P Segal, the Originator of Center Camp Cafe

P Segal is likely the first person to suggest moving Burning Man to Black Rock Desert. The first playa event was planned in her living room, as were many SF Cacophony Society events, and she eventually went on to run the Center Camp Cafe for many years.

P Segal and Kevin Evans, along with Dawn Stott and Cynthia Kolnick, first visited Black Rock Desert on Labor Day weekend in 1989 to attend a wind sculpture event in the Black Rock desert sponsored by Planet X pottery. Next year P would have her first encounter with the burning man.

In 1990 the SF Cacophony Society had been promoting the Baker Beach burn, and in 1990 was helping to recruit members to build the man in a parking lot across from Slim’s nightclub in San Francisco. She attended the 1990 solstice event at Baker Beach with John Law. The 1990 Baker Beach gathering did not go as planned, however. Louis M. Brill notes:

As we prepared the effigy for Baker Beach, we learned that the Golden Gate Park Police (GGNRA) had “discovered” this event and decided because of the potential fire hazard (half of Los Angeles, as it usually does around this time, was engulfed in various intensities of hill fires) to the surrounding hillside that we could not burn the statue. The police was represented by a lone officer on a motor bike who had come to Baker Beach to issue his edict. We negotiated a compromise: we could build and erect The Man, but not burn him.

According to several sources, after John Law’s attempts to persuade Larry Harvey to burn the Man anyway were unsuccessful, P Segal suggested they bring the Man to the Cacophony’s Zone Trip #4 - A Bad Day at Black Rock - a gathering at Black Rock Desert in a few months. (Some have also suggest John Law or Kevin Evans as the originator of the ides… both, along with P Segal, played very significant roles in the first Burn at the playa occuring.]

Over the following weeks, a group of Cacophonists met in P Segal’s living room at 1907 Golden Gate Avenue to plan the 1990 Burn.

P remained an active participant at Burning Man, and in (or around) 1995 she used her restaurateur and catering experience to take over running the Center Camp Cafe

Brokeassstuart carried the following article about and interview with P Segal:

In the 1970’s and 80’s Miss P was living in North Beach and soaking in a rich café lifestyle. On the terrace of Savoy Tivoli there used to be a cross section of interesting people: maverick quantum physicists, poets, radical political leftists, neo-cons, and members of the SF Suicide Club.  

The beat poets were still around, the Italian community dominated the waterfront, and a blossoming punk scene was growing at Mabuhay Gardens.  P Segal was hanging out in the literary scene with the likes of Jack Micheline and Gregory Corso, giving Bob Kaufman beer money, and rubbing elbows with people like Alan Ginsberg. Housing was cheap, cost of living low, and people had the free time to be creative.

P carried this San Franciscan Bohemian style to the three story Edwardian town house at 1907 Golden Gate Ave, where she played host to Cacophony society’s plots and parties. This is where they built the foundation of a festival that grew from being just a group of friends on Baker Beach in 1986, to 89 people in the desert in 1990 (they counted exactly 89 people to make sure no one got left behind), to now 70,000 people this August 2018.  

Miss P was Burning Man’s first Hostess.  She created the Burning Man Café, which was the inspiration for what is now the center camp concept. In 1994 she was fined by the Nevada Board of health for allowing her baristas to work naked! Back in San Francisco she was running her own restaurant, Caffe Proust, a haven for foodies and creative types. Now Miss P is an author and therapist, and champion to a cause that promises to protect and cradle the creative pursuits of San Francisco’s artists. Because, as she says, “being in the presence of creative energy is vital to the mental health of a city“.

The San Francisco Art House Project seeks to give artists and proven creatives a way to stay in San Francisco and keep our city interesting, diverse, and beautiful.  ‘Art houses’ will be like tech incubators, only instead of pumping out software, we would be creating art publications, paintings, galleries, and new music.  The designs and layouts of these Art Houses are being drawn up as we speak. 

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P Segal:

Year arrived in San Francisco: I was born here
Favorite place to work in San Francisco: Worked as a private detective for a year
Favorite place to live In San Francisco: North Beach in the early 1980’s
Best Politician In San Francisco History: Matt Gonzalez
Favorite Book: In Search of Lost Time and of course Tales of San Francisco Cacophony Society
Favorite eats: Caffé Proust
Favorite bar: The bar at the Exploratorium After Dark
Favorite Band: Pine Box Boys
Favorite drink: Campari and orange juice
Favorite Museum: I love them all but going to the Legion of Honor on Sunday afternoons when the Organ is playing is superb.
Favorite event in SF? Earthquake Day. On the 18th of April at 5:13am people meet at the Lotta’s Fountain down town and are served bloody maries out of an antique fire truck. All the earthquake’s survivors would tell their stories about the quake. And eventually everyone ends up at the top of Dolores Park to give speeches and take turns spraying the fire hydrant there gold.

How has the city changed? When I was a child there were no skyscrapers, the city was beautiful and cheap, and was probably the most European of cities in the US.

How has Burning Man changed? In the 90’s it was about invention, it was an experiment, everything that emerged was from a process of development.  Now the festival is more a process of maintenance, many more people come to see the spectacle that others created, as opposed to creating the spectacles themselves.

Any advice to new burners:  Remember radical self-reliance, these large camps that come with personal chefs, rows of showers and RVs that are like small hotels.  That’s not a radical new experience, that’s not taking yourself out of your comfort zone.  That’s relying on the same comforts you had at home.  You should experience washing dishes in a dust storm, you should learn how to evaporate grey water, you should be directly involved in leaving no trace.

Still a fan of Burning Man? Oh yes of course, BM is still one of the most fantastic festivals we have.  I love anything that puts art on a pedestal.  I may just be going again this year.”