Tour Through The South – Winter Update – Hot Springs, AR

Hanging in Oxford, MS.

Hanging in Oxford, MS.

Whew, what a tour! Edna Lu (the Tea Bus) and I just spent the last 3 months touring The South from West Virginia to Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and finally to Arkansas, where we are now. It was a long journey, with sweet and salty moments, new friends, old friends, and a lot of Southern Hospitality.

Edna heads into her 33rd state.

Edna heads into her 33rd state.

When I was 19, my buddy Shawn and I spent a week and a half in New Orleans, and trying to hitch-hike from there to Florida. We definitely experienced some good ol’ Southern Hospitality, but we also faced the other side of the sword: what I dubbed “Southern Hostility” in my recounting of all the tales later on. In a matter of 3 days, we had guns pulled on us 5 times. We had police say, “We don’t like n*ggers and vagabonds around here.” Never before, and never since have I had a gun pulled on me, and never have I heard a police officer be so racists and bigoted so openly. Perhaps it was because we had backpacks and we were outsiders. But whatever it was, I was hoping this tour – 14 years later – would show me something different.

Folks from across this nation had been warning me about The South. “Be careful down there!” “I don’t think I’d go there if I were you.” As I began wandering down through Virginia and North Carolina, most folks warned me of heading into The Deep South, like Georgia, Alabama, and beyond. They spoke of the hostility that would await me. Of course, a few of folks told me that I’d be just fine. When I got to Georgia, the folks there warned me of heading into Alabama and Mississippi – where the real trouble lay. In Alabama, they warned me of Mississippi and Louisiana. And finally, in northern Mississippi, they warned me of southern Mississippi and Louisiana – the places where I had had guns pulled on me in my younger years. As I had moved through these “dangerous” places, I actually felt more comfortable and more well taken care of with most of the strangers I had met than almost anywhere else in the country. This was true no matter how “deep” I went.

My first cup of Sweet Tea - Thanks, Kelly!

My first cup of Sweet Tea – Thanks, Kelly!

When traveling south in the eastern US, once you hit about Virginia, there’s a shift in language. I don’t just mean in the accent or dialect, but in the way that people talk to you. It’s almost as if people start speaking to you, as a stranger, with more depth and soul. You start making more eye contact walking down the street – or even driving down the street, for that matter. In Georgia, a fellow I met randomly and chatted with for a couple hours told me that making eye contact with someone in the South is grounds for a 3-hour conversation – and it was true. By the time I was in Alabama, I would be driving through a neighborhood and a local would make eye contact and wave hello. Black, white – it didn’t matter. In the rest of the country folks say, “Oh, here’s my business card. If you ever need anything, let me know.” In The South people say, “What do you need?” And they wont leave until you tell them.

Centrifuging oil outside Selma, AL.

Centrifuging oil outside Selma, AL.

Even the police were like this (I know, as a white man, I have a different experience than others – I’m not ignorant to the privilege this body affords me). I had more interaction with police in the south than in most parts of the country, but mostly it was to ask me how I was doing, if I was broke down, or if I needed anything. In Athens, GA on Christmas Eve, one police officer told me I was breaking the law by obstructing the sidewalk with my rug, chairs and table, but instead of giving me a ticket, he let it slide and gave me a cake to share with my guests. Outside Selma, AL, I spent half-a-day centrifuging waste vegetable oil on the side of the road. When a cop stopped to make sure I was okay, he told me not to sleep there because it was dangerous. I wished later that I had asked him what he meant by that, but in this predominantly black area, I had some ideas.

Driving through the fog on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Driving through the fog on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Ally and I had left West Virginia after a long summer/fall working on Front Street Grocers. After cruising Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, I dropped Ally at the train station in Charlottesville, VA. This trip through the south was going to be a personal journey of serving tea and meeting people, but also to get some alone time. Ally and I had been spending about half our time together for several years until this past year-and-a-half, which we spent entirely together. After dropping her and finding some waste vegetable oil from a burger joint, I hit the Blue Ridge Parkway for an indeterminate amount of time, headed towards Asheville.

Edna basks in the sun along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

Edna basks in the sun along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.

The next three weeks, I explored the Blue Ridge Parkway and beyond. I camped out in the woods, spending lots of time reading, writing, doing little bus projects, and getting some time to reflect. I hiked, centrifuged waste vegetable oil, and enjoyed my time with no restrictions. I had been so busy in Thomas for the Summer and Fall that it just felt good to be in the slow lane. I stealth camped in Parkway pullouts, made fires in my wood stove to stay warm, and in Floyd, VA, I met an unexpected community for the week around Thanksgiving.

The wonderful FARM Cafe in Boone, NC.

The wonderful FARM Cafe in Boone, NC.

In Boone, NC, I served some tea downtown and met some great folks. I even randomly ran into a buddy who I made in Austin, TX. The next day I went into their local community café called F.A.R.M (Feeding All Regardless of Means). Community cafes are spaces where food is made for anyone. You can pay money or work-trade/volunteer for food. I opted to work-trade. After eating a delicious meal, I told them I could do the standard cleanup, OR I had a school bus full of tools and I could fix some things for them. They were so stoked that someone came with tools! I tightened a bunch of tables and chairs, fixed a bench, repaired some cabinets, and organized their whole tool/hardware cabinet. It was nice to be so well appreciated. I love these kinds of places!

Filling water at the spring in Black Mountain, NC.

Filling water at the spring in Black Mountain, NC.

In Black Mountain, I filled Edna’s water tank at one of my favorite springs. In Asheville, NC, I found myself at my step-sister and her family’s house. It was a good time to be there to give a helping hand with the kids, some house projects, and more. I served some tea around town – in West Asheville, Downtown, the River Arts District, at the Montana House, and at The Orange Peel for a Standing Rock benefit potluck and concert.

I headed out towards Brevard to Trails Carolina and the Academy at Trails Carolina – a school for troubled and at-risk boys and girls (I only met the boys) that incorporates wilderness and adventure therapy into their curricula. It was a powerful experience. Many of these kids are living in wall tents, hiking and studying nature, while living in nature, and making fire with bow drills. They work through phases of accomplishment of real skills as they work towards graduation. This not only gives them something to work towards, but it empowers them in their community and in the real world.

Talking to kids at Trails Carolina, watching them make fire, and Edna at the Lake onsite.

Talking to kids at Trails Carolina, watching them make fire, and Edna at the Lake onsite.

My favorite story from the day was one of the students, who had battled the teachers the day before when they were trying to express the importance of community and sharing. He rebuked, saying that wasn’t the way the world worked and they weren’t preparing him for the real world. Perhaps this was his experience coming from Miami (his hometown). But, at the end of our time together he let his vulnerability out and expressed that if there were things like the Free Tea Bus out there in the world that perhaps he was wrong.

The solar display and bike-powered electric generator at Trail Carolina.

The solar display and bike-powered generator.

The weird object table in Steve's classroom.

The weird object table in Steve’s classroom.

Solar powered golf cart.

Solar powered golf cart at Trails Carolina.

The frame for the new solar array at Trail Carolina.

The frame for the new solar array at Trail Carolina.

Myself and Steve from Trails Carolina.

Myself and Steve from Trails Carolina.

I was welcomed into this place by a science teacher, and fellow tinkerer, Steve. He was excited to show me the new solar array they were installing, as well as what I would call has lab, or classroom. There were all kinds of snakes and reptiles living in cages and in clear tubing habitats running around the ceiling and almost all of these animals were either ex-pets or injured non-releasable animals that Steve and his students have taken in and care for as education animals. There was a table of odd objects from technology and nature for kids to touch and play with. There was a solar and electronics display that showed kids how it all worked – including a bicycle-powered electricity generator. There was a big screen TV (that Steve fixed from a dump score) that could do things like track the International Space Station. It was a science and nature geeks’ mad laboratory, and I loved it! Steve also took me in the back room where he had spread out some old tools passed down in his family, and asked me to take what I wanted. I didn’t know Christmas had come early! What a generous guy!

After some of the student had come on the bus, they came back and had left a whole stash of things to go into the Gift & Take. They knew the meaning of reciprocity.

Working on my bed in Jim's shop in Brevard, NC.

Working on my bed in Jim’s shop in Brevard, NC.

Steve introduced me to Jim and Alice from Brevard. Jim and I took a liking to each other and they invited me to come stay for a night in a “real” bed. They were super generous, feeding me dinner, and sharing their space. The next day, Jim and I spent half the day working on some bus projects. He has an excellent shop, and he invited me to come play in it. He helped me do some routing, grinding, and cutting of some parts for my bed. It was fun to meet another builder/tinkerer, and get to spend some time soaking up the wisdom of an elder. I miss my west coast elders and spending time in the shop with folks.

As I drove south, I stopped in Travelers Rest, SC (seemed appropriate), and Greeneville, SC. In downtown Greeneville, it was busy, so I tried to find parking to serve tea, but lucked out. I kept moving.

My favorite spot to serve tea in Athens, GA.

My favorite spot to serve tea in Athens, GA.

When finally arrived in Athens, GA, I had a similar experience to Floyd, VA. I showed up in town without knowing anyone and by the time I left a couple days later, I had lots of new friends. Downtown Athens is hopping, even when all the University of Georgia students are gone for the holidays. It was pretty cold, so the folks enjoyed the hot tea the couple nights I was out serving.

In Atlanta, I had scheduled a talk hosted by The Homestead Atlanta at The Goat Farm’s donation-based café, The Warhorse Coffee Joint. The Goat Farm is a magical place. It’s an old industrial complex that has been reimagined into an artist and maker compound of studios. Much of it has been revamped with salvaged materials, and much of it still holds the character of abandoned industry.

The Goat Farm in Atlanta, GA.

The Goat Farm in Atlanta, GA.

Talking to folks for my Salvaging the Heart of Tiny Living talk. (Photo: Kimmy Coburn)

Talking to folks for my Salvaging the Heart of Tiny Living talk. (Photo: Kimmy Coburn)

My talk was called Salvaging the Heart of Tiny Living. It was a two-part talk focusing on Relationship-Based Economy and the technical systems of tiny-living. The turnout was great – the whole café was packed. I was glad to see some folks who I had met in other places in attendance. We spent most of the time talking about the economics of relationships (both with people, as well as the things we use and consume), and still had some time to step outside, hang with Edna Lu, and share some tea while talking about solar, water, waste vegetable oil, hydronic heat systems, and more. Mad thanks to Kimmy of The Homestead Atlanta for getting the word out, and to The Warhorse café for hosting.

While in Atlanta, I stayed at The Big House (AKA 368 Ponce), where I offered some of my services in exchange for a place to park and be. I served some tea in Little Five Points, which was a great place to be. Little Five is a diverse area with everyone from train-riding dirty kids to hipsters to homeless folks. I loved the diversity, as it reminded me a little of the early days on Hollywood Blvd.

Edna hangs with an AirBNB bus at 368 Ponce in Atlanta, GA.

Edna hangs with an AirBNB bus at 368 Ponce in Atlanta, GA.

Yet, I had began to become a little pre-occupied with some bus issues I was having. While driving on the Parkway, I had developed a coolant leak, but only when the engine was cold (and boy was it cold up there). I also was having some fuel pressure issues when running WVO, as well as low WVO temperature issues, which I had been experiencing for about a year. I had been giving so much of my time to other peoples’ projects for months and months, that I had neglected a bunch of my own projects like bus maintenance and troubleshooting.

I had made a friend named Cricket in Athens, who had offered for Edna and I to come to stay with her and her family while I figured out my bus issues. After nearly a week in Atlanta, I headed back to Athens for some breathing room, and some good Edna time. Cricket and her family’s home was 6 acres out in Oconee County, about 25 minutes outside Athens. It was open and beautiful, with chickens, WiFi, an empty cabin that I could utilize for laundry and showers, and the occasional needed human interactions – with no obligations from my end. I so often come to a place with a “what can I offer?” mentality, but I had been so drained as of recently from doing this, that it felt good to feel free from the obligations I usually feel when coming to a place.

Edna's home outside Athens, GA with Cricket and fam.

Edna’s home outside Athens, GA with Cricket and fam.

Cricket hangs on the bus.

Cricket hangs on the bus.

The day bed Cricket and I built in her studio from 99% salvaged materials.

The day bed Cricket and I built in her studio from 99% salvaged materials.

Cricket was a reminder to the friendships we can have that transcend time and space. Most relationships take time to create, as trust builds and experiences are shared. Cricket and I, however, knew each other the moment we met. This made her comfortable to invite me to stay with her and her family. And it made me comfortable to know that I could just come and be, and do the things I needed to accomplish. It was fun to get to know her three kids, and her husband Vic, who is a logician (yup, seriously), philosopher, and computer programmer. Even though Cricket and I knew each other since we met, we still took the time to deepen our friendship with shared experiences. She made me a stocking for Christmas and brought me black-eyed peas for New Years; and I often invited her in for tea when she passed by the bus. She taught me how to throw pots (she’s a ceramicist and artist, and repurposes a lot of “junk”). Together we built a day bed for her studio – a place where she could sip tea and day-dream. She brought me on bikes to the secret, old, and well-preserved cotton gin just down the road in the woods. And I taught her the art of dumpster-diving.

Serving food on Christmas Eve in Athens, GA.

Serving food on Christmas Eve in Athens, GA.

Throughout my stay in Athens I drove into town to serve tea at least once a week. On Christmas Eve, I drove downtown and made a ton of food to share. I was joined by another fellow (who ran the local jail), who had made some chili to share with folks too. We spent the evening sharing food and tea with everyone. On Xmas morning, I awoke parked at a homeless shelter, where I opened up the doors and made hot tea for all the homeless folks who didn’t have anywhere to be (like myself, I guess). I had a strange time, however, on New Years Eve, while celebrating my 11 years of free tea.

Gretchen's tiny house.

Gretchen’s tiny house.

I also me a local woman named Gretchen who had built a tiny house from the ground up – literally, she welded the frame that it sat upon, built and wood-worked it, plumbed, did electrical, and more. I have mad respect to her process of learning real skills. We need more people like her who embrace real skills, regardless of what gender is “supposed” to have those skills. Thanks for living your values, Gretchen!

I spent more than three weeks at Cricket’s outside Athens. I replaced Edna’s injectors, the WVO heat exchanger, the WVO fuel pump, various filters, the thermostat, the front rotors and brake pads, and more. I did a compression test on Edna’s motor and tested the coolant for exhaust gasses. I installed a fan in the skylight for pushing hot air down towards the floors when the wood stove is burning. Next to the wood stove, I installed the start of a duct/vent system that uses both passive convection to heat the coldest air in the bus, as well as a fan system to blow warm air to the coldest part of the bus (more to come on this).

Edna's compression is good!

Edna’s compression is good!

Putting rebuilt injectors in Edna.

Installing rebuilt injectors.

Edna jacked up for brake work.

Edna jacked up for brake work.

New rotors and pads!

New rotors and pads!

The new flat plate heat exchanger.

The new flat plate heat exchanger.

The new copper pipe I installed next to the wood stove as part of a vent system.

The new copper pipe next to the wood stove.

My new fan for blowing hot air down while the wood stove is burning.

My new fan for blowing hot air down while the wood stove is burning.

Testing Edna's coolant for exhaust gasses - none present!

Testing Edna’s coolant for exhaust gasses – none present!

Working on Edna's motor.

Working on Edna’s motor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess this sign was for real.

I guess this sign was for real.

I felt good enough with Edna to leave mid-January. After one last tea party in downtown Athens, I headed towards Atlanta again. I was hoping to serve tea in downtown Decatur, but had a confrontation with a fellow who tried to bar me from parking a public parking space with a cone, all while I was in the middle of parallel parking. I ended up calling the police on this rich white guy who acted out his privilege with predictable precision. The police sided with him, and I realized the “UNLAWFUL TO PARK WAGON OR BUGGIES AROUND THIS SQUARE” sign posted wasn’t just a historical marker. I moved on towards Atlanta, and ended up back in Little Five Points – which ended up being a super fun evening. Also in Atlanta, I set up along the Eastside Beltline Trail on a busy Sunday.

A tea guest drew this on her arm.

A tea guest drew this on her arm.

Awaiting tea guests along the Eastside Beltline Trail in Atlanta, GA.

Awaiting tea guests along the Eastside Beltline Trail in Atlanta, GA.

Little Five Points in Atlanta seems to always be lively.

Little Five Points in Atlanta seems to always be lively.

An impromptu wagon circle in Atlanta with a fellow short bus owner.

An impromptu wagon circle in Atlanta with a fellow short bus owner.

In Alabama, I enjoyed the street scene in Opelika and Auburn. In Auburn, I used my WVO postcards with great success – the first two restaurants I asked said yes. The owner of one restaurant asked me to come back after the lunch rush. When I arrived back, he had read my website and Facebook and wanted to see the inside of the bus. He even knew I was heading to Arkansas to work on my book. Before I left, he told me to come back anytime I was traveling through and he’d share waste vegetable oil.

Edna sips waste vegetable oil through a straw in Auburn, AL.

Edna sips waste vegetable oil through a straw in Auburn, AL.

Stoked, I headed to Camp Hill to meet up with Cricket at an old high school that an artist buddy of hers had bought. It was a creative person’s dream – with lots of art, and lots of potential, but a lack of people to push it through to vision. The town was sad, poverty-stricken, and pretty decrepit. We enjoyed it, nevertheless.

I arrived in Prattville with an invitation from Pam, who had been following the Tea Bus on Facebook for a couple years after seeing a video online. She and her family hosted me for 4 or 5 days. They were gracious hosts. I loved them because of how they defied stereotypes. They were ex-military. Pam was in herbalism school. They are super into food-growing, canning, fermenting, and more. Their politics are not cut-and-dry like the media makes you want to think most Americans are. They are Christian, but Pam said they speaks “both languages” when I said something about evolution. We went on walks, a driving tour of town, and hung out a bunch at their house. I especially liked hanging with their 19-year-old son, Hutch, who taught me lots about bush crafting, sharpening blades, and more. He was one of those elders-who-is-younger-than-you types. I also met some of their friends, Peter and Kelly who are Trump-loving prepper-types (not that you, as a reader should draw any conclusions from this stereo-type). I love connecting with folks like this, despite our differences in personal politics. They were generous and awesome: feeding me my first real Sweet Tea – sweetened with an abundance of sugar, poured over ice – as well as offering a gift of tea bags, a hand-made star decoration, and Peter was excited to share info on Ham Radio operation with me. Peter also did a 30-minute video tour of the Free Tea Bus for their Portable Preppers Facebook/YouTube pages.

The water flows at Doster Well in Prattville, AL.

The water flows at Doster Well in Prattville, AL.

Prattville is also known as The Fountain City – because of its abundance of fresh water springs. Yes!!! I am always seeking out good natural spring water, and this town was in no shortage. The main spring is Doster Well – with easy access and delicious water. I’ve been getting the hang of my new spring water pump.

While in Prattville, I made the journey 15 minutes into Montgomery. I explored town, seeing the First White House of the Confederacy, the Capital building, the bus stop that Rosa Parks got on the bus, and more. I served tea downtown near The Alley on a Friday evening. It was great to get such a good variety of folks, including LOTS of military folks, white and black folks, and even a curious police officer. I loved finding more seemingly counter-stereotype folks, like the black military man who would have voted for “my man” Bernie if he was on the ticket, but ended up happily voting for, and supporting Trump. I loved the whole family of black folks who came on the bus and loved it. One of the fellows worked as a garbage man, and loved collecting things from the trash to fix and wanted to learn more about building things from waste. Needless to say, he was super inspired by the tea bus to see what you can build from waste.

Serving tea in Montgomery, AL.

Serving tea in Montgomery, AL.

Hanging in Montgomery, AL.

Hanging in Montgomery, AL.

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Edna at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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Driving across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

I drove west and stopped in Selma for a couple nights. I drove the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Bloody Sunday happened, and stopped at the civil rights monument and park on the other end of it. Just like much of Selma, it was in disrepair and needed some attention. Selma seemed forgotten. There wasn’t much happening downtown, and the parking spots were too small, so I didn’t get a chance to serve tea. I drove through neighborhoods, wanting to stop and talk to this predominately black and poverty-stricken town, but unsure how I would be received. A man from Selma later told me that this town (which was at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation of schools) was essentially re-segregated in later years, with all the public schools being 98% black and the private schools being mostly white. It was a prime example of money and poverty being at the roots of systemic racism.

Rural Studio in Newbern, AL.

Rural Studio in Newbern, AL.

The passive solar fire station Rural Studio built for the town of Newbern, AL.

The passive solar fire station Rural Studio built for the town of Newbern, AL.

I kept moving. From Selma I drove to Newbern, AL to visit Rural Studio – a design/build site for architecture students from Auburn University. They specialize in salvaged, low-cost, energy efficient, experimental, and accessible buildings for their local community, and build a lot on site as well. They’ve built a lot of things locally, in one of the poorest counties in the state (and probably the country). They built a fire station in town, so that people’s insurance would go down, and later built the town hall. Nearby towns have their projects in the form of low-cost housing, structures in parks, etc. Their site is littered with cool experimental buildings, materials, a garden that’s about to double in size, chickens, and more. I had dreamed of being an architect as a kid, and if I’d known a place like this existed, I may have tried to go to school for it.

Some of the tiny/experimental buildings at Rural Studio.

Some of the tiny/experimental buildings at Rural Studio.

Tim gets the 30,000th cuppa tea while Nicole and Josh look on.

Tim gets the 30,000th cuppa tea while Nicole and Josh look on.

Further north, I arrived in Tuscaloosa, AL. My friend Nicole from the old days on Orcas Island, WA had recently moved there with her new husband, and I couldn’t think of better folks to stay with. They had moved from New Orleans, where they had been serving free breakfast every Sunday on the median of the road for several years. They are eager about creating alternative economic functions as community-building projects. I loved staying with them. Nicole brought home-baked cookies out to a tea party I hosted near The University of Alabama on “the strip.” They were present for the 30,000th cuppa free tea.

A fun tea party in Tuscaloosa, AL on University Ave.

A fun tea party in Tuscaloosa, AL on University Ave.

Pushing on, I crossed into Mississippi, stopping in Columbus. I had been given a great invitation from the local newspaper owner, Birney Imes. Birney had arranged with the city and the local Arts Council a place for me to park Edna all day on a Friday to serve tea. He had a reporter lined up to do a story. On Thursday I arrived in time for a small piece to be put in the Friday paper announcing that I’d be serving tea. I’m usually never so official – it felt a little weird, but definitely good.

Mother Goose sips tea in Columbus, MS.

Mother Goose sips tea in Columbus, MS.

Friday was a great day, serving tea from 11 am to 11 pm right in the middle of town. It was so busy I only had about 5 minutes all day that I was alone. Many, many folks came out, including Mother Goose, a flamboyant local woman who everyone knew; the whole Imes family, who were hosting me so well; local business owners (the local bar owner even offered for me to come drink on her tab after I was done for the evening, and a local bookshop owner brought me a travel novel); and many random passersby. Folks brought me lunch, cookies to share, and more. By the end of the evening I became the listening ear for a teenage couple going through a rough patch, offering what advice I could.

Where I spent all Friday serving tea in downtown Columbus, MS.

Where we spent all Friday serving tea in downtown Columbus, MS.

I was hosted by Birney and Beth Imes in Columbus. I felt like I was at home. They fed me food, offered showers, and Beth even baked me some fresh granola to take on the road. Birney seemed to be the most well-known character in town. He arranged for me to get waste vegetable oil from some restaurants, and everyone knew who he was. Their house was spectacular and they were my people, for sure.

Serving free tea in Starkville, MS.

Serving free tea in Starkville, MS.

The next day just down the road in Starkville, MS, I arrived in town and opened up to serve tea. I was joined by Tanner (Birney and Beth’s daughter), and sought out by a young fellow named Alex who had been on the bus in Columbus. He had just finished a soccer tournament in Starkville, and came by to gift me some tea, and have one last cuppa. It was sweet that he wanted to come back and hang out.

The next day, the Starkville Dispatch and the Columbus Dispatch newspapers both came out with a front page, full color article on the Free Tea Bus. It was exciting and wonderful. I’ve never gotten a front page before!

The front page of The Starkville Dispatch.

The front page of The Starkville Dispatch.

Serving tea in downtown Oxford, MS.

Serving tea in downtown Oxford, MS.

At this point I began feeling anxious to get to Hot Springs, AR, where I was planning on spending the month of February working on the Tea Bus Factory Service Manual. Each day I didn’t arrive in AR was a day I wasn’t writing. I sped my pace. In Oxford, MS, I spent the evening serving tea on the semi-quiet streets of this beautiful college town square. In Little Rock, I spent a day and a couple nights exploring, meeting some folks, and gathering resources before heading to Hot Springs.

I was hoping to not see the closed-mindedness, the bigotry, and the aggressiveness that folks had been warning me about, and that I had encountered in The South when I was 19. But I guess that wasn’t in the cards. In Tuscaloosa, I was serving tea, and during a lull just one other fellow was there. I noticed a couple fellows walk by, stop at a tree behind the bus, pull off a branch and chuck it at the back of the bus. It hit with a clatter, but didn’t break anything. I leaned out the side of the bus and said, “Excuse me, what are you’re doing?”

“SUCK MY F*CKING C*NT!” one of them yelled as they walked off.

“You have a c*nt?” I asked calmly.

They kept walking away and yelling. I was surprised and a bit baffled. I asked the fellow who was hanging out what he thought. He said that they were just drunk frat boys, and not to take it personally. It’s common he said. Seeing something out of the ordinary just gives them the excuse to act on their desire to cause trouble. It’s part of both the good ol’ boy and redneck cultures of The South, he said.

Tea guests in Starkville, MS.

Tea guests in Starkville, MS.

In Starkville, MS, the bus was half full when a couple drunk (self-proclaimed) rednecks came aboard. Redneck 1 began chanting “Trump train, Trump train.” No one joined in, not even his buddy, Redneck 2. “If there’s any Democrats on here, I’m leaving. I’m not going to be brainwashed like Obama’s done for the past 8 years.” I wasn’t sure how to respond. “If there’s any Democrats on here, I’m going to kick their ass.” Even though the energy in the bus wasn’t quite up to their rambunctious, drunken demeanor, they stayed. I poured tea for redneck 2, who wanted it.

After they had calmed down, Redneck 1 decided that we should say a prayer together. We held hands. “Lord, please look over all the people here on this bus. We know you are good and fair and we ask you for your blessing. Lord, forgive me, for I am a bad, bad person. I don’t deserve everything you have given me.” He went on like this for several minutes. “Amen.”

Serving free tea in Starkville, MS.

Serving free tea in Starkville, MS.

A woman who was leaving came up to me and gave me a big hug. She told me that she appreciated me being there. It helped remind her what was important, and that even though she sometimes feels isolated (in the South), she was inspired and reinvigorated after coming aboard the bus. Once she left, Redneck 2 began to belittle her experience. “How could any one meet a random stranger and be so affected by them? I could never find myself in the position to get so much from a stranger.”

I told him that different people are in different places in their life. Some people need to be boosted back up. He didn’t understand, but his buddy, Redneck 1 began to tell a story of a time that he was in that place. When he was much younger, his brother had died. As he told the story of his brother’s death, he began to tear up and finally cry. Meanwhile, Redneck 2 was calling him a sissy. Redneck 2 played the classic love/hate switch, where one moment he was telling Redneck 1 how dumb he was, and then saying, “No, but for real, I love you… Do you got a cigarette? C’mon you sissy.”

Looking in Edna's windshield in Starkville, MS.

Looking in Edna’s windshield in Starkville, MS.

After they left, (and caused most of the other guests to leave), a couple fellows who stuck around told me they remained on the bus to make sure that I was safe. “You never know with these rednecks – once minute they can be soft, and the next they are throwing punches and breaking things.” I didn’t feel unsafe once they settled down early in their stay on the bus, but I was still appreciative of the support from the two fellows who had stayed. They told me that rednecks (like everyone) have a sensitive side, but that it’s suppressed through cultural machismo, and it comes right on out when given the right opportunity.

On the other end of the spectrum, I loved how the Tea Bus brought out the hidden open-mindedness, inner-hippy, and all around excuse to step out of Southern normalcy. I received more crystals as gifts per capita in Mississippi than in Northern California (that says something!). Because the Free Tea Bus is all-inclusive, it made many liberal folks feel more comfortable to be themselves, whereas I was told many of them feel they have to withhold some of their feelings and ideas often in The South.

A fun mug gifted by a tea guest - Thanks, Ben!

A fun mug gifted by a tea guest – Thanks, Ben!

One of the great generosities associated with Southern Hospitality is the willingness to share food. I experienced this from Virginia all the way to Mississippi. In three months on the road through The South I spent less than $50 on food (and I think half that was taking my step-sister out for a burger). Part of this was the fact that I had work-traded for food to bring with me from Front Street Grocers. Part of this was due to the abundance of good dumpster-diving that I encountered. But mostly this was due to people feeding me and giving me food. Folks who grew food offered it fresh from the garden. I was given fresh eggs, and lots of random foodstuff. Folks that canned food gave it for my journeys – everything from cubed venison to soups to jams. I was even sent off from Montgomery, AL with a half-a-dozen quarts of homebrew wine of various flavors (lime, strawberry, spiced cranberry, carrot, etc. – thanks Pam and Phil). People who hosted me also fed me delicious meals, or took me out to eat. I sometimes had to turn down offers of food just so food wouldn’t go bad in my fridge. This is part of the reason I turned to serving food on Christmas Eve – because I had so much to share! I arrived Arkansas with a bus full of food, which is what is helping me get through this month of writing.

Our retreat in Hot Springs, AR.

Our retreat in Hot Springs, AR.

Alas, now I am in Hot Spring, AR, a town that Edna, Ally and I accidentally discovered a year-and-a-half ago. I was invited to come back here by Gil, who owns the old estate I am staying on. He has an empty cabin, so it has become my writing cabin. Limited internet and lots of alone time should be good for me and my writing.

The rest of the country has something to learn from The South. The depth of immediate connection can be great here when people are willing (and don’t see you as a threat). The eye contact, waving, and sparking up of conversations is my kind of thing. The hospitality, topped with food sharing, good hosting, gift giving, and kindness brought a sense of home to me that no other region of the country has offered so quickly. I’m barely this well hosted on the west coast, where I spent almost a decade building my community.

I am still a little thrown off by the hostility of folks towards people they don’t even know. I can’t fully comprehend this Southern Hostility. I only wanted to have a pretty picture painted for me in The South this time, but I failed. Why is it culturally acceptable to express violence to people who you haven’t even talked to? Why is it culturally acceptable to threaten beating up people who don’t agree with your politics? How is it that system racism is so obvious and prevalent in many places? How can the people be both so open to being hospitable, and closed to those they view as outsiders or different? None of these traits are unique to The South, but they do seem more prevalent.

I finish my tour through The South wishing that more of the country was like the people here in regards to hospitality, but I’m worried that the hostility is the other side of the same coin, and that they come together. What do you think???

THANK YOUs:

Strange folds a flower from paper as a gift to share in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Strange folds a flower from paper as a gift to share in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Wow, so, so many! Thank you so kindly to: Daniel in Charlottesville, VA for the gift of jam; all the folks of Floyd, VA; F.A.R.M. café for everything they do; Natalie, William, and Janet in Boone; Kelan, Link, Oliver, and Aether in Asheville; J and the folks who hosted the Standing Rock Benefit at The Orange Peel; Steve at Trails Carolina; Jim and Alice in Brevard for hosting and helping; Cricket and the whole Bancroft Family; Gretchen and her tiny house/bicycling lifestyle; The Bigger Vision of Athens homeless shelter for letting me sleep there a few nights and fill my water tank a couple times; The Goat Farm and the Warhorse Coffee Joint; Kimmy and The Homestead Atlanta; Cooper, Joey, Catherine and everyone at 368 Ponce; Lev the filmmaker for coming out to shoot some video in Atanta and Athens;  Lorna from Herbalista for linking me in with good folks in the Atlanta area; Tara from Fermentation on Wheels for linking me in with good folks across The South; The police officer who gave me a cake to share; Keela, who gave me a free breakfast at the café she worked at because she loved the idea of sharing that the Tea Bus is spreading; all the folks who share vegetable oil with me; all the folks who sipped tea with me; all the folks who shared food with me; the dumpster gods; Keen and his family in Camp Hill; the whole Herberer family in Prattville, AL; planet earth for making such delicious spring water; Rural Studio for hosting us and creating such a magical place; Nicole and XXX in Tuscaloosa; The Imes Family in Columbus; David and Jamie in Starkville for being such great hosts; Ben, for the great mug; and so many more that I can’t even remember!

Seriously, people of The South: thanks, y’all!

Serving tea in Starkville, MS.

Serving tea in Starkville, MS.

Oil collected in Columbus, MS - thanks to Birney!

Oil collected in Columbus, MS – thanks to Birney!

Josh enjoys cookies that Nicole baked to share on the Tea Bus.

Josh enjoys cookies that Nicole baked to share on the Tea Bus.

The passive solar fire station Rural Studio built for the town of Newbern, AL.

The passive solar fire station Rural Studio built for the town of Newbern, AL.

Cruising back highways in Alabama.

Cruising back highways in Alabama.

Delicious water at Doster Well in Prattville, AL.

Delicious water at Doster Well in Prattville, AL.

A state I had never been to before!

A state I had never been to before!

Sipping tea after my talk at The Goat Farm.

Sipping tea after my talk at The Goat Farm.

Collecting the delicious water of Hot Springs, AR.

Collecting the delicious water of Hot Springs, AR.

Heard back west.

Heard back west.

Crossing the Mississippi - we're back in The West!

Crossing the Mississippi – we’re back in The West!

A breakdown while driving through MS - a helper spring had busted on Edna's rear suspension.

A breakdown while driving through MS – a helper spring had busted on Edna’s rear suspension.

A tea guest drew this on her arm.

A tea guest drew this on her arm.

Tea guests in Little Five Points.

Tea guests in Little Five Points.

Serving tea along the Eastside Beltline Trail in Atlanta, GA.

Serving tea along the Eastside Beltline Trail in Atlanta, GA.

My last tea party in Athens, GA.

My last tea party in Athens, GA.

Some tea guests in Athens, GA (one, randomly is the niece of a good friend in CA).

Some tea guests in Athens, GA (one, randomly is the niece of a good friend in CA).

Gretchen shows off her tool shed in her tiny house.

Gretchen shows off her tool shed in her tiny house.

Christmas Eve in Athens, GA.

Christmas Eve in Athens, GA.

Making golden chai for folks in Athens, GA.

Making golden chai in Athens, GA.

Coming into Georgia!

Coming into Georgia!

Tea in Starkville, MS.

Tea in Starkville, MS.

Tea time in Columbus, MS.

Tea time in Columbus, MS.

The view out Edna's window often during our three weeks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The view out Edna’s window often during our three weeks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

 

Myself and Steve from Trails Carolina.

Myself and Steve from Trails Carolina.

Scene from the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC.

Scene from the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC.

 

 

 

 

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30,000th Cuppa Free Tea – Tuscaloosa, AL

Tim in Tuscaloosa, AL got our 30,000th cuppa free tea.

Tim in Tuscaloosa, AL got our 30,000th cuppa free tea.

A day ago, I was serving tea with great, excited nervousness. I was at Rural Studio in Newbern, AL hanging with a bunch of architecture students and teachers. When Edna Lu the Tea Bus and I arrived at this wonderful place, I was only 14 cups away from my 30,000th cuppa free tea. I brewed up a big batch of tea during everyone’s lunch break. Slowly folks began coming to the bus, and I began pouring cups. 14, 13, 12, 11…

One of the questions I got was, “How do you document this, and keep track of it all.”

“Funny you should ask. I write a blog and take photos, but I also keep track of how many cups of tea I’ve served.”

“And how many is that?”

Tea at Rural Studio in Newborn, AL.

Tea at Rural Studio in Newborn, AL.

“Well, I’m really close to 30,000. Like, really, really close.”

10, 9, 8, 7…

We chatted and they told me about Rural Studio.

6, 5, 4…

I refilled some cups with my excitement barely contained.

3, 2…

And finally a teacher came over and said, “Alright folks, it’s time to get going.”

Literally, the next cup of tea was going to be the 30,000th

The next evening in Tuscaloosa, AL I set up on University Ave on “the strip” near the University of Alabama. A couple friends had joined me, and as I brewed up some tea I opened my doors to pique the interest passersby. A fellow named Tim stopped in to see what was going on. He was soft-spoken, and very receptive. The tea water boiled and I steeped some tea. I was telling him about the tea bus as I handed him the tea, along with a purple envelope with a certificate inside.

The certificate said:

CONGRATULATIONS!
You have received our 30,000th cuppa free tea.
This certificate entitles the bearer to one of each of the following:
* A Tea Cup
* A Tea
* A Tea Bus souvenir (look around and pick!)

The certificate.

The certificate.

Tim seemed a little excited and bright-eyed, but over the evening his excitement grew and grew. He hung out for hours and just soaked it in. I kept asking him if he had picked his things. He looked at the mugs, and tasted some teas. After he had made his picks, I asked him what he thought about his tea bus souvenir.

Very hesitantly he asked, “What do you think about the ukulele.”

The uke was a gift from my step-sister and was made from a recycled sesame oil can. Everyone who comes on the bus comments on it, and many folks pick it up to strum. It was a wonderful gift 10 months ago, but it had never really found a home and tended to just float around the bus (something I dislike). I have a philosophy, which is: Gifts are meant to be given. And I try and make it clear to people that if they gift me something, that I very well may gift it onwards.

I said, “Yes! Of course.”

Tim showed off his certificate with Josh and Nicole.

Tim showed off his certificate with Josh and Nicole.

I was surprised and actually felt relieved.

I always like to remind myself (and you) that the Free Tea Bus is not necessarily about quantity, but quality. It is the interactions that happen on the bus that are valuable. As opposed to a business, large volumes of people are not required for the tea bus to be successful. However, I love to celebrate these milestones for the simple fact that each cuppa tea represents a genuine human interaction, whether for me, or amongst my guests. Some of those cups of tea represent a spark of a new romance, some represent a new friend to play music with, some represent a fresh idea that someone learned. The possibilities are endless.

I look forward to more cups of free tea and genuine human interactions.

Read about the 5,000th, the 10,000th, the 20,000th, and the 25,000th.

I’d like to personally thank Nicole and Josh in Tuscaloosa for hosting me, and Tim for nicely accepting the gifts and not being afraid to ask for the uke.

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11 Years of Free Tea – Athens, GA

Serving tea on New Years Eve in Athens, GA

Serving tea on New Years Eve in Athens, GA

Every New Years Eve, I celebrate the first cups of free tea I accidentally started serving on Hollywood Blvd. in January of 2006 (read more here). As I was serving tea in downtown Athens, GA this New Years Eve, I felt like a tradition was about to start – a tradition of something new happening on this celebratory night. Last year was someone emptying the Gift & Take money drawer for the first time ever. This year, it was beginning to look like I might have to kick someone off the bus for the first time, ever.

The evening was going good, and downtown was getting busy. I had served tea here three or four times already, so I knew my good parking spot, and had made some friends. Folks were coming in and out of the bus, drinking tea, saying hello, having conversations. Plus, my step-sister, Kelan, was visiting from Asheville for the night.

Welcome!

Welcome!

As most tea parties go, there was a lull partway through the evening. The bus was empty. Up came sauntering a Mexican fellow (we’ll call him Renato) who promptly took his shoes off as he entered the bus. “Oh, that’s okay, you don’t have to do that…” My words trailed off as I could tell they weren’t being heard. Renato continued by taking off his socks, then his jacket, sweatshirt, tee shirt, and finally his tank top. His clothes were strewn about the bus. He was mumbling words. Some were directed at me, but some seemed directed at nobody in particular. He put back on one of his shirts. Most of his talking was Spanish, which I barely understand, but a few words were in English. Regardless, he seemed highly intoxicated. My best diagnosis was something harder than just alcohol or pot – perhaps mushrooms or even meth. I’m still not sure.

At first I tried to make him feel comfortable by offering him tea. He sipped it graciously. Then some folks came aboard. I had stepped outside for a moment, and looked over my shoulder to see him come towards a woman standing in the doorway. It looked to me that he was trying to kiss her. I couldn’t tell fully, since my view was through a window and partially obstructed. I immediately went back in the bus, but didn’t sense any real discomfort from anyone, so I figured I must have seen things wrong.

Then Renato began trying to flirt with a woman by asking for her hand, and then caressing it. She pulled back. I kept watch to make sure he didn’t do anything beyond that. Another woman came up and he tried something similar. “Hey,” I said, “she doesn’t want that.” He retreated back to the bench and sipped his tea. The bus emptied again, probably because of his behavior. I tried communicating with him, but the language barrier, combined with his intoxication made it difficult to have meaningful conversations.

"He's on of the smartest guys in Athens," she said before starting to record him

“He’s on of the smartest guys in Athens,” she said before starting to record him

From the counter, he grabbed a small jar of really nice unopened honey that Kelan had just brought as a gift, opened it up, breaking the seal, and jamming a spoon in to get some sweetness for his tea. Then he grabbed a kiwi from my fruit bowl and started eating it. He offered half to me, but I looked at him sternly and told him that I am happy to share, but he needs to ask. Our relationship was turning out to be as rocky as his emotions and expressions. One moment he was smiling and joyful, and the next moment he was aggressive.

I find this dichotomy often with people who are mentally unstable or on drugs. It makes me very uncomfortable, as one can never know if what they say or do will make that person your best friend, or make them lash out viciously in physical or verbal attack mode. My approach this evening was to find that sweet spot that would keep Renato calm and not set him off. I knew if I asked him to leave it could set him off, but I was starting to get to the point where that may be my only option. I was firm with him about taking my stuff without asking. He didn’t get upset, but he may have only partially understood me.

Throughout the night, when people came to the bus, or just randomly, Renato would make this incredibly loud knock/clicking sound with his mouth that pierced through any conversation in an incredibly aggressive manner. He looked so intently aggressive as he made the sound that it made everyone uncomfortable, and took the breath out of any conversation.

He began to tell me that if anyone was aggressive with me he would *SMACK* — he made a punching gesture into his open hand. The last time someone said this was the only time someone had been aggressive, and a massive street brawl almost ensued. I was worried that Renato might be the impetus for a tea bus related street fight.

Ellie (with her recently gifted ears) and Kelan.

Ellie (with her recently gifted ears) and Kelan.

Kelan came back to the bus, and I really had to pee. Normally, I just leave my bus with whatever guests are in it and run off to find a bathroom. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Kelan here with Renato. It became even more apparent when he started calling Kelan “bonita,” and wanted to touch her hands. When he approached her, I firmly told him she was my sister and was married (which she is). This made him back off a little. When he stepped out of the bus for a moment, I told Kelan to make sure she voiced to him if he was getting close to or stepping across any boundaries with her, and that I was there to enforce those boundaries. I think this helped her feel more comfortable with the situation.

Kelan and I began to try and engage Renato in the ways we could. He had a love for trains, which he and I could relate to on the same level. I even ended up giving him my old train conductor hat. He loved my wooden train whistle, but kept trying to pocket it. I ended up having to take it from his pocket. He talked about his love for Rockefeller and his monopolies and how that inspired him. Although Kelan and I disagreed with his admiration for Rockefeller, the conversations seemed slightly more coherent with time. Then he ate a piece of pie I had hiding behind the stove. “Dude! You need to ask!” I said firmly.

Renato kept wanting me to fill his tea. At first, I felt like if I filled his cup enough he would leave to go pee, and get distracted elsewhere. At some point he had pulled an individually wrapped tea bag out and put it in his cup, packaging and all. He kept having me pour ready-made tea on top of his packaged tea in the teacup. Then he would add some sugar. Every time I poured tea in his cup, there was a deeper layer of sugar in the bottom of the cup, and I giggled on the inside that the packaged tea was still in there.

As the bars let out at 2 am, the tea bus became very busy. Renato sank into his headphones in the corner, only occasionally engaging with people. It was a nice breather where I actually got to interact with guests without as much discomfort.

A bunch of tea guests on New Year's Eve

A bunch of tea guests on New Year’s Eve

Finally, some folks came aboard that spoke good Spanish, and chummed up Renato. I could tell from their conversation that it wasn’t sketchy and uncomfortable like most of our conversations had been. Renato was beginning to make more sense, and became a little more human. Was he coming down off of drugs? By the end of the evening, a chef from DC who spoke Spanish had even offered him work at his restaurant as a grill cook. Renato even hugged me before he left and called me “amigo.” He finally left after everyone else had gone at 4am.

Fun tea guests!

Fun tea guests!

I had watched this transformation happen – from belligerent, sexual predator to coherent gentleness. It was like he had been reborn. Even though my early response was to kick him out, I think overall I did the right thing, even though it made me (and a few other people) uncomfortable. If I had made him leave the bus, he would have continued to be sexually aggressive. My firmness, as well as Kelan’s, had helped calm this. Kicking him off also could have triggered him into physical aggression – who knows? I believe that the fact that we took time with him actually helped him come down in a sane manner, to hold him accountable for his actions and make him ground out. I know a lot of people’s first response would be to reject him, to push him out. This was indeed my first response, but by the evening’s end, I was glad he had stayed.

Most of the time when I serve tea, I am in my comfort zone – indeed, I am in my own little world that I have created. Occasionally, as I invite the world into my home, I take on other people’s issues, and I am forced out of my comfort zone. Interacting with Renato could have ended in something bad, but I was willing to take my chances. My discomfort was the source for his grounding. I went out of my way to provide a safe, nurturing space for him. I have always liked holding a space for intoxicated people to sober up and to treat them with dignity. He, in turn, gave me the opportunity to hold the tension of his state of being with confident boundaries, even if at the expense of being comfortable. I’ve been known to say that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not learning. Renato taught me something: a refining of what it means to hold space for someone like him in order to help them ground out. Thank you, Renato.

NOTE: Renato was not his real name, nor is he in any of these photographs.

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Thankful in Floyd, VA

Edna parked across from the Floyd Country Store.

Edna parked across from the Floyd Country Store.

Every now and then I stumble into a place that I know no one, but get absorbed rather quickly. What I find in there is more community, more sharing, and more genuine human connections than I could hope for. Most places are not like this. Floyd, VA, however, is…

Almost a year ago, a couple wrote a comment on this here blog offering a couple hundred gallons of waste vegetable oil that they had laying around their homestead in Ferrum, VA. I took note of it, and placed a star on my Google Map right on Ferrum. A month or two ago, as I was planning this trip south along the Blue Ridge Parkway, I noticed the star and remembered the offer.

Rick at Ojai Farm shares his waste vegetable oil abundance.

Rick at Ojai Farm shares his waste vegetable oil abundance.

When I showed up at Ojai Farm, Rick was there to meet me. A fellow tinkerer, builder, and homesteader, we got along immediately. So much so that he invited me to stay for a few days. Talking to him and his wife, Lori, showed me that they had been practicing the sharing economy that the Free Tea Bus is spreading for decades. They share with their neighbors and family, whether it’s food or herbs or land to hunt on. In fact, in the few days Edna and I were there, they shared an incredible amount of food, herbs, firewood, vegetable oil, water and more. Their food and herbs were homegrown (even some citrus!), their firewood was dry, their well water was some of the best I’ve had, and their vegetable oil was settled, dry, and non-GMO.

Rick and I chatted about life on the farm, the necessity of real skills, how land needs people. We chatted about his life working in bioremediation, and about his daughter’s vegetable oil-powered RV that now sits still on the property. In the evenings, he would cut me fresh greens, pull up a folding chair by my bus and his greenhouse, and pour us each a glass of wine. I’d tell him about my desire to teach real skills and to help people fix and build things wherever I go. We would talk until dark.

Edna parked at Ojai Farm in Ferrum, VA.

Edna parked at Ojai Farm in Ferrum, VA.

Dancing at the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store.

Dancing at the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store.

One day, he told me I should visit Floyd. I’d heard of Floyd, and a young fellow who works around Rick and Lori’s place suggested I head down on Friday evening for the Friday Night Jamboree, which happens every Friday, all year long. It revolves around live music and dancing at the Floyd Country Store, but spills out into the streets as jam sessions and wanderers. It reminded me of my childhood growing up at music campouts around the Pacific Northwest. On Friday, I showed up downtown and opened up the bus to serve tea. It was very slow at first, but slowly people started to trickle into town, and onto the tea bus. By the reaction of the folks that came by that night, I knew that the bus would be a hit. Folks were receptive and sharing (I even got a cake given to me).

Edna on the Blue Ridge Parkway on her way towards Floyd.

Edna on the Blue Ridge Parkway on her way towards Floyd.

I had written to the farmers’ market manager, Agatha, and she was excited to host the tea bus at the market the following morning. I slept right there on the street. The market started with gifts of cinnamon rolls and scones, and offers of breakfast tacos. I felt at home amongst the sharing. When I started serving tea, the bus became inundated with people. After a summer of minimal tea serving, it was nice to have such curious folks to share tea with. Not only were they receptive, but they were reciprocal too. I was offered places to stay, Thanksgivings to eat at, food, and so much support. I began to immediately feel at home, and very taken care of.

Super engaged kids at Springhouse Community School.

Super engaged kids at Springhouse Community School.

The next week started with an invite to serve tea at Springhouse Community School. Located at an ecovillage, this school offers a unique education for middle and high-schoolers that includes hands-on learning, connection to the earth, and more. I gave a short presentation, and had several groups come onto the bus for tea throughout the morning. It was refreshing to have so many kids who are interested, engaged, and bright. We talked about the gift economy, using waste vegetable oil as fuel, and much, much more. Thanks for the invite, Jenny!

Plenty! Food bank and farm.

Plenty! Food bank and farm.

That afternoon, Edna and I went on down the road to Plenty! – a food bank that not only distributes donated food, but grows lots of food onsite at their farm to share. They also have community meals. Their only criterion for people who come: they have to live in Floyd County. There’s no income verification or anything. This is because they offer food and community to all, no matter who they are.

We served tea for an afternoon while folks came to get food. Almost everyone who came for food came and got some tea. It was fun to have people of all kinds come aboard and chat for a bit. Towards the end of the day, the employees made sure that I came in and they loaded me up with food, from fresh veggies to home-made soups, to donated food from the grocery store. So much generosity!

Blue Mountain School.

Blue Mountain School.

The next day I spent at Blue Mountain School – an elementary school that takes a holistic approach to educating kids. These younger kids are fun because most of their interactions in life revolve around sharing (they don’t interact with money much), so our conversations are much more reinforcing of what they already practice. I love how much kids get the whole sharing things (before they’ve become so indoctrinated with hyper-individualism and selfishness).

They invited Edna and I next door for their Thankful potluck at a church that allows them to use their playground and facilities. Part of the potluck is food (y’all know that my basic philosophy is that LIFE IS A POTLUCK!), a play, and then it’s finished off with everyone grabbing rakes to clean up the leaves for the church. This is how reciprocal altruism (traditional human economy/non-calculated exchange) works. The church offers their resources for the school simply because they want to help them, and then the school decides to rake the leaves because it needs to be done every year. Thanks for being an example, Blue Mountain School!

Butchering a deer at Left Bank.

Butchering a deer at Left Bank.

Throughout the week that I ended up in Floyd, I stayed at folks’ homes, like the Finn’s and the Gimsley’s. I was absorbed into their families. I hung with their kids and ate food with them. At the Grimsley’s I was showered with food. I helped cut up a deer, and lent my pressure canner to make the canning process faster. They gave me amazing kiln-dried scrap hardwood from a nearby lumber mill. They offered me milk, lard, chicken’s foot broth, canned deer, deer stew, and more. I was in heaven! As they prepared for their thanksgiving feast, I hung with the kids to give them space and time. The kids became my entourage, taking me on walks, feeding apples to the cow with me, and spending time on the bus with me.

At the Finn’s, they are creating The Honestary – a place for young adults to come to get honest with themselves, while being offered some support (a place to stay that’s not their parents) in exchange for some work around the homestead. I actually lived on the same street as these folks at the same time in Colorado Springs, CO, as I went to Colorado College, although I never met them. In fact, two Colorado College grads stopped by when I was there, one of whom had had tea on my bus in Arcata, CA when he was on a bike tour of the west coast about 4 years ago.

An old school bus any Left Bank.

An old school bus at Left Bank.

This was not uncommon in my stay in Floyd.  I ran into all kinds of folks I had met before, had served tea to, who had mutual friends, etc. One woman had had tea on my bus on Orcas Island in WA. Another fellow told me he was from Kalispell, MT, and when I asked if he knew my friend The Egg Man, he replied with, “The Egg Man?!? I just played music with him two days ago!” Lucky for me, I was able to hand off a gift to The Egg Man to be delivered to him that I had been carrying with me for the past 5 years or more. It just so happened to be The Egg Man’s birthday that day, as I found out later. My first night in town I was dancing at the Country Store when a woman grabbed me and started dancing with me. As I looked at her, I recognized her. It turns out I served tea to her on Labor Day weekend in Thomas, WV. Another woman I met later invited me to breakfast with her family and friends because her friend from Maine had contacted her to let her know that she should meet Edna and I since we were around.

Gretel the cow and Juniper the human.

Gretel the cow and Juniper the human.

Thanksgiving took place at Left Bank, the community where the Grimsley’s live, which is collectively about 500 acres of folks that live in community together. Everyone owns their own piece of land, but there is also a chunk of collectively owned land. It’s a collection of good folks growing food, sawing lumber, raising animals and children, and more. There’s kids that get to hang with each other, and they have the freedom to roam around a lot, like kids should be able to do.

Agatha's old mobile milking trailer.

Agatha’s old mobile milking trailer.

The Left Bank Thanksgiving is an invitation to many, many folks, and whoever shows up shows up. People bring all sort of delicious dishes – with lots of home-made, home-grown, home-raised food. The meats were delicious and local. I love this kind of Thanksgiving, as it represents the Sharing Economy so well – everyone pitches in in some way, sharing openly with their community. There is no profit maximization happening here. As any good community gathering, this is a multi-generational gathering, with kids running around and playing and old-timers sharing stories. The night ended with a jam session of kids and adults together.

Otis and Gretel the cow at Left Bank.

Otis and Gretel the cow at Left Bank.

The last full day I spent in Floyd was a really exciting, as it was a tour of various places and people’s homes that I had been invited to. The curious thread that tied them all together was the fact that I was served tea everywhere I went all day long! My day started with a knock on the door from Agatha at Left Bank with a hot steaming cup of sweet Earl Grey (my fav!). At Ellie and Jed’s, I was offered tea and waffles. Down the road at Matt’s place, I was offered some copper pipe and junk I needed for some projects, and served tea and cake afterwards. At Spikenard Bee Sanctuary, a biodynamic farm/bee sanctuary, I participated in a “stirring” (stirring composted cow dung in water and spreading it around the land), which I would call a “compost tea.” I was also gifted some Bee Tea (both for feeding bees, as well as for humans to drink) and some smoker fuel, both made from biodynamicaly-grown herbs produced there on the farm. This place is truly amazing, and is deserving of more words than I can give it here. If you’re interested in bees, biodynamics, and seeing humans’ role on this earth as larger than just producing for humans’ sake, this is a place to look into. My final stop of this day was back at The Honestary (the Finn’s), where they served me up one last cuppa hot tea, and we reflected together on my time in Floyd.

Sunset at Spikenard Bee Sanctuary as we stirred the "stirring."

Sunset at Spikenard Bee Sanctuary as we stirred the “stirring.”

My time in Floyd, VA was marked with more generosity than I could imagine – food, firewood, herbs, water, and even a local doctor that saw me for free. I had only planned to spend the weekend, but ended up staying over a week! I came with a full fridge and pantry, and barely found any time to eat the food I had because I was so well shared with. Now, as I leave, my fridge and pantry are even more packed! I will spend the next few days making lots of food in the forest and reflecting on this generosity.

I even found this book at the Floyd Country Store. It's a legal guide to starting in the modern world.

I even found this book at the Floyd Country Store. It’s a legal guide to sharing in the modern world.

This same sort of kindness happened two years ago in West Texas right at Thanksgiving as well. It seems to come when I head out on the road solo without knowing anyone in the places I visit. This is usually when I am the most nervous, as I don’t have many of the resource I need lined up (like fuel, community, food, etc.). I have to give a HUGE thanks to the community of Floyd for taking such good care of me. I seriously cannot give words to how generous all of the folks I came across were. An attempt is below:

Specific thanks: Rick and Lori for offering a beautiful place to stay, lots of waste vegetable oil, good food and herbs, and more; Agatha Grimsley for being excited for the tea bus to come to the Farmers’ Market; The whole Grimsley Family for inviting us to stay and for sharing such good community, food, water, and space for Edna and I; The Finn Family for being inspiring, sharing, open, and so much more!; Jenny Finn for inviting us to the Springhouse School, and for being especially kind; Liz for offering a spot to park Edna one night, and for inviting us to Plenty!; All the folks at the Farmers’ Market who shared time and food; All the folks who invited us to stay at their place; Plenty! and all the folks who work/volunteer there; Hari for inviting us to Blue Mountain School; Blue Mountain School for having us; Matt Sebas and his family for sharing materials, tea, time, community, and a roll of half-dollars; Ellie and Jed for waffles, tea, and the medical consultation; Alex at Spikenard Bee Sanctuary for taking the time to be enlivening, enlightening, and an all around welcoming host; the woman who gave ma a cake; All the students at the schools we visited; also: Haley, Josh, another Josh, Rainbow, and more!!!

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Autumn Update – Tour Through the South – Blue Ridge Parkway, VA

Leaving West Virginia.

Leaving West Virginia.

Serving tea late night in front of Front Street Grocers.

Serving tea late night in front of Front Street Grocers.

Wow, what a busy summer! Ally, Edna, and I spent most of it (and part of Fall) working on Front Street Grocer in Thomas, WV. Throughout it all, we were able to have a little time for self, serving tea, and becoming part of a community. Notably, we went to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention to serve tea and have an adventure. Around Thomas, we served tea a few times, but hosted curious passersby often. We lived on the main street in town, or across it on an old railroad grade that is now part of the National Forest (free camping!). It was quite an ideal situation.

Hiking amongst giant bolder and lichens.

Hiking amongst giant bolder and lichens.

Now that our project is over, we get Edna roll ready and head on down the road. After some good time in the woods driving through and camping in Shenandoah National Park, Edna and I dropped Ally in Charlottesville, VA a the train station. She heads west for the winter, and I head south. It’s a parting we have practiced often, and one that can be hard, but it’s worth it to stretch our legs and go on walks of our own from time to time.

I am excited to announce a small tour through the American South! I am currently partway down the Blue Ridge Parkway outside Charlottesville, VA on a little journey of serving tea, personal/bus projects, lending a hand where I can, and getting to know some new people and places. From here I head to places like Floyd, VA, Boone, NC, and Asheville, NC. From there I head south. Where to? I’m not sure. Got any suggestions? Must sees? Awesome places to serve free tea? Communities that we would like, or who would like us? FL, GA, AL, MS, LA are all on the table.

In January, I plan on settling in somewhere in the South for a couple months to do some writing. Any suggestions?

Table Rock.

Table Rock.

Edna parked on the old railroad grade in downtown Thomas, WV.

Edna parked on the old railroad grade in downtown Thomas, WV.

Using our new spring water collection pump.

Using our new spring water collection pump.

Our saving grace of Camp 70, where we camped every week or two during much of the summer.

Our saving grace of Camp 70, where we camped every week or two during much of the summer.

Reading about Traditional Huamn Economy in a hammock donated to the tea bus by Behold Bungee Hammocks.

Reading about Traditional Huamn Economy in a hammock donated to the tea bus by Behold Bungee Hammocks.

A calming, meditative trip down the Cheat River.

A calming, meditative trip down the Cheat River.

Ally and I still had some time to collect wild berries.

Ally and I still had some time to collect wild berries.

 

 

 

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Front Street Grocers – Thomas, WV

 

Front Street Grocers is Open!

Front Street Grocers is Open!

I warned y’all recently that I was going to start posting more having to do with the other kinds of sharing we practice as we travel. Although serving free tea is one of the main ways I like to share with people, I have taken to sharing in many of the other things I am fond of – namely small-scale, off-grid, hands-on, salvaged, low environmental impact, high social impact, systems-thinking, and community-oriented living. As I (we all?) transition away from highly-calculated exchange and back towards traditional human economy (non-calculated exchange), I find myself figuring out less-calculated forms of exchange as part of my transitional ethics. These ways of sharing were at the heart of this summer for Ally, Edna, and I as we worked on making Front Street Grocer and Kitchen a reality. I was hired on as the lead builder, and Ally as the Start-Up Manager.

Thomas, WV was a rural food desert. I mean, don’t get me wrong, West Virginians are known to be home gardeners, so real food isn’t rare for people with a plot of land. Poverty has a tendency to make people more self- and community-reliant. People share their excess, take turns taking care of kids, and lend tools. This is small community living. An older fellow would bring me home-brewed raspberry wine or tomatoes, simply because he wanted to share. There was no grocery in town. You could travel a few miles to Davis, but the main grocery store barely contains things you and I would recognize as food (mostly processed, non-organic, GMO). The small local grocery in Davis did offer some good local foods, but was far from enough, and too small for variety and the quality varied. Many people drove 30 minutes to Walmart to buy organic food.

I was asked to help build Front Street Grocers and Kitchen precisely because of my dedication to salvaged-building, eco-friendly products, healthy food, alternative-energy, small space design, and making community spaces. The space itself was a disaster when we arrived, with bats of insulation in piles, wood strewn about, random furniture, kitchen appliances scattered about. By the time we left, four months later, it was a fully functional kitchen and grocery, with seating at two copper bars and in an old alleyway we enclosed called Bake Alley. The store features mostly salvaged and locally-milled wood, eco-friendly finishes, organic and natural foods, a wood-fired oven (in Bake Alley), kombucha and wine on tap, and is completely solar-powered. I designed and/or built most of the wood projects, as well as the beverage on-tap system.

I needed to make some cash, as my reserves were running a little low, but I also knew that this was a great opportunity to practice some less-calculated exchange. The project lead, Justin, is an amazing collaborator and was totally open for such things. I did not work for an hourly rate; rather I had a range per week that in the ideal world would reflect the amount I worked, the quality of my work, and any other relevant factors. I was also paid in a place to shower, food, an address, a washing machine, and good community to be with (all valuable things!). The truth is that the ideal of checking in once/week to discuss monetary and other pay didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. We were all too busy. I also never asked for the top of my pay range even in weeks that I worked 50+ hours and did good work. This was mostly due to the fact that the project was obviously running low on funds towards the end as we were all working hard. But hey, this is what less-calculated exchange is about: knowing how all people involved are feeling and taking appropriate action. Towards the second half of the build, we finished up the kitchen, and Corey (one of the owners, and the main chef/baker) began firing up the wood-fired oven, and making delicious things in the kitchen while we got to be guinea pigs.

I guess the best way for me to explore this space with you is just to show you. So, without further ado, here are the photos (there’s a lot):

Before Construction.

Before Construction.

Before construction.

Before construction.

This oven was built about 5 years ago in this Alley, which was open to the sky up until recently. We put a roof on and insulated it.

This oven was built about 5 years ago in this Alley, which was open to the sky up until recently. We put a roof on and insulated it.

The metal-casement window from an old warehouse Justin picked up to separate the bakery from the seating area.

The metal-casement window from an old warehouse Justin picked up to separate the bakery from the seating area.

Bake Alley, mostly complete.

Bake Alley, mostly complete.

Where you can sit and watch things be baked in the wood-fired oven.

Where you can sit and watch things be baked in the wood-fired oven.

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Democratic National Convention – Philadelphia, PA

Serving tea at City Hall in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention.

Serving tea at City Hall in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention.

On our way to the DNC!

On our way to the DNC!

Whew! This past week was a wild ride! Ally and I decided to bring Edna Lu the Free Tea Bus to the DNC both for personal reasons, as well as to make sure people stayed hydrated and cool, while performing the main function of my existence (serving free tea). The weather report called for 90- and 100-degree humid days, so we prepared by bringing a cooler and 5 gallon carboy for making iced sun tea.

Serving tea at the Climate Revolution rally.

Serving tea at the Climate Revolution rally.

We arrived in time to make it to the Climate Revolution rally at Vernon Park in North Philly on Sunday – the day before the DNC started. The lineup was spectacular, with Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Nahko Bear, Shailene Woodley, and more. The speaking and music culminated with a film screening of Josh Fox’s newest film, How to Let Go of the World and Love all the Things Climate Can’t Change. It was a bumpy ride of segments of how we’re messing up the world, but with each segment offering inspiring concrete examples of how people are taking these problems into their own hands. We parked alongside the park where people coming in and out would catch us. This event was particularly interesting because it took place in a predominately black low-income neighborhood. The mix of passersby and folks there for the rally was perfectly interesting, and the intermingling reminded me of the early days on Hollywood Blvd.

Shailene sniffing her tea at Rootstalk in 2011.

Shailene sniffing her tea at Rootstalk in 2011.

It was good to see Shailene Woodley, who we met at Mountain Rose Herbs’ festival Rootstalk in 2011 (before she was famous). Her and her friend had helped us serve tea and spent quite a bit of time in the huge tea tent we created. Leading up to the DNC she had spearheaded the #UpToUs movement – a cross-country caravan from LA to Philly for the DNC that had gathered folks from all over the country to arrive in Philly to let their voices be heard. They had arrived 200 deep just a day or two before. Shailene was also a Bernie Delegate for the convention. Mad respect, Shai!

That night we ventured over to an abandoned city lot where the Rainbow Family had been gifted a home-base for the week. It was again a beautiful juxtapose, with teepees, school buses, and dread loch hippies amidst a low-income inner-city neighborhood.

rainbow

Filling water later in the week at Jon Watt's place.

Filling water later in the week at Jon Watt’s place.

The next morning we got the runaround when trying to find water. Each hippie told us to find a different hippie, who told us to find another hippie, who told us to wait for another person to show up who had the key to a community garden. This went on for quite a while until Ally and I decided to take the situation into our own hands and went across the street to a community organization. Ally went in. She too got the run around – one person had to ask a supervisor, who had to ask maintenance, who had to ask their supervisor Tom, who was in a meeting. A security guard named Ray who came in said he would go ask Tom directly. Tom said yes, and came out, but had to go find a water key (even though we had one). This all took 45 minutes or more. When we finally hooked up our hose and turned the spigot on it only ran for about 2 minutes and then dried up. We tried another spigot, and the same thing happened.

That’s when we decided to head across the street to one of the organization’s other buildings. When we were pulling out, I could feel a weird bumping under the bus. I jumped out in the middle of the street to find a brick from the abandoned lot had wedged between two of Edna’s rear tires. Dang! As I tried to bang the brick out with a hammer, the security guard, Ray, showed up and directed traffic to keep me from getting run-over. I weighed my options: I could keep pounding and hope to break it apart, or I could jack the bus up and take the outermost wheel off. I opted for the first option, as the brick was chipping. I lay there on the concrete as the morning temperatures were starting to rise for the day, slowly chipping the brick away. I ended up getting a cold chisel and BANG, BANG, BANG. In the end, it took 20 minutes on that hot ground, swinging until my arms hurt, my knuckle had split, and a ppol of sweat to form for the brick to finally break apart. All the while, Ray had our back.

Finally, we got across the street to the other building and started filling the water. Tom told me about his previous life as portfolio manager, where he managed $10 million worth of real estate and such. He made good money, but lost his job when his boss died. Now he works for this small community organization, but swears he is happier now more than ever. His takeaway message was that being happy with less money is dramatically better than being stressed with more money. Finally, after more than 2-and-a-half hours of trying to find water, we had succeeded.

Serving tea at the #BernieOrBust / #OccupyDNC rally.

Serving tea at the #BernieOrBust / #OccupyDNC rally.

From there, we navigated the crazy traffic, I-95 closure to large vehicles, and the heat, all the way down to Marconi Park. We instantly found a great parking spot along side the plaza, where folks were setting up for a #BernieOrBust / #OccupyDNC rally. We already had some sun tea brewing, so we grabbed some ice from the pharmacy across the plaza.

Karma, who was a pleasure to have around.

Karma, who was a pleasure to have around.

Our day was busy, busy, busy. People were hot, so the tea was popular. Folks were carrying signs, speaking over the PA on the stage, sharing stories, and generally sharing both their disappointment in the democratic process, as well as their support for Bernie Sanders. Even the Black Men for Bernie bus was parked right in front of us (who said only white people like Bernie?). The day kept getting busier and busier, with multiple marches coming from City Hall streaming past on their way to FDR Park, across from the convention. Just as it seemed like we were too busy to keep up, my friend Misty’s 11-year-old daughter Karma appeared and lent a hand. Like a pro, she interacted with people, asked what they wanted, handed out tea, and even helped clean up a bit. Folks from the crowd went and got ice for us, and we were able to keep up with the demand. We were mentioned in a NYTimes article here (scroll down to “Sanders Die-Hards Make Some Noise”), but they obviously failed to realize we were serving iced tea (luckily they did us better the last time they wrote about us).

One of the many marches that came by Marconi Park.

One of the many marches that came by Marconi Park.

In the evening, we ventured down to FDR Park to hear Jill Stein speak. As she started, a dark storm cloud began to move closer and closer. Just as she was finishing, it began to rain. Lightning struck around us, and as most people left, we gathered under the tent with the stage. Rapper Immortal Technique took the microphone and began to spit conscious lyrics sans beats. The rain began to dump and dump, and what was left of the crowd was huddled together in an intimate space. Just in front of us, with Immortal Technique onstage was Jill Stein and Cornell West. The confluence of these people was beautiful. The energy from them, from the crowd, and from ourselves was magical.

A constable and security guard stop in for tea.

A constable and security guard stop in for tea.

Ally and I walked back toward Marconi Park and the bus. It was raining too hard to care about not getting wet. We enjoyed it like we were kids, and when we finally got back to the bus, there wasn’t an inch of us that wasn’t soaked.

Marconi Park became a safe-haven and common spot for us to park throughout the week. This was in part due to these early rallies, its proximity to FDR Park and the Wells Fargo Center, as well as its non-existent parking restrictions. It was a blessing to have a place to sleep where we could be around other DNC goers, as well as not have to worry about moving the bus.

Serving tea to folks gathering for the Racial Justice March.

Serving tea to folks gathering for the Racial Justice March.

On Tuesday, we filled water from a water machine at a Rite-Aid and headed up towards City Hall. There was plenty happening, so we emailed some organizers of various marches, and tried to find parking for a Bernie rally across from City Hall at Thomas Paine Plaza. Traffic was terrible, and we couldn’t find good parking. We got an email from one of the organizers of the large Racial Justice march who invited us into the march. We arrived just in time to serve a gang of iced herbal tea where everyone was gathering in the intense heat. Once the march started, we wiggled our way in between the several rows of cops and the rear of the march. Someone began handing out signs for people to carry, each with the name of someone who had been shot by the police. Each time a sign was handed out, the crowd said their name and “We honor you.” In the end, there weren’t enough hands to carry all the signs (not because there weren’t enough people at the march, but because there were so many people who had been shot), so we plastered the bus with them, alongside some others we had gotten.

Edna preparing for the Racial Justice March.

Edna preparing for the Racial Justice March.

 

Edna with the names of those who have been shot by the police.

Edna with the names of those who have been shot by the police.

Lots of police behind the Racial Justice March.

Lots of police behind the Racial Justice March.

The march was passionate, emotional, and peaceful. Even though the several rows of cops behind us was a little unnerving, we went on undiscouraged. Edna’s school-bus lights were flashing, and we honked Edna’s guttural horn along with drummers’ beats. Fists were in the air, and chants echoed through the streets. Every now and then, the march would stop, and a rally would happen, with people speaking over megaphones, and whoever was in the area would stop to listen. Throughout the march we took passengers who needed a break or wanted a ride. We had some interesting folks of many walks of life onboard.

Protesters and police all around Edna at City Hall.

Protesters and police all around Edna at City Hall.

Free iced tea was a hit.

Free iced tea was a hit.

Three-and-a-half hours later we arrived at Philly’s landmark City Hall. Because we were part of the march, we were allowed into the street, which had been blocked off to other vehicles. This is what we were waiting for! We pulled Edna into the middle of the street at the edge of the rally and opened her doors to serve up some iced tea. The towering buildings, concrete landscape covered with people, and the excitement of the crowd made for an exhilarating 45 minutes. We passed out tea, filled folks water bottles, had some great little conversations, and finally shut down in a hurry as the march continued south towards FDR Park and the DNC.

Here’s a great article from The Daily Dot that talks about the march and the Free Tea Bus.

City Hall during the Racial Justice March.

City Hall during the Racial Justice March.

Ally in solidarity with the Racial Justice march. Photo: @cpjanaro

Ally in solidarity with the Racial Justice march. Photo: @cpjanaro

We continued down Broad St. At one point, Ally got on the roof and held her fist up. It instantly became a beacon of attention. First, photographers and reporters started taking lots of photos of Ally and Edna, then people of all colors and classes began giving her a fist back. These were moments of utter solidarity for her and many others, and it happened over and over. Only, this moment was occasionally thrown off kilter on half-a-dozen occasions when a bystander would yell something to Ally like “You’re white!” or “Put your fist down” or “All lives matter.” All of these people were white men. Coincidence?

We continued, undiscouraged, until the heat and driving got to me. At Marconi Park we peeled off from the march. It was 9:30pm and seven and a half hours after we had gathered 5 miles north. I had a bad headache, was dehydrated, and needed to rest. I realized that I had left my coolant line running to the dirty WVO tank (instead of the hot water heater), which had been re-radiating heat back up into the already hot bus all day long. We made dinner and slept at the park.

This guy was double fisting iced tea :-)

This guy was double fisting iced tea :-)

Our next day we decided to take it easy at Marconi Park, make a little tea, and recuperate a bit. We were exhausted from the previous day, but we finally found some parking and set out a rug to relax on. Up pulled a short yellow school bus with a sign that read, “Bernie or Bust Bus.” The owner, Mike, was a character. I tried to help him fix some electrical issues, and we chatted politics. Even though he was so jaded and mildly negative with it all, I liked him. Him, and several other random folks all began to gather around our rug. We shared iced tea, our home-brew kombucha, and took the time for the rest of the day to re-gather our energy.

On Thursday, after a refreshing night’s sleep in the air-conditioned apartment of our friend Jon Watts (remember him, from Blues Recess Massive?), we headed back towards the DNC. We were on a personal mission to reclaim the fence that surrounded the DNC. Every time we stopped at a stoplight or stop sign, Ally would pick some flowers or branches. We parked for a moment in order for me to make a sign that said “Overgrow the System.” We kept moving towards the DNC.

We circled the Marconi Park trying to find a parking spot. Just as a we pulled up to one and began to parallel park, a police car pulled up behind us with its lights on. We were so used to seeing all sorts of police lights all over the city, and especially near the convention that I wasn’t sure what their intentions were. Regardless, they were blocking me from parking, so I pulled forward and over on the side of the road at the next stoplight. The light was red and there was plenty of space to pull behind me, but they didn’t. This made me believe that they weren’t pulling me over. But still, they weren’t pulling forward to the light. I didn’t know what was happening. When the light turned green, I made a right turn, and they followed. At the end the block, I pulled over in front of a street that had been blocked off. At this point I realized there were two police cars, so I pulled a little farther forward to make sure there was space for both of them to pull out of the road. This angered a female officer who yelled at me to “STOP already!”

Several officers came up against the back of the bus and were hemming and hawing while looking at Edna’s rear end.

“License and registration.”

They're so cute in their shorts.

They’re so cute in their shorts.

I reached over and got it for them.

“Did you know you had a light out?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“I don’t know if is had a short in it, or what.”

“Okay, can I come out and see?”

“No! You stay right in the vehicle! It’s for your safety and our safety!” one of the officers said rather rudely.

The light they were referring to was not an essential light. It was not a brake, tail, turn, or reverse light. It was located above a second area where a license plate COULD be mounted. On the other side of the bus, the light worked, and needed to because it not only shines through a red lens straight back, but through a white lens facing down to illuminate the license plate.

“Just get it fixed when you can.”

“Thank you for letting us know!” said Ally.

There were four cops and most of them had been extremely rude and antagonistic in their tone. At this point, all the cops left and got in their cars. It seemed like our interaction was over. They had just told us to get it fixed and we had thanked them. Realizing that they still had my license and registration, Ally stepped out of the bus and waved at them and yelled, “We need our license and registration.”

Ignoring her words and yelling over her, one of the officers got out of his car and yelled abruptly, “Get back in the car!”

It was already feeling like none of the police actually wanted to have any kind of conversation. In my mind, it was safer for them to show me the light, so I could know what the problem was. In my mind, it was safer to have a gentle conversation, but all they wanted to do was yell, antagonize, and be rude.

At this point a plain-clothed detective joined the scene. With all five cops present, they said I could exit the vehicle to inspect the light. When I opened the door, one of the officers rudely asked, “What’s that!?” pointing to the obviously labeled jugs of coolant, oil, and distilled water in the stairwell next to the driver’s seat.

“Um.. coolant, oil, and distilled water.”

“Why is it there!?”

“Um, that’s the best place to store it. Some people still do maintenance on their own vehicle.”

They pulled me around back and showed me the light. They told me they were just going to give me a warning, and to get it fixed. I said, “Okay, I will. But, just to make sure, is this light required? I mean, it’s not turn signal, or brake light, and there’s a tail light right above it that’s 4 times as big.”

“Look, I’m not making you do any light check, or checking your turn signals or reverse lights or anything like that. Just get it fixed. If it’s attached to the vehicle, it has to work.”

I doubted that. Either way, he kept rudely saying things to me as if he was doing me a favor. There was no favor being done here. If he thought an antagonistic warning was a favor, he was mistaken.

As I was out back, the female cop, at the direction of the plain-clothed detective peering over her shoulder, began sternly asking Ally about what all the various stuff around the front of the bus was, like some junk on a front shelf (teapot, and miscellaneous home stuff), as well as the switches and gauges above the drivers seat. Ally began telling the cop about how the bus runs on recycled vegetable oil. This is when I came back in.

“Oh, so y’all like, created this whole entire vehicle?” This is when she began to lighten up.

“Yeah. This was just a little empty yellow school bus when I bought it.”

“Oh, so you created to like a natural version?”

“Yeah, it’s got all salvaged wood, solar panels, wood stove – all the fun stuff, solar-powered refrigerator.”

“Alright.” And with that, they closed the door and we were free to go.

The whole interaction had been so aggressive. There was no point where Ally or I felt like they were protecting or serving anyone. They hadn’t communicated well, and most of the cops had been very rude. After having so much in the news about the way police treat minorities, I couldn’t imagine how bad it would have been if we had been people of color. This is whose hands we place our protection in? I’ve had great interactions with police in the past, but this whole scenario destroyed that.

Ally proud of our Overgrow the System sign.

Ally proud of our Overgrow the System sign.

Feeling morally-jaded in regards to the current power structure that includes cops like this, we hurried down to the DNC, where we quickly zip-tied a sign that said “Overgrow the System” to the fence. Our pot of flowers and greenery was swiftly emptied as we wove the stems and stalks throughout the fence around our sign. With lots of protesters, police, and media around, people began to take notice. There were photos being taken, video being shot, and police pointing and trying to decide if they should do something about it. No one did, and the final product was beautiful. Ally (and my sideburn) even made it on to this video about the DNC from The Atlantic.

Police looking from the inside of the DNC out.

Police looking from the inside of the DNC out.

That evening was mellow for us again, with some tea serving and dinner-making at Marconi with Jon Watts, and discussing the past week. We had experienced the beautiful, the wicked, the heat and humidity, the kindness of old friends, the hopefulness of people wanting to make change, and the oppression of those who don’t want to see it change. Our outlook was a little sad from Bernie not getting the nomination, but we weren’t devastated that real change hadn’t happened. Instead, it helped us view a more accurate picture of the corruption of our current system, which enables people like us to make better decisions in overcoming the injustices of our current democracy.

Ally and Jon wandered down to the DNC during Hillary’s acceptance speech to find FDR Park and the surrounding streets to be more packed than any day we had be there all week. Even though most people who had come to the DNC had been disappointed early in the week as Bernie had nominated Hillary, the energy had not dissipated. Even though no one knew exactly what there was left to do, or what message there was to send, they were doing the one thing they could do: gather. In times like this, with undeniable corruption in the political process, at reaches beyond that of the average person, the most important thing we can do together is connect. In doing so, we are no longer divided.

BIG THANKS to the Rainbow Family for giving us a place to park; to all the organizers of different rallies and marches; Jon Watts for deep friendship, an air-conditioned place to sleep, and much needed showers; Ray and Tom from Congresso for helping us out with water and the brick issue; Karma for all the awesome, proactive help; and all the random folks who went on ice runs for us. Respect!

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Summer Update – Thomas, WV

Our summer home in Thomas, WV

Our summer home in Thomas, WV

Well folks, summer is here, and so are some changes!

I’m writing to let you know to expect a few changes in some of the things you see here on freeteaparty.org, as well as on social media. The biggest change is that you will begin to see more from me in regards to many of the other ways that we pitch-in places we visit. You see, I’ve realized that it’s not just serving tea that is the mission of the Free Tea Bus, but also to share in relationships everywhere we go. These relationships, which I see as the highest form of currency, are relationships with people and relationships with things that we use and consume like tools, food, energy, and other resources. They are the often-overlooked elements, which truly define how we operate in the grand interconnected and interdependent ecosystem of earth.

Spring to Kettle.

Spring to Kettle.

Some of my favorite things to share will be some of the projects that I work on, like fixing and building things. These have a tendency to be related to small-scale, off-grid, DIY, sustainable, and/or mobile living systems. They also often are providing a small service that makes a big difference to someone. Some examples may include solar power, salvaged building, small-scale energy or water systems, creative reuse, etc. Some of what I post may also be related to food, with topics such as wild harvesting, homegrown and local, dumpster diving, food preservation, and more. I also want to share info about real skills, which are the foundation to all kinds of relationships.

One of my first offerings in town was to help build a display table for a local artist and town councilman.

One of my first offerings in town was to help build a display table for a local artist and town councilman.

As many of you know, one of the main philosophical elements to the tea bus is the idea that sharing builds relationships. I discovered this more than ten years ago on Hollywood Boulevard as I started to share free cups of tea with strangers. I found that when I took money out of my interactions they became much more genuine. Over the years of serving free tea, as well as practicing all sort of less-calculated and non-calculated forms of exchange like barter, sharing, work-trading, etc., I’ve realized that humans evolved in sharing communities. In these communities, relationships held the highest value. It is precisely because of the realization that I want to start sharing the whole of this ethos from our life on Edna Lu The Tea Bus to you all online. Many people get to experience these things in real life with us, and I guess I just wanted that to translate into the online experience.

It feels good to be HOME!

It feels good to be HOME!

Front Street Grocers.

Front Street Grocers.

So, without hesitation…

One of our major updates is that we are in Thomas, West Virginia for the summer helping to open a solar-powered natural food store called Front Street Grocers and Kitchen (with a wood-fired oven in Bake Alley). I’ve been hired (using a less-calculated form of exchange that includes money, but also food, showers, and other resources) to help do a salvage remodel, including lots of wood-working, as well as hunting for used equipment and other things. Ally has been hired to be the Startup Manager, helping to get lots of the organizational elements in place, as well as apprenticing with me as a builder.

Part of the reason that I took this work on to begin with was because… well, to be honest, I needed money. I need to make about $4000 to $9000 per year in order to fulfill some needs that I haven’t found a way to build relationships for (cell phone bill, vehicle registration, vehicle insurance, auto parts, some food, etc.). For the first 8 years of serving tea, I traveled the west. During that time, I built many relationships. I could go most anywhere on the coast and find community, work (paid or not), and other resources I needed. In those relationships, I had security. When I needed a little bit of cash, I simply worked a little, and moved on. As I’ve traveled off the west coast, spent time in the SW, Texas, Maine, North Carolina, and places in between, I’ve come to realize the power of relationships, and especially relationships that have been given time to grow. This showed to me in a huge way when our community came together to raise $3500 for Edna’s busted transmission in the Spring. I struggled a little in Maine as my cash was tight. Same in North Carolina. I realized that it takes at least 3 months in many places to find good work (meaning: work within my moral framework that excites me). Throughout the struggle, however, I always somehow managed to find enough paid work to get by… But in all honesty, in my ideal world I’d rather just fix and build things for free. But this isn’t my ideal world, and as such, I was seeking good work that was at least partially monetarily compensated.

Douglas Falls

Douglas Falls

Front Street Grocer provides FREE FRUIT to engage to community.

Front Street Grocer provides FREE FRUIT to engage to community.

And alas, I have been so fortunate to have that work now. It’s a project I believe in and is within my moral framework. The folks we’re working with aren’t just co-workers, they’re community that we share meals and time with. It’s a business that operates in the confines of a monetary society, but with ideals similar to ours: like selling in bulk to reduce waste, using solar energy, building with salvaged materials, offering local foods, and even some discussion of some alternative economic options.

It feels good to be refilling the wallet, spending time with good people, and participating in some very fulfilling salvaged building.

Of course, we’ve been serving some tea as well. The first weekend we arrived in town was the yearly art festival, ArtSpring. This weekend-long festival was all ‘round town, so we set up on the street to serve tea in front of a local art gallery, The White Room. We also setup on the old railroad grade during 4th of July weekend when folks from all over the area come to eat, drink, and watch the fireworks. It’s been fun getting to know all the kinds of folks here in WV, from hipsters to rednecks, farmers to artists, kids to adults.

Check out this short video from #americancultureis about the Free Tea Bus:

So, I hope y’all enjoy some of the new material to be posted. It’s really just an extension of some of the DIY tea bus projects I post sometimes…

Let me know what you think of the new changes.

Enjoy!

Folks gather on 4th of July weekend for tea.

Folks gather on 4th of July weekend for tea.

Some kids play with one of my tinker boxes during ArtSpring.

Some kids play with one of my tinker boxes during ArtSpring.

William from #AmericanCultureIs plays some classical music on Edna.

William from #AmericanCultureIs plays some classical music on Edna.

5 gallons of Hibiscus High ready for 4th of July weekend.

5 gallons of Hibiscus High ready for 4th of July weekend.

4th of July weekend.

4th of July weekend.

Corey holds a new banner.

Corey holds a new banner.

Preparing to serve tea at ArtSpring.

Preparing to serve tea at ArtSpring.

Hanging with Konrad from Possessed by Paul James during ArtSpring.

Hanging with Konrad from Possessed by Paul James during ArtSpring.

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Transmission Mission – Mooresville, NC (NASCAR Country)

Edna gets hooked up!

Edna gets hooked up!

Wow, I am stunned…

Luckily we were home while waiting for a tow!

Luckily we were home while waiting for a tow!

About 2 weeks ago, as we were driving from Asheville to Hot Springs, NC Edna’s transmission gave out. She wouldn’t move forward nor backward… nothing. We were on the side of the road all day, at first trying to rule out external transmission issues, and once we determined that it was indeed an internal failure, we called for a tow. AAA left us there for hours trying find a tow truck for us. Finally they called to tell us we needed to find our own tow.

Finally getting a tow.

Finally getting a tow.

I was super fortunate to have family in Asheville, where I could have the bus towed to. I’m not exactly sure what we would have done if we had broke down where we didn’t know anyone. My step-sister, her kids, her husband, and his mom all live in West Asheville. We had been based there for our week in Asheville already, so it was an easy place to get towed back to. The big tow truck barely got us back into the driveway on the little dead end street, but it felt like we were home.

Too much gunk in the transmission pan considering I just swapped the fluid in the Fall and haven't driven that much.

Too much gunk in the transmission pan considering I just swapped the fluid in the Fall and haven’t driven that much.

I was a little scared, as I didn’t have the money to fix Edna. I spent the next week calling shops, researching online, waiting to hear back from rebuilders, and feeling a little overwhelmed with the uncertainty of it all. If I had to drop the tranny, I wanted to make sure it was rebuilt, and rebuilt well with some of the updates it needed (updated pump, center support, updated planetaries with steel housing, etc.), as well as a heavy-duty torque converter. Throughout my searching, I didn’t feel like the shops and rebuilders I was talking to either knew my transmission and what it needed, or could be trusted, and/or had the time to squeeze Edna in. At first I was really trying to find a shop that would let me be part of the rebuild, or at least removal and installation, with a potential work-trade option. The most helpful mechanic in this regard was Shane at the Organic Mechanic. As a fellow school bus owner, he was potentially willing to share his shop and found one of his mechanics was maybe interested in helping out. Even though it didn’t work out in the end, I am really glad places like the Organic Mechanic exist.

The nephews!

The nephews!

Probably one of the best things that came out of this breakdown was the forced stay at my stepsister’s place. I hadn’t seen her 5-and-a-half year old for 3 years, and had never met her 2 year old. It was super sweet to get to know these kids. We skateboarded, played in the back yard, watched Dino Trucks, and I even tumbled them around in a cardboard box. Meanwhile, they were snotty-nosed and sick, which meant that Ally and I got sick. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Kelan, Link, Donna, Oliver and Aether provided the space for Edna, food, and most of all community for us to feel at home with as we sorted out Edna’s transmission. It was hard to say good-bye.

Edna mounting the tow truck.

Edna mounting the tow truck.

 

 

 

I finally settled on a rebuilder in Mooresville, NC – about 130 miles from Asheville. I could get the first 100 miles of tow for free and $4/mile after that from AAA. But when I called AAA this time for a tow, they said they couldn’t do it because it was a bus, not an RV. I explained that Edna was registered as a motorhome, and that they had towed, and offered tows to me before, and that the only reason I have AAA Plus RV is for this vehicle. I was so close to not getting a tow, but I finally spoke to a supervisor who made it happen. ADVICE to other school bus owners: don’t tell AAA it’s a school bus, tell them it’s a motorhome (make sure it’s registered that way and you wont be lying).

Edna getting towed to Mooresville, NC. Photo: Ariana Nicholson

Edna getting towed to Mooresville, NC. Photo: Ariana Nicholson

The whole drive from Asheville to Mooresville was a little nerve-racking. Edna was loaded up ON TOP of the truck, making us near the legal height limit (13.5 feet). Her weight and size was making the truck bounce and sway. I was worried she would smack a bridge, or maybe topple over and fall off the truck, sliding down a mountainside and tumbling like a tin can. But alas, we made it to Mooresville without a hitch. We dropped Edna off at Outlawed Transmission, in the heart of NASCAR country, and then were picked up and driven back to the homestead we had been staying at in Efland, NC by our friend Ari.

This wasn’t the only trans issue in North Carolina (no thanks to HB2).

This wasn’t the only trans issue in North Carolina (no thanks to HB2).

The photo I put up no social media and raised $3500 in 36 hours with.

The photo I put up no social media and raised $3500 in 36 hours with.

After receiving an offer from a friend to do a fundraiser back home on San Juan Island, I decided to throw a simple photo of Edna getting towed on Facebook and Instagram with a request for donations. This was a big moment for me. I don’t accept monetary tips or donations while serving tea, nor have I actively sought out money from people online (other than a donate button on my website). I have always had a preference for non-monetary and non-calculated interactions, where people interact and share simply because they want to see each other succeed (this would be the definition of traditional human economy). Relationships are the highest form of currency in this paradigm. So, for me to go onto the internet and ask people for $3500, this was big. But, wow! Within 24 hours, my community had raised almost $2200 dollars, and by 36 hours we had raised all Edna needed. It was nearly $100 an hour for 36 hours. Dang!

Edna, hanging with the big boys.

Edna, hanging with the big boys.

I believe that in a society that values money above all else, this was a way for people to show how much they value the tea bus. Even though I want to encourage a society that values other things just as highly as (if not more so than) money, I do live in a monetary world. Yes, my ideal would be to build a mutually beneficial relationship with a transmission mechanic, but I just wasn’t in the space to do that. If I had been back west, where I have a much larger community, it may have been another story. One of the greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses in money is its ability to maintain and transfer value regardless of time and space. Although in general, I believe that money usually disconnects us from the things we use and consume, in this circumstance, it was a blessing to have people from all over the country (and even abroad) donate something of value so easily.

Edna's dismount at Outlawed Transmission. Photo: Ariana Nicholson

Edna’s dismount at Outlawed Transmission. Photo: Ariana Nicholson

The transmission was supposed to be done Monday. I arranged to borrow a car from our hosts. On Sunday, the mechanic told me he needed another day. On Tuesday, he told me his torque converter (TC) guy brought him the wrong TC, and Edna wouldn’t be done until Wednesday evening. On Wednesday, a woman I had never met, but who had been following the tea bus for a few years came from Greensboro to give us a ride 2 hours to Charlotte to get Edna. 10 minutes after she got there, the mechanic texted and said his TC guy had a death in the family and he needed another day. On Thursday, Edna was finally going to be ready, but our ride to Charlotte (a friend of a friend) ended up have brake issues on her drive to come get us and ended up at a shop getting her brakes replaced, and didn’t have time to bring us. Wow!

The old bands and clutches.

The old bands and clutches.

Finally, Randall got home to the homestead, and Ally and I got a text from the mechanic saying Edna was ready! We drove Randall’s truck to Charlotte and there was Edna! The mechanic showed us her old worn clutches and bands, and we chatted about the rebuild. A mechanic friend of mine told me the original quote of $2600 was going to end up being much more (incidentals, taxes, etc), but it ended up being spot on, which was great. Despite the pushbacks on finishing the job, I appreciated this integrity on the mechanic’s end of things.

TECHNICAL: Edna now shifts like a charm. I will (finally) be putting in the right numbered tooth gear in the vehicle speed sensor (VSS). Edna has always shifted early, and the speedometer has always said she’s going faster than she is. Through the years I’ve finally figured out it’s because someone put a transmission from a vehicle that had a 3.55 gear ratio rear end in Edna, who has a 4.10 ratio rear end. The output shaft on the E4OD trannies have either 7 or 8 teeth machined into them to drive the VSS, depending on the read end’s gear ratio. I searched and searched and finally found a 23 tooth gear for the VSS, which should now make Edna shift at proper speeds, as well as make her odometer correct.

Edna’s rebuild also gave her updated steel-housing planetaries, a triple-disc billeted torque converter, and the final pieces for the pump from the Transgo Tugger HD2 shift kit I installed in the Fall. I have faith that it’ll run for many, many more years. 

The transmission cost ended up being a little less than I originally thought. The total costs including tows, gas, and other miscellaneous things came to about $3000. I’ve asked for and received the blessings of my donors to put the remaining $500 into my bus fund, which will likely go into rebuilding Edna’s motor one of these years. Thank you!

Sad, but happy Edna was finally going to the shop.

Sad, but happy Edna was finally going to the shop.

I take great pride in my life for the amount of control in which I feel like I have on a day-to-day basis. Yet, in these past few weeks, I was amazed at how many things went wrong that I had absolutely no control over: the transmission dying, AAA not being able to find us a tow, many flaky mechanics, the death in the TC guy’s family, and many failed rides… I read an article about the unexpected elements of living in a vehicle. In general, I feel like I anticipate the unexpected and prepare for it. But this recent run of bad luck reminds me of a couple things: (1) That there will ALWAYS be unknowns (and often, when it rains, it pours), and (2) that with community, bad luck can be overcome, and in fact can make the overall situation better.

And I have my community to thank!

IMG_3559

Reunited with Edna!

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Mother Earth News Fair and More! – Asheville, NC

The Tea Zone at Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC.

The Tea Zone at Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC.

About 5 years ago Mother Earth News wrote an online article about the Free Tea Bus entitled “Free Tea Parties Build Strong Communities.” It was well received and I was happy to have caught the eyes of such a publication. When I realized that we were going to be near one of their regional Mother Earth News Fairs, I couldn’t resist the urge to attend and serve tea.

Ally helps gather spring water prior to the fair.

Ally helps gather spring water prior to the fair.

I wrote to an organizer to see if this was possible. After experiences with events where I felt mostly un-reciprocated, such as the Texas Tea Festival and the International Herb Symposium, I had all but given up on working with larger events, festivals, and fairs. But to my surprise, the barriers I had come up against previously weren’t there this time around. Although I wasn’t offered all I was hoping (food), every other element was a breeze (water, location, kitchen sink, general support/receptivity, event passes, etc.).

The weekend opened with threatening weather.

The weekend opened with threatening weather.

With all that, Ally, Edna and I left Efland, NC and journeyed up here to Asheville. We arrived in time to spend a couple days preparing for the event (getting 50 more cups, a bunch of cushions, honey, and more). On Friday, we showed up and got busy setting up. Our biggest obstacle was that there was major wind and cold weather in the forecast for Saturday. Before the fair even started, we had to take down our shade structure. On Saturday morning, there were canopies and vendors’ products strewn about from the wind the night before. Even though things were off to a bad start, it could only go uphill from there.

Guests and hosts!

Guests and hosts!

Our first day was semi-slow, partially due to a low volume of fair-goers in the cold weather, and partially because we didn’t have our warm, welcoming canopy and cushions out. Regardless, we got quite a few folks stopping in for tea. It was especially welcomed due to the cold and windy weather.

The weekend picked up, and the tea bus became a little hub amongst the madness. We made many new friends, went to workshops and talks, and had some great conversations. I finally got to meet John VanDeusan Edwards of the Food is Free Project. Our meeting was awesome, and I told him how he’d inspired me to make the hash-tag #teaisfree.

John of Food is Free Project holds my adapted sticker.

John of Food is Free Project holds my adapted sticker.

Guests and music.

Guests and music.

At an event like this, I talk A LOT. People come to Mother Earth News Fair because they are interested in sustainability, off-grid living, tiny-living, health, alternative energy, farming and food, etc. For this reason, I talked and talked and talked because people had so many questions. I talked about solar, running biofuels, having real skills and knowledge, alternative economics and sharing, and so much more. I think I may have driven my helpers crazy. At many smaller events, people get to know about the tea bus on the first day or two, then deeper, more personal, less-tea-bus-centric conversations get to come out. But at an event with tens of thousands of people, less of this happens in my presence.

Not a vendor, but a sponsor!

Not a vendor, but a sponsor!

The Mother Earth News Fair was a reminder that there are some events that are easier to work with. It also helped bring some closure to my experience with the International Herb Symposium last year, as organizer/herbalist Rosemary Gladstar was around this Fair and offered many kinds words and apologies in person that she had already written in email form. She also took the time to sit in the bus with some of my volunteers and guests and tell stories about her own bus adventures in life. I appreciate the genuineness that I feel with Rosemary, as well as with the organizers of Mother Earth New Fair.

Guisepi and Ally serving up Isla Botanica tea.

Guisepi and Ally serving up Isla Botanica tea.

After the Fair, we were able to get out, explore, and serve tea around Asheville a little. One mid-week evening, we parked on a downtown street where a few people were wandering and set out our FREE TEA signs. A recently engaged couple was walking down the street. The man of the couple stared down at the sidewalk, feeling dismayed about a fellow he had helped overcome drug addiction, brought into his business, and then ended up getting ripped off by. He was asking the Universe to show him a sign that people don’t always act out of self-interest. When he looked up, he saw the FREE TEA sign. They jumped aboard, and we had an amazing in depth conversation about human nature, helping people, sharing, and all sorts of deep things. It was the perfect interaction for that couple at that moment. I could tell they left feeling a little lighter.

Later that evening, Ally’s high-school friend Rachael showed up and we took down the FREE TEA signs and made dinner. After dinner, with the side door open, a fellow walked up and started trying to chat us up. The only problem was that he has extremely inebriated. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, on drugs, if he had some sort of mental imbalance, or any combination of the three. At first it seemed harmless, as it was hard to make out everything he was saying, but then he tried to pocket a huge stack of my stickers. My hand followed his into his jacket pocket, and he put them back. Starting to realize that he was a potential threat, I jumped out of the bus to draw him away from Ally and Rachael. We chatted for half an hour on the sidewalk. The things I could understand began to get scarier and scarier, until he starting saying things like, “I’ll do anything I can to get mine. I will kill a mother f*cker if I have to.”

Guests play and listen to the oil tin ukulele.

Guests play and listen to the oil tin ukulele.

It had been years since I’ve dealt with someone like this, so I was trying to figure out how best to get him to leave. Reasoning was out of the picture, as his logic wasn’t sound. And in fact, I’ve found that with people like this, saying much more than simple, neutral statements can trigger outbursts of instability, and potentially violence. I stayed firm in my posture and body language, but remained calm. I worked slowly, but steadily to make him feel like he was choosing to leave. When I had the chance, I closed the bus door. When he mentioned getting a couple drinks before bed, I told him to be safe on this walk home and to take a cuppa tea to go. I felt like I was using the Force. When he would make a remark, I would reflect my purposeful interpretation of it back at him to make him feel like it was his idea and meaning behind his own words. And eventually, he left.

New friends in downtown Asheville.

New friends in downtown Asheville.

And this dichotomy, of beautiful enlightening conversation that could go on forever, and incoherent, threatening conversation that one might hope would end soon, was interesting and spectacular. It reminded me of the early days on Hollywood Blvd.

Later in the week on Friday, we ended up parked across the street from Pritchard Park, where the weekly drum circle was happening. The whole town was abuzz. It felt more like an artwalk than just an average Friday evening. I couldn’t believe how many people were walking around. We had an awesome collection of tea guests that evening, from a friend I had made in Austin, to a counselor/metaphysician that Ally really clicked with, to street folks. It truly was a solid tea party.

Shout out to Allison of Mother Earth News Fair; The Bee Charmer in Asheville for donating honey; Ally, Claire, Kelvin, Ari, and my sister Kelan for helping out all weekend; Mason, Erin, and all the other Mountain Rose Herbs folks there for their tea and support; Kelan, Link, Donna, Oliver, and Aether for hosting us; Rachael for hosting us; and so many more!

Mountain Rose Herbs decided that Free Tea was a good idea too!

Mountain Rose Herbs decided that Free Tea was a good idea too!

Kelan and Aether.

Kelan and Aether.

Kelan pours some tea.

Kelan pours some tea.

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