amazing, that everyone will line up? Or maybe Burners are just hungry and can’t be fucked cooking.

Perhaps this is the reason for thousands of people to wait in line:

“The reason everyone says this is the best French toast they ever had is that for most of the people who’ve come in, they’ve generally eaten no dairy and no sugar by the end of the week. Their bodies just condition themselves to granola,” he says. “Then all of a sudden you’ve got a piece of French toast and it’s hot and it’s full of butter and eggs and your body releases endorphins. People literally become ecstatic.”

It seems that French toast is the new drug recycling. Expensive food logistics for them, greater bang for the buck for Burners.

Gluckerstern sounds interested in other French techniques beyond the toasting…

he likes the challenge, yes. And he likes the change of scene.

“We have five doctors in our camp, four of whom are ER doctors and the other’s a psychiatrist,” Gluckstern says. “As a coincidence, they all happen to be extremely handsome young gay men. Hanging out with these people is not what a 60-year-old businessman gets to do every day.”

“Now we’re making a separate foray into the world of ice cream. We’re building a vehicle … one of my responsibilities is the electrical system on it,” Gluckstern says, with the relish one might take in plotting a bond trade. “Last year we went out into the desert with ice cream sandwiches. They were incredibly successful but they ran out quickly. What we needed to do was have a much larger system, so we essentially built a covered wagon with freezers built in.”

So, who is this guy, winning over the hearts and minds of Burners with exotic breakfast foods, desserts, and handsome gay doctors?

sbeeOh, no-one special, just another Burner: albeit one accused of having a bad reputation, who likes to hang out with young San Francisco hipsters in the Mission, and is using the controversial “Eminent Domain” laws to underwrite struggling cities to seize peoples’ homes for real estate developers.

“The broad category of property that we are taking about here is intangible property, and there has never been any question that intangible property can be taken,” Hockett explains. He cites examples of eminent domain being used to seize railroad stock and municipal revenue bonds. Of course, cities must demonstrate that taking private property accomplishes a public good, and the benefits of seizing underwater mortgages are somewhat speculative. But so was the public benefit of seizing homes in New London, Connecticut, to make way for a Pfizer research facility—a use of eminent domain that the Supreme Court approved in its controversial 2005 Kelo v. New London ruling.

save richmond

According to the Chronicle, these people are protesting in support of Gluckstern’s plan  (photo: SF Chronicle)

Gluckstern wants to win so much, to him it’s war. Just like beating pancakes with French Toast.

We are not going to stop fighting. In a real war you get killed, but in this war, my partners and I believe this is the right thing for people and we will fight to the finish, whatever that means.”

His war sees him taking on the Rockefellers, the Mellons, and PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund:

Trustees Pacific Investment Management, known as Pimco, BlackRock and Bank of New York Mellon are seeking a court order blocking Richmond and Mortgage Resolution Partners of San Francisco from using eminent domain to purchase mortgages of homeowners whose properties are underwater.

The city’s plan is unconstitutional, according to complaints filed by mortgage-bond trustees in federal court in San Francisco. The trustees, including Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, were directed to take the action by investors in the debt, said John Ertman, a partner at Ropes & Gray.

“Mortgage Resolution Partners is threatening to seriously harm average Americans, including public pension members, other retirees and individual savers, through a brazen scheme to abuse government powers for its own profit,”

Former SF Mayor and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, believed to be a Burner and known to be a champion of the homeless and disadvantaged, is not a fan:

“I know what threats are. I know what bullying looks like. And I didn’t like it coming from the folks that I helped bail out,” Newsom tells me at the Balboa Café, his white tablecloth restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District. He goes on to convey his feelings towards Wall Street with an expletive, adding, “You can quote me on that.” Then he changes his mind and asks that I not. He ribs his press aide for not reining him in. “But I feel that way,” he adds. “I have a visceral reaction.”

When you’re chomping down on that ecstatic French Toast, standing in line admiring the hunky gay doctors on call to prescribe whatever pharmaceuticals are needed to accompany your Playa pancakes…think about all that went into that. To pay private planes to fly around getting maple syrup for you.

[Update 10/1/13]  Ellie K, who may or may not be a Burner, has chimed in on the comments, complaining that we got it wrong: Gavin Newsom IS a fan. Although his letter to the Attorney General is unequivocal: “ let me state unequivocally that this letter in no way constitutes an endorsement of any proposal currently being developed “, perhaps this is just politician speak. Maybe when a politician writes a letter saying “I don’t endorse any proposal”, you can disregard the contents and infer from the mere act of letter writing that they are, in fact, very much endorsing the proposal. Adding some weight to this theory, perhaps, is the fact that Newsom’s former communications director is now running PR for Gluckstern and MRP, and donated $25,000 to the Governor’s campaigns.

Mortgage Resolution Partners’ spokesman is former Newsom communications director Peter Ragone, who donated more than $25,000 to Newsom’s campaigns for governor in 2010 and lieutenant governor in 2010 and 2014, records show. One donation, of $4,950, came from Ragone’s public relations firm, PWR LLC.

In response to an inquiry, Ragone sent the Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, a statement from major Democratic Party fundraiser Steven Gluckstern, who is Mortgage Resolution Partners’ president. . . . . . . .

Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles think tank that focused on campaign finance, said it’s possible that the donations, and Newsom’s advocacy, were unrelated. “But 90 percent of the time, when we look at the money, it’s because it’s something donors want from officials,” Stern said.

As always, make up your own mind Burners. Maybe it’s great to fly French Toast ingredients around on private planes, while using impoverished and financially unsophisticated local cities to exercise their Federally self-given right to seize peoples’ homes. We’re just bringing the issue to your attention. If you want to understand more about the financial side of it, here’s an expert for you comparing the situation to “scalping” and a “plague of locusts”:

18 comments on “Airlifting in the Challah

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  11. This was such a badly written story. With whom does this venture capitalist have a “bad reputation”? Oh, Wall Street insiders. Wouldn’t know that from your piece. And Gavin Newsom “is not a fan”? Oh, wait, he’s not a fan of MRP’s Wall Street/banker enemies. … I have no idea if this guy is a tool or not, but your story doesn’t shine any light on it. Now that I think of it, this is kind of a “vulture” site itself, isn’t it, picking up others’ stories and clumsily retreading them. Unfortunate waste of time.

    • This is such a badly written comment. All your points are wrong. But I’ll address them anyway.
      1. With whom does this VC have a bad reputation? The words “bad reputation” are a hyperlink, if you click them you’ll see. It’s the Sacramento Bee, the White House, the Wall Street Journal, the SF Chronicle and others. There is PLENTY more coverage on the Internet about Eminent Domain, and MRP in particular, but this is a story about their involvement at Burning Man, not a hit piece on their business model.
      2. Gavin Newsom is not a fan. This is also a hyperlink. Click the words “not a fan” and you will see quite clearly that he said what we’re quoting him on, it does not appear to be supportive of predatory use of eminent domain. Here’s a link to his original letter, which ends with “finally, let me state unequivocally that this letter in no way constitutes an endorsement of any proposal currently being developed” – ie., he’s not a fan of this proposal :
      3. We pick up others stories and clumsily retread them. What would you rather us do? Just write our own content about Burning Man? Then it wouldn’t be a blog…it would be a book. This site exists to comment on what’s being said about Burners on the Interwebz. I challenge you to find a better story on Gluckstern’s involvement with Burning Man than this. We have brought together multiple threads and multiple stories, shed some light on who this guy is and what he gets up to in the Default world, no-one else has done this.
      Yet again, someone says “Burners.Me doesn’t write about things accurately”, but disappears into the ether when presented with the facts. Since we started, we’ve been right more often than BMOrg, even when they came out swearing black and blue that we were wrong. In fact I can’t think of a case where we’ve been wrong. The reason people can say this site publishes rumors, is that when it’s just a rumor, we tell you – you can make up your own mind. Clearly, that doesn’t make us a rumor mill, we’re not publishing rumors and pretending they’re facts. But just because we say something is a rumor, doesn’t mean we have no idea if it’s true or not. It just means we have a source who we respect, but we don’t have a second or public confirmation we can point you to. Like I said, make up your own mind. When we publish facts, we link to supporting information.
      I can only conclude that you are a troll, calling our story a waste of time but not even bothering to read it or click the links you are criticizing. Either that or a paid shill for the French Toast.

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  15. The fresh baked Challah is amazing in concept and practice. My friend from Sukkat Shalom joined in and loved it. However I fear the sheer volume involved in our french toast Thursdays (over 2000 servings) would monopolize the ovens. I would encourage people to step away from the concept of overweening privilege and relative challenges. I do recognize that the words “flying in” seems JUST so “special”. The reality is one of our campers fathers comes every year, he flies his small plane (as he does off Playa) like many others and it is convenient to have fresher bread so he volunteered to do it. It is just that simple. We do not charter a plane etc etc. It is just a great synchronicity. As you should be rightfully proud of your huge accomplishment of baking we are happy that we go this extra step, (vs loafs sitting in a car/truck for five days). So much of the default world is built on supposition, half-data and comparison; I,for one, would like to leave it there. Next year I would love to bake a special loaf or two and make it up for you into some delicious french toast.

    • Estimated to be about 1000 planes at Burning Man this year. Why not let fresh produce ride with the Trucks and planes that are coming in anyway, that’s good efficiency and everyone benefits.

  16. I feel quite mixed about this story. In general, it’s just another story of generosity at Burning Man – but flying this stuff in is totally unnecessary, and seems like a stunt.
    I feel prouder about the real, fresh Challah baked Friday on-playa through a cooperative effort of the Black Rock Bakery (French Quarter) who baked it with ingredients and volunteers from Sukkat Shalom, where it was used for the Friday evening Sabbath Service and Meal (for about 400) served at Sukkat Shalom – after all, the origin of Challah is its ritual use at the Sabbath meal (it’s actually more complicated, but I’ll spare you); French Toast is what you do with the left-overs! Baking bread on the playa (flour, eggs, milk, water) is a MUCH bigger challenge and achievement than cooking french toast. I hope Mr. Gluckstern joins us next year for the real thing!

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