Texas Tea Festival – Austin, TX

Our first health permit... ever!

Our first health permit… ever!

Well, we made history yesterday. No, it wasn’t that we broke any tea serving records, or that we received national attention, but rather that we got a health permit – the first time in our nine years of serving free tea. To some this may not seem like a big deal, but to us it was. Read on to learn why!

Folks sip tea and wait to get into the Texas Tea Festival. (photo: Tealet)

Folks sip tea and wait to get into the Texas Tea Festival. (photo: Tealet)

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is full of truthful and honest reflections on recent experiences regarding our moral framework, stepping outside of our comfort zone, and being amazed with the outcome. A lot of the discussion lies in the realm of health laws, moral framework, and internal dialogue. This is a deeper-than-normal post, so read on only with that in mind.

About a month ago I saw a Facebook post by tea company, Tealet, about the first annual Texas Tea Festival to be hosted in Austin, Texas. With Austin already on our radar for one of mine and Edna’s next destinations, I wrote the festival to see if they wanted our services. They were cordial, but seemed too busy to offer any help to make it work for us to be there – and in fact threw one big roadblock in our way: by contacting the Austin Health Department about our project. This felt like an immediate break in trust and a lack of understanding for what the tea bus is about and honestly, it made me not want to work with the festival at all.

A new friend. (photo: Tealet)

A new friend. (photo: Tealet)

Among other things, what the tea bus does is cultivate genuine human interactions by taking the idea of profit-maximization out of the situation. To this end, often times what we do goes against social norms – and sometimes the law. Throughout modern history, a huge amount of social change has come through people who do not accept norms or laws. These are people that we admire, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Mahatma Gandhi to Woody Guthrie to Julia Butterfly Hill. When we look at history, we see that these people were in the right, despite the law or social norms of the time, and see that they helped us create a better world in their own ways. In our case, if a person can’t give freely and kindly to others, especially something as harmless as tea (think: water has been boiled by humans for thousands of years in order to sterilize it), it requires us to rethink our norms and our laws.

Legal (skip if you want):
Unlike many other states, the State of Texas has no exemption for private homes in their Food Establishment definition. This makes it so that you could actually be fined (or perhaps arrested) for preparing food in your own home for your own kids if you didn’t have a health permit (if someone wanted to enforce it this way). Upon speaking to Veronica at the Austin Health Department, she said there is a law that makes it okay for me to not have a permit if I had the contact info of everyone who came to the bus for tea. I likened this to the idea that you’re allowed to have friends over for food and not have a permit (still, under this supposed Austin law, you could get in trouble if a friend brought a friend to your house for a dinner and you didn’t have their contact info). Although she couldn’t quote me the law that said this, I accepted it, and thought, Hey, having to get people to jot down their name and contact info isn’t too big a price to pay for not having to get a health permit. But ten minutes later she called back and told me that her superior had said that since the Tea Festival wasn’t in a residentially zoned area, that I couldn’t do this. So, let me get this straight, my home is no longer a residence if parked in a non-residential neighborhood? At this point, I felt that I was being led on to believe things that aren’t actually law. I asked her to send me this law. Half an hour later, she sent me several laws regarding the fact that you can’t have a food establishment in a residence – which wasn’t really related to the law I was asking about, and I was curious if it was a threat to whether or not I could actually get a permit.  

Some of the permit requirements (including: NO HOME PREPARED FOODS ALLOWED)

Some of the permit requirements (including: NO HOME PREPARED FOODS ALLOWED)

Other than the aforementioned philosophical reason for not wanting to get a health permit, I was also informed by Veronica at the Health Department, that I either had to use disposable tea cups, or gnarly chemicals to sanitize my ceramic tea cups. I always tell people that the only “catch” to the tea bus is that there are no to-go cups. This is both because genuine human interactions only happen if people stay to drink their tea, and because disposables don’t fit into my moral framework in the environmental realm. I also don’t use nasty chemicals in my bus (or life) as much as possible, because of my moral framework in regards to environment. Also, my grey-water tank is usually dumped onto living plants (lawns, gardens, trees, etc.), and the last thing I want to do is poison them. So, here I was faced with breaking my moral framework by either using disposables or by using harsh chemicals. 

At this point, I had already crossed out of my comfort zone. I thought of things that I could do: not serve tea at the Texas Tea Festival, or have a Tea-Free Party in mild-protest, or actually get a health permit…

Amongst all this, Elyse Peterson, co-owner of Tealet, offered to pay the $98 for our health permit. Wow, what generosity! I accepted, and decided that I was willing to break my moral framework, both to give me the opportunity to serve tea at the Texas Tea Festival, but also to allow me the opportunity to either reaffirm or reshape my moral framework due to my experiences stepping outside of it.

Iodine for sanitizing dish ware.

Iodine for sanitizing dish ware.

After doing some research, I learned that I could use Iodine instead of bleach in my sanitize basin. I read that Iodine is naturally occurring in large quantities on earth, and you can set out left-over sanitizing water in the sun or heat it to evaporate the iodine out (don’t heat it indoors, because iodine vapor can be hazardous). Because 400 billion pounds evaporate off of the ocean every day, my 2 tsp didn’t seem like they would have a large environmental effect. I don’t know, however, if the form iodine comes in in sanitizers (Butoxy polypropoxy polyethoxy ethanol-iodine complex) is different in terms of environmental impact than the iodine that evaporates off of the ocean. I also figured I could dispose of it down a drain on the municipal sewer system. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to put it in my grey-water tank.

My three basin wash station and hand-wash setup.

My three basin wash station and hand-wash setup.

After rushing to Austin from West Texas and barely getting to the Health Department before their early 3:30pm Friday closing, I made it just in time to grab my Temporary Food Service Permit, which had to be posted somewhere in the bus. I found a nice frame in a free pile, and violá, it now was not only official, but it was beautiful too. That evening and the next day I had to find Iodine, figure out my three basins for dish-washing, do mad cleaning of the bus, and more in preparation for the festival.

The day of the Texas Tea Festival came, and I showed up early to get the one parking space that would allow me to open my side door up and set up a lounge out front – a half block down from the actual event. I spent the morning cleaning, sanitizing all my cups and accouterments, setting up, and swirling thoughts around my head about whether or not I should be upset or glad that I had been (practically) forced into getting a health permit and bending my moral framework.

The line for the Tea Fest. (photo: Tealet)

The line for the Tea Fest. (photo: Tealet)

The event had nearly sold out prior to the actual day of the event, so tons of folks came early to try and get in. With 700-ticketed folks, plus vendors and organizers, and all the extra people, there was a line halfway around the block, which just so happened to wrap around the tea bus. We got busy pretty quick even before the 11 am doors opened.

All day we were packed, with many folks spending hours with us. Out front, Elyse and the crew from Tealet were serving up some of their fine farmer direct teas. It was a pleasure to work with them, as they have mindfulness in their business that I can relate to. They work directly with farmers, both in the US and abroad to bring high quality tea to consumers with ultimate transparency in mind. In this way, farmers end up with higher profits, and consumers end up with lower prices. Choosing this transparency is extremely important in this day and age when people are so disconnected from the things they consume. It helps people understand the real value of the things, and just what it takes to produce them.

Rie (left) and Elyse (right) serving tea in with the teabus at the Texas Tea Festival.

Rie (left) and Elyse (right) of Tealet serving tea in with the teabus at the Texas Tea Festival.

On a whim, I had posted a FREE TEA ad on the free section of Craig’s List the evening before the event. Surprisingly, several folks showed up because of this. These folks, combined with tea fest folks, combined with random passersby there in downtown Austin made for a great mix of people. I saw new friendships formed between a new gal to town and some other locals. I heard many people say that the tea bus brought a little sanity to the madhouse that was the tea festival. When all was said and done, between Tealet and the tea bus, I believe that we served about 250-300 cups of tea.

Just like many people who haven’t experienced the tea bus, I don’t think the organizers of the Texas Tea Festival really understood what the tea bus is all about and what we have to offer. This was apparent in the way they always seemed too busy to talk or problems-solve, or the fact that they didn’t promote our presence on their website nor Facebook. It wasn’t until after the festival that the organizers seemed to come around a little, first by giving us some bags of loose-leaf tea, and later by putting a couple photos on their Facebook page of the tea bus in action. I guess one of the only reasons why I like being well known is because I don’t have to prove myself and the teabus to people. Unfortunately, since I haven’t extended myself too much in the tea community (perhaps fearing snobbery – whether founded or not), and we are new to Austin, our reputation had not preceded us. I do however, fully understand the fact that people aren’t as enthralled by the free tea bus without experiencing it first.

Some Texas tea partiers :-)

Some Texas tea partiers :-)

Devon, Guisepi, and James Norwood Pratt

Devon, Guisepi, and James Norwood Pratt

After the event, there was a small after party at the venue. I sat around a table with great tea minds like Elyse and the Tealet folks, James Norwood Pratt, Jeffrey from Zhi Tea, and more. We discussed the power of tea, and I expressed that my favorite healing property of tea was that it cured loneliness. Tea isn’t always necessarily about the tea itself, but it’s ability to “turn strangers into friends,” as James said. He continued, and gave me one of the greatest compliments I could receive: he likened me to a modern-day Baisao. Baisao was a Zen monk who gave up on monastery life and lived in 1700s Tokyo, wandering around the streets, parks, and gardens offering people tea. He did not charge for the tea, and only had a small bamboo bucket that people could put money in if they wanted to. He became well know for his wisdom, often expressed through his calligraphy and poetry, and was sought out by people from all walks of life, and all classes for the simple moment of tea time. In fact, it was Baisao who, in his desire for a simple, less fancy tea, convinced farmers to make a very simple daily green tea that we now know of today as Sencha. He knew that it wasn’t necessarily about the tea or complex ceremony, but about the wisdom and the human interactions that it created.

Rie from Tealet pours tea. (photo: Tealet)

Rie from Tealet pours tea. (photo: Tealet)

Overall, my experiences stepping out of my comfort zone and moral framework definitely both helped me solidify my moral framework, and also helped me reshape a bit too. Below are reasons that I would and would not get a health permit again.

Reasons I WOULD NOT get a health permit again:
- They force me to compromise my moral framework (harsh chemicals or disposables)
- They exist only within the framework where people aim to maximize profit, and therefore have the cash flow to purchase.
- It creates separateness between the tea bus and people. Whereas normally I am just a person making friends and inviting them into my house for tea, with a health permit, I am an entity that is separate from the friends I make.
- It makes me deal with the worst end of beauracracy, takes a lot of time, and rushes me around, destroying my ability to live the way I want to live (simple, slow, and productive in things I actually care about).
- It forces me to get permission in order to be kind.

Reasons I WOULD get a health permit again:
- They allow me to participate in events that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
- They provide the opportunity for me to have amazing interactions with people that I might not otherwise get to.
- They keep my on the right side of (some) laws and therefor keep me out of trouble.

My feelings on the subject are that in 99% of cases I would not get a health permit again, but there are times and places where the outcome of getting one may lead to greater things. In our case, it has led to some great relationships with people, tea events, tea companies, and more. I can say with all honesty that if I could do it over, I would do it the exact same way. Thank you to the Texas Tea Festival for providing me the opportunity to test and try myself, and to Tealet for sponsoring our health permit, and to James Norwood Pratt for whispering some of the greatest compliments I could ever receive from a tea man into my ear.

A BIG shout out to: Elyse and Tealet for sponsoring our health permit and sharing tea with people in the free tea zone; to Veronica and the Austin Health Department for putting up with my hesitancies towards getting a health permit; to the Texas Tea Festival for allowing us to set up and for giving us the opportunity to strengthen our moral framework; to Harney & Sons for sharing an abundance of left-over teas, a cup/steep combo, and a tea pot; to all the others who shared tea, time, and enthusiasm with the tea bus; and of course, to Mountain Rose Herbs for sending us yet another massive box of tea to share with people.

Elyse from Tealet and guests. (photo: Tealet)

Elyse from Tealet and guests. (photo: Tealet)

New friend, Rhonda soaks up some sun and tea.

New friend, Rhonda, soaks up some sun and tea.

Tealet Party!!! (photo: Tealet)

Tealet Party!!! (photo: Tealet)

 

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Back in the Big Bend – Terlingua, TX

Edna still has ice on her windshield when I arrive back in Alpine.

Edna still has ice on her windshield when I arrive back in Alpine.

Our trip out west on the train was extended by about 5 days, so we arrived back in Alpine, TX just as an abnormally bad ice storm was easing up. There were downed branches and trees everywhere, power was out many places, and ice still covered many areas. Upon inspection, Edna seemed okay from the freeze. I hadn’t expected to stay away so long, and there was no freeze in the weather forecast when I left, so I hadn’t made any precautions. Oops.

When things began to thaw, I realized that the p-trap on my sink drain had burst, and my water filter housing had exploded one of its lids off and destroyed the threads. Luckily I had met a plumber named Tony a little over a month prior at Artwalk Alpine who lived only 4 blocks from where Edna was parked. He happily let me dig through his brass/copper recycling to pull out a chromed brass p-trap. Thanks, Tony!

The straw bale house.

The straw bale house.

After fixing up my plumbing issues, and getting some resources together, Edna and I headed back south to Terlingua to spend more time working on the straw bale house we had been working on in December. It was long hard work, but it was rewarding in the fact that I was learning new skills, and able to be creative with all the recycled material we were using. I give thanks to Frank (the lead carpenter and straw bale guru), as well as David and Kay (whose house it was), for wanting and liking so much salvage material being used.

On the weekends, I served tea at the Farmers’ Market, and other places around the ghost town. In the three weeks I was there, I worked everyday without rest either building or serving tea. It was exhausting.

My old truck!

My old truck!

One Sunday I was sitting in Edna in the Laundromat parking lot wait for my clothes to dry. I heard a diesel truck pull into the lot. Always curious about diesel vehicles, I turned my head to see a Chevy Blazer pull up next to me. Wow! I used to have a diesel Blazer, I thought. Wow, mine was a military issue, too. And, wait, they didn’t come with wing windows (but I put them in mine)…. Wait a sec, that is my old truck! And sure enough, there was the tire rack I made on the front, the roof rack I installed, and the remnants of the San Juan County Sheriff decal on the side (it used to be a cop car in my hometown). This was the first WVO conversion I had done, and I sold it in Washington State 5 years prior.

I jumped out and said to the driver, “That’s my old truck!” “No, it’s not,” he replied, unable to fathom that I just might be the previous owner. I told him the story, and he was amazed. His wife had bought it from me, and I remembered that she told me it was the perfect vehicle for where she lived in the desert. I guess I had forgotten where that desert was! She came down to the Laundromat and we chatted for a while. After that we kept running into each other, and she came to the farmers’ market for tea, and brought me a little departing present. It was sweet and endearing.

Serving tea at The Porch.

Serving tea at The Porch.

Later that evening, I pulled into the ghost town and just had the urge to pull right up to The Porch, where there were tons of folks playing music, drinking beer, and having a blast. The parking lot was packed, but for some reason a whole slew of parking spaces were open just in front of The Porch. My friend Sharron held the spot for me, and my bus pulled right in. I opened my doors, brewed up some tea, and had the most wonderful experience with many locals and many tourists. After being driven out of the ghost town parking lot a month and a half earlier, I knew that the tea bus was now an accepted thing (even the woman who kicked me out before came aboard for a split second)…  It was a blast, with music, tea, jokes, and stories. Plus I was already high from running into my old truck.

Our time in Terlingua created many friends, some of whom I will know for a long time. I’d like to send a shout out to all the folks who I became close with. You all know who you are. You all nurtured, fed, taught, and laughed with me. You shared resources, stories, and time. As I was preparing to leave in my final days there, I can’t tell you how many people said things like, “Well, you always have a home here in Terlingua,” or “You’ll be welcomed back with open arms.” Even folks I just met were saying this to me. I think that Terlingua folks are good at making it home for many. I know for sure that this place is my home in this corner of the country. Thank you, Terlingua.

Now, we sit in a park five miles south of Marathon, TX centrifuging some vegetable oil. We’re off towards Austin, where we are potentially participating in the first annual Texas Tea Festival. Keep your eyes out for us in Austin! We’ll mostly be taking some time to do some winter projects like writing, reading, bus projects, and more, but we’ll make it out a bit and serve up some tea too!

LISTEN: If you didn’t catch the 4-minute Marfa Public Radio piece about the tea bus, here it is.

See you out there on the road!

A light I made from salvaged materials.

A light I made from salvaged materials.

An abandoned house and bus.

An abandoned house and bus.

Do we have enough white live-in vans at the job-site?

Do we have enough white live-in vans at the job-site?

Frank and his new buddy.

Frank and his new buddy.

The porch ceiling of the straw bale house I got to decorate with wood, metal, and more.

The porch ceiling of the straw bale house I got to decorate with wood, metal, and more.

Micheal Combs jams at the farmers' market.

Micheal Combs jams at the farmers’ market.

Jadi and Shannon cob cracks on the straw bale house.

Jadi and Shannon cob cracks on the straw bale house.

Jam session on The Porch

Jam session on The Porch

School bus house.

School bus house.

2 gallons of chai for the farmers' market.

2 gallons of chai for the farmers’ market.

Busted P-Trap

Busted P-Trap

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Thankful in Terlingua – Big Bend Country, TX

Edna in the heart of the ghost town of Terlingua.

Edna in the heart of the ghost town of Terlingua.

 

While at Artwalk Alpine, I was convinced not to be scared of Border Patrol checkpoints (think pounds and pounds of green leafy material – i.e. tea), and that Terlingua and Big Bend National Park were both places worth going. So, after a couple days of rest and recuperation, I drove southward. My only connection was a friend of a friend named Trevor Reichman. An on-the-road musician for much of the time, Trevor has been slowly building his little homestead out in the middle of the desert of Terlingua Ranch. He shared with me his cob dome, his solar electric setup, his little sheds, dogs, and beautiful desert land. He suggested I go to “the ghost town,” as the locals call downtown Terlingua for Burger Night at the Starlight Theatre.

The moon rises over the Chisos Mountains as seen from the ghost town.

The moon rises over the Chisos Mountains as seen from the ghost town.

Terlingua is a historic mercury-mining ghost town of stone and adobe ruins, dusty roads, old rusty cars and machinery, and an amazingly re-envisioned community of musicians, alcoholics, river rats, tourists, old school buses and trailers, off-grid living, and houses that incorporate the ruins. Property is cheap, which makes taxes cheap, which makes no room for building inspectors, which makes for incredible opportunity to build how you want. In the afternoons and evenings, locals and tourists alike gather on  “The Porch” to play music, drink, and hang. The Porch is great, big, and long and spans across a couple local businesses. “Out here we watch the sunset in the east,” is a phrase that’s thrown about. My friend, Chase (who is writing his dissertation on music of Terlingua), says this is both literal in the sense that people sit on “The Porch,” face the east, and watch the awe-inspiring Chisos Mountain turn orange and pink as the sun goes down. He says it’s also symbolic in that what they’re really saying is they do things differently out here.

The Porch

The Porch

 

The day no one showed for hours in Terlingua.

The day no one showed for hours in Terlingua.

On Burger Night, I met a couple folks, served a little tea, and Trevor bought me a burger. People were nice enough, and I decided to spend the whole next day serving tea right there in the heart of the ghost town. I parked in the parking lot overnight, and the next day I opened for business. I had a great parking spot that over-looked the main area of the ghost town, so I figured I would get lots of folks. The day turned out slow, so I spent time picking up recycling, clearing some rocks so I could put out a rug, and making a little stone outline of a patio. The few folks who stopped by were nice, but it was real slow. Then a woman who I had been warned about showed up. “I’m the property manager for the ghost town. It’s all private property. You can’t camp here.” She came across harsh, but not as harsh as others had made her out to be. She didn’t say anything about serving tea though. Three hours passed and not a single person showed, despite the more-than-normal amount of people in town for Thanksgiving week.

A local bartender, who I met earlier, stopped by again. “So, are you going to stick around Terlingua?” By the way he asked, I could tell that he hoped I would. “You know, some towns just suck me right in and I feel welcomed, and, well, other places don’t really seem like they want my services. And this seems like one of those towns, so…” He was a little thrown off, but said, “You know, sometimes it’s not about what you give to a place, but what a place gives to you.” At first, this felt like a direct blow to my philosophy that too many travelers are takers, and that my goal was to be a giver. But, the more I thought about it, I heard my close friends who are always telling me that I am too often too stubborn to receive, despite my philosophy that giving paves the way for receiving and vice-versa.

Trevor's cob dome.

Trevor’s cob dome.

I had agreed to go back to Trevor’s place the next day to lend a hand at building his composting outhouse with him and his friend, Justin. I had been put off by the ghost town at my first visit, and needed this time to figure out what the purpose of my journey south to these parts was about, and if I would stay for a bit. Spending the next day and a half working on Trevor’s outhouse proved to be the perfect place to be. I happened to have some tools they needed, and the job went much faster with three people. Our interaction was wonderful – sharing food, land, work, and play – a great example of non-calculated exchange. If you’ve been keeping up with some of the tea bus’ philosophy of human interaction, this was a nice, smooth example of it.

Trevor in side his dome.

Trevor inside his dome.

 

Thanksgiving tea party in the ghost town.

Thanksgiving tea party in the ghost town.

Thanksgiving came, and we all headed back down to the ghost town. Trevor was playing, Justin bought my Thanksgiving dinner, and I served tea outside. “Just so you folks who bought a Thanksgiving dinner know, you get a free cuppa tea outside with my buddy Guisepi in the tea bus.” Trevor’s humorous tea bus advertisement while he was performing, as well as my parking job (right in the heart of everything), brought a bunch of wonderful folks out for tea. The evening was turning out excellent. I began to feel a little less like I wanted to leave.

The straw-bale house.

The straw-bale house.

 

The next morning I got a message from Trevor asking if I wanted to work with a fellow named Frank on a straw bale house in the heart of the ghost town. Yes! I headed over there to find a sixty-something fellow working on some structural parts of the porch roof. I think his peek into the tea bus brought an instant interest from his part. And my look at the skeleton of the soon-to-be straw-baled house sparked mine. It turns out that along with being a fine musician, Frank was a pioneer in straw-bale construction. After a day of work, he asked me to stick around a week – and I did.

Farmers' Market folk come for tea.

Farmers’ Market folk come for tea.

On the weekends I was serving tea at the local farmers market (across the street from where I was working). I even gave in to the local drinking culture and had a few drinks at the local bars. But, to my surprise, people left and right were buying my drinks and my meals. I was invited to raft the Rio Grande with ten other folks and graciously accepted. I was brought on a hike up to Rancharia Falls in Big Bend State Park by a new friend. All of a sudden, I realized that I really was receiving gifts from Terlingua – I was learning new skills from a great teacher, working my body in the warm sunshine, given a great central place to park Edna, brought on all sort of adventures, bought food and drink (even the district attorney bought me dinner), and getting paid money. I really felt like the bartender’s words were true. And like this, I lived for three weeks in Terlingua.

Rafting on the Rio Grande.

Rafting on the Rio Grande.

 

Edna cruises by the Chisos Mountains

Edna cruises by the Chisos Mountains

In the last week I spent three days backcountry camping in Edna and exploring Big Bend National Park from the hot springs to the basin to Lost Mine Trail. I awoke one morning and took a sunrise hike to Santa Elena Canyon. This spectacular canyon arises out of nothing, and it’s sheer 1,000-foot cliffs line the Rio Grande on both side. Here you have Mexico on one side and the United States on the other. I hiked as far as you can up the canyon (1/4 mile) and enjoyed the trail devoid of other humans. The echo was spectacular and the canyon incomparable to any other I have been in. I made my way back to the parking lot and opened up shop to serve tea to any visitors who might show. Several folks stopped for tea.

 

Santa Elena Canyon at sunrise.

Santa Elena Canyon at sunrise.

At one point a couple came out of the canyon and told me there was several armed Mexican military across the river. I went for a look for myself, and sure enough, there was six or eight camouflaged men with assault rifles. I hiked a bit and watched them pose for photos at the mouth of the canyon. I discreetly took my own photo of them. They yelled across to me, “Hablas Español?” “Un poquito.” That was about the depth of our conversation. I wish I had a way to invite them over the river for tea (you could probably wade across it here). As I left and walked through the shrubbery back to the parking lot, I heard a gun shot, and then another. Other tourists became nervous; and more who showed up decided not to hike after I told them. I called the park headquarters and reported the gunshots. “Were they firing across the border?” “I dunno.” They patched me through to Border Patrol. “We’ll call our liaisons across the border and see what’s happening.” I continued to serve tea, not acting on my natural curiosity to head back through the bushes to see what was going on across the river. More folks came, but a third gunshot echoing up the canyon scared them off. It seemed to me that no matter where they were firing in that canyon, whether it was into the river, up in the air, or towards the ground, there was a high likelihood of at least one of the bullets ricocheting and reaching the US side of the border. To my surprise, Border Patrol never showed up to see what was going on, or to warn people not to hike. Eventually, some brave visitors walked to the river (with me in the rear) to discover the military gone. We loaded their canoe in, and all resumed to normal. Talking about this later with folks, many said this kind of thing is somewhat normal, while others acted surprised. Perhaps they were posturing, perhaps they were having fun, perhaps they were shooting rabbits, but I’ll never know.

Edna at the Chisos Mountains in Beg Bend National Park.

Edna at the Chisos Mountains in Beg Bend National Park.

 

New friend Manu signs the guest book.

New friend Manu signs the guest book.

Throughout my stay in Texas, I’ve continued to be tricked by stereotypes, whether it’s a woman in a cowboy hat talking about taking time on solstice to put your hands on the dirt and connect with the earth, to someone with a deep Texas accent talking about rainwater catchment and solar power. I think this journey around this continent will ultimately break all stereotypes for me, and hopefully some of you reading this. Of course, many of us fall somewhat into stereotypes, but none of us do completely. I’ve found some beautiful people here in Texas, but it sure does mess with the ideas we’ve been taught about Texans, or that there’s two kinds of people in this country (liberals and conservatives).

Here’s to finding friends in new places!

Oh, and check out this 5 part interview series done by Pat O’Bryan of TerlinguaMusic.com.

This is part 1. See all five parts and a blog entry here.

Because of this video, as well as it being a small town, I began to get people saying hi to me that I had never met. The property manager apologized for coming across harsh when I ran into her again. At the store at Terlingua Ranch Rd, I walked in and the cashier said something like, “Hi, Guisepi! I really like the philosophy you live by.” I had never met her before.

Rowan and Justin.

Rowan and Justin.

Jim, Anna, and Shand jam at the Farmers' Market.

Jim, Anna, and Shand jam at the Farmers’ Market.

 

Thank you so much to Trevor and Justin, Frank and Elena, David and Kay, Pat and Betsy, Cory and Evyn, Shannon, Sandi and Topher, Gary, George, Chase, Jim and Anna, Shand, Collie, Tara, Manu and Kerri, Lizette, and so many more!

The Terlingua host town cemetary.

The Terlingua ghost town cemetary.

Hot springs in Big Bend National Park. Yes, that's Mexico on the other side.

Hot springs in Big Bend National Park. Yes, that’s Mexico on the other side.

Using Enda's hitch and a large come-along to move the porch beam outwards.

Using Enda’s hitch and a large come-along to move the porch beam outwards.

Hiking in Big Bend State Park up to Rancheria Falls.

Hiking in Big Bend State Park up to Rancheria Falls.

Terlingua Farmers' Market at the Community Garden.

Terlingua Farmers’ Market at the Community Garden.

Terlingua Farmers' Market.

Terlingua Farmers’ Market.

 

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Artwalk Alpine – Alpine, TX

The art walk parade.

The art walk parade.

Coming to Alpine for a hardware store run from Marfa, I saw a banner for the annual two-day Artwalk Alpine. It seemed like the perfect time to pass through this small college town of west Texas. I arrived on Friday morning after sleeping at the Marfa Lights viewing area (still no sign of the Marfa Lights – just highway lights from highway 67 to Presidio), and got the parking spot I had scoped out a couple nights before on Google Maps/Street view with the help of Dione, a local woman who works at El Cosmico, where we just came from.

Welcome to Alpine, TX!

Welcome to Alpine, TX!

The parking spot was right on the main eastbound drag through town, right in front of the train station, where all the food vendors for the event were set up in the parking lot. The sidewalk was wide, and honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better parking spot. I had done some research on local ordinances, and it seemed legal to sleep in your vehicle and park it for a few days, and they followed Texas health laws, which have exemptions for health permits for private homes – PERFECT!

Rusty the rancher.

Rusty the rancher.

I have been a little nervous about coming to Texas. Most of the places I’ve spent time in my past have their ideas of what Texas is – a bigoted, racist, conservative, ignorant bunch of cowboys. Trying not to stick to any preconceived notions on who Texans are, one of my first interactions was with a rancher named Rusty, who came for tea. Rusty looked the part with a cowboy hat, blue jeans, rolling tobacco, and an old jeep with a rifle strapped to it. I asked him when the last time he used his rifle was. “Last week. I shot a wild pig.” “Did you eat it?” “No, but I gave it to a friend. I usually eat them, or give them to friends.” I liked Rusty. He shared knowledge with me on how to cross Border Patrol Checkpoints, the unwritten rule of never messing with another man’s hat in Texas, and other golden wisdom.

Sul Ross college students.

Sul Ross college students.

As the event moved on, more and more people came in. Rusty’s friend Julian spent some time, and ultimately brought a gift of mesquite firewood, of which he touted the qualities for burning in my wood stove. Many students of the local college, Sul Ross, came aboard to share a cuppa or two and some conversation. A world-traveler/motorcycle-rider/linguist named Asher came and shared his stories of romance of the road. We had live saxophone, live accordion, live banjo, live ukulele…. Whew!

A gang of kids sipping tea, playing ukelele, and causing mischief.

A gang of kids sipping tea, playing ukelele, and causing mischief.

The tea bus became a hangout for many kids in the 10-13 year old range. It was almost like they ran the place for an hour here, or an hour there. They helped choose what teas to make, strummed on my new ukulele (thanks for the gift, Keith!), and brought a bunch of youthful energy. One of the most interesting interactions was when the kids found the Gift & Take moneybox. They said, “Wait, we can take this?” “Yes, that box is there for anyone to put in, and anyone to take out. If you feel like you need it more than the next person, then you can take it. But if you feel like you have something to offer the next person who is in need, then you can put in.” Within 15 minutes, the Gift & Take was empty of all the cash. When I realized this, and then saw the kids all buying cotton candy, I began to think about how to more effectively instill personal responsibility into these kids. I was hoping that just giving them the power to make the decision for themselves on whether they deserved or needed it more than the next person would create that sense of personal responsibility, and they would either take little, take none, or put in. In my mind (and I could’ve been wrong), they weren’t the ones who needed it the most – especially if they were just going to buy cotton candy with it.

Some kids enjoy the tea bus.

Some kids enjoy the tea bus.

When they eventually came back, I asked them if they thought that taking all the cash that was in there and spending it on cotton candy was the responsible thing to do – and if that they thought the needed  that, say, more than a homeless person who was hungry? Of course, they knew the answer. Some of them offered me money. I told them that it wasn’t my money that they took – that the Gift & Take is kind of like a community bank. Ultimately, some of them put money back in, and I’m sure it made them all think about their own personal responsibility to the community. Even some folks who witnessed this whole interaction, and were surprised when I was so open about the taking of money, saw the lesson instilled in these kids and told me so later.

Train-riding musicians.

Train-riding musicians.

One day turned into the next. It felt good to awake right there in downtown Alpine to the food vendors preparing their day. I was parked right by a couple who run a wood-fired pizza trailer, and I looked out to see them making dough and getting ready. It reminded me of my prized moments of waking up at festivals to see the tea zone outside my window starting to buzz with activity as I take my time to fully awaken.

Summer and the high-schoolers.

Summer and the high-schoolers.

A surprise rain storm that made me close the handicap door and windows made the tea bus a little more intimate with some train-riding musicians showing up at the perfect moment to share hot tea and good music in Edna. We talked trains and travel, anarchy and personal responsibility. One of my favorite moments was later when one of the train-riders – Summer, an 18-year-old who has been on the road for three years – showed up when I had a group of four or five letter-jacket-wearing high-school senior girls enjoying a hot cuppa tea. Being of the same age as Summer, the high-schoolers had an amazing moment of mind-opening when they began to hear about Summer’s experiences on the road. They saw a girl who had grasped life and lived it in the way she wanted – riding the rail, playing music for money, touring Europe. Even thought the specifics of how she had done it might not be how some of these other girls would want it, it definitely made them realize that there are other ways of living life than just following the path that has been laid out before you. Among many deep and important things, we talked about the importance of surveying your options in life – even the ones that you didn’t know existed before – and then making the decision to live the life you not only want to live, but also believe wholeheartedly in.

There's nothing like some good sax.

There’s nothing like some good sax.

This little Texas town provided more variety of people, more kind and interested people, and consumed more cups of tea than I thought possible. Over the course of two days, I served over 500 cups of tea. Now I take the day of to recuperate from two days of 12-14 hours of tea serving, hosting, washing, hauling water, and interacting with strangers. I am beat!

Thank you sooo much to Katie and John for the good company, travel advice, and a place to call home temporarily. Thanks to Olaf for the insistence of giving me $10 to buy a wood-fired pizza, and to Jake for trying to not accept the money for the pizza. Thanks to the strangers who shared food in many forms (I was well fed!). Thanks to Julian for the mesquite. And thanks to this little Texas town for welcoming the tea bus in such a generous and accepting way!

The art walk parade was colorful.

The art walk parade was colorful.

Some tea guests who were also in the parade.

Some tea guests who were also in the parade.

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Marfa, TX

Sunset at El Cosmico.

Sunset at El Cosmico.

Wow, time has flown. I was a little stressed from so much movement, tea serving, and some transmission troubles – but we found this little nest to give us some R&R.

Micheal (Sexy Ebola) comes in on Halloween.

Micheal (Sexy Ebola) comes in on Halloween.

We arrived Marfa on Halloween afternoon, with only a lead on a friend of a friend who was playing music at a local bar. Shortly after the bar owner gave us his blessing to open the doors of the tea bus out front of his bar, two folks came aboard. Michael and Mallory were highly interested, and insisted that the tea bus should go with them to a costume party at El Cosmico – a local hotel of vintage trailers, tipis, wall tents, and a yurt.

Upon arrival, I knew it was the right place to be. Michael and Mallory jumped out and checked with the manager to see if it was okay to serve tea here. After a thumbs-up, I pulled the bus up to a vine-covered canopy right out front. There were lots of folks, all dressed up, including myself dressed as Hewho Sipsalot. It was a great night of tea, DJs, costumes, and good people. The tea flowed! Towards the end, I secured a work-trade agreement with the facilities manager, Biff.

The Shop at El Cosmico.

The Shop at El Cosmico.

And here at El Cosmico I have been for almost three weeks. In exchange for a place to park, shower, bathroom, and the ability to use the shop here, I’ve been helping out around the property. I fixed a bunch of burned out LEDs that line the pathways, helped lay flooring in one of the trailers, organized and cleaned the shop, helped fix a sink, and several other little things.

Mechanical/Building:

With help of having access to the shop I was able make a new stamped copper Gift & Take sign, paint a piece of scrap sheet metal with chalkboard paint and trim it in above the windshield, swap out my WVO lift pump (for one with more PSI), finish the interior window trim, do some solar battery maintenance, and several other small projects. Also, finding vegetable oil here was incredibly easy. My theory that WVO is easier to find off the west coast and on back highways has proved to be true thus far.

Three guests at the Farmers' Market. Photo: Ryan Kailith.

Three guests at the Farmers’ Market. Photo: Ryan Kailith.

Amongst projects, I was able to get out a little and serve tea at places like the Farmers’ Market, the Marfa Lights Viewing Station (it was raining and I didn’t see the lights), and at the Food Shark food truck. One day at the market/Food Shark, we had so much media attentions, that I almost ran off. There were folks from the radio station doing some follow up, three well-known photographers taking pictures, and all the usual photo-taking. Exploring this small town has been fun and interesting. Marfa is really an enigma. It’s a town of modern art, ranchers, Hispanics, and New York/Austin Hipsters. I actually started saying: Marfa: Where Austin and Brooklyn meet. But in reality, there are people from all over the world that come here. We met folks from Japan, South Africa, Canada, Portugal, and more. Marfa seems out of place, or else a lot of the people seem out of place here – one or the other.

Two guests visiting Marfa from Odessa/Midland.

Two guests visiting Marfa from Odessa/Midland.

One of the most interesting characters that I met here was a fellow who was Mexican. He was always coming by with his coffee cup, and never getting tea – just stopping by to chat. Through our conversations, I found that he was extremely racist against “wetbacks.” When I questioned him about what he considered  a wetback (since I had only heard of it as a term for all Mexicans/Hispanics). He said that wetbacks were Mexicans from Mexico. He was NOT a wetback. He said to be careful of wetbacks, especially if they don’t speak any English – they would come in my bus, put me in a choke-hold and take all my things. Be careful, he warned. Also, Do you like niggers? F’ing niggers. Those mother f’rs are always swearing around children and being disrespectful. This interaction was very interesting to me. I didn’t know someone could be so racists against their own race (or section thereof), as well as against other minorities. Wow, throws a wrench in where I thought racism existed. There is a whole spectrum of people in this great country of ours.

Welcome to Marfa!

Welcome to Marfa!

My plans to make a loop out to Presidio, Terlingua, and back to the next town of Alpine, were thwarted by the warnings of several to be careful of Border Patrol and Border Stops. My vehicle would gather lots of attention, and they probably wouldn’t like all the dried leafy material (no officer, it’s tea. I swear!).

We arrived Marfa knowing nobody, and today we leave with many friends. Today we head towards Alpine (the next town), where we’ll be setting up to serve tea at the yearly weekend-long Artwalk Alpine. From there: onwards through Del Rio and San Antonio to Austin, TX.

Thank you so much to: Michael for sharing vegetable oil, knowledge, and other resources; Ian, Mia, and Ryan at Marfa Public Radio for your interest and producing some radio pieces about the tea bus; Biff, Sarah, and everyone else at El Cosmico for hosting and sharing; Keith, for being a good friend, hiring me to work on his trailer, and sharing many meals and a ukulele with me; The Get Go for being a savior of healthy food; Mallory; and many many others. Thank you!!!

Oh, and PS – the Prada Marfa store wasn’t that interesting to me, and is in disrepair.

Serving tea in front of El Cosmico.

Serving tea in front of El Cosmico.

Clay Mazin and Fraser of The Emergency Circus stops by for a visit on their way to Nawlins.

Clay Mazin and Fraser of The Emergency Circus stops by for a visit on their way to Nawlins.

Guisepi inside Edna Lu The Tea Bus. Photo: Ryan Kailith.

Guisepi inside Edna Lu The Tea Bus. Photo: Ryan Kailith.

Panorama from in the court house tower in the center of town.

Panorama from in the court house tower in the center of town.

Edna at El Cosmico.

Edna at El Cosmico.

Freight trains run right through the heart of town.

Freight trains run right through the heart of town.

The Prada Marfa "store"

The Prada Marfa “store”

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Travels Through New Mexico

La Ventana arch.

La Ventana arch in New Mexico.

This is a place of so much beauty, good people, and amazing resources. Ally, Edna (the teabus) and I arrived via back highways to Albuquerque after accidentally running into some beautiful places like La Ventana Arch and Malpais National Monument (If you haven’t been – check them out!).

Evading mounted police after sneaking into the Balloon Fiesta.

Evading mounted police after sneaking into the Balloon Fiesta.

It was the right time to visit Albuquerque, as the Balloon Fiesta was just getting into full swing. I’d been hearing about this festivity from various people, including my friend David, who lives in Albuquerque. Through various connections, we happened to arrive the Balloon Fiesta first thing in the morning of my birthday with a bus full of folks and a parking pass to get us in the back entrance of the balloon launch site. Intent on having some fun and making some tea, I made an executive decision to just drive right through the back lot (reserved for balloonists, neighbors, etc.), and right on down to the huge grass lot where the balloons launch from. Tactic: drive like you know where you’re going, nod but don’t make eye contact with any of the folks who are supposed to regulate who enters the field, and find a nice spot amongst the balloons for setting up shop. And it worked!

Edna maneuvers through the inflating balloons at the Balloon Fiesta.

Edna maneuvers through the inflating balloons at the Balloon Fiesta.

 

At first it seemed like the wind wouldn’t allow for balloons to take of, but once a green flag went up, dozens and dozens of balloons started inflating – and we were in the middle of it all! I brewed up some tea, and watched in amazement as the balloons grew to the size of houses all around us. A man came and told us we had to pull the rig off the side of the field, so we did, and continued in amazement as they balloons started taking off. It was a wonderful sight. All around us the sky was filled with balloons, and we sipped tea with joy.

Ally, ???, and Tim of Tim's Place.

Ally and Ryan and Tim of Tim’s Place.

Afterwards we made the trek to a place Ally and I had wanted to go since we saw a video online about it (see it here). The place is called Tim’s Place – a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and hugs. Tim has Down Syndrome, but owns the restaurant, and has a blast being a good host. Tim and his manager came aboard the bus and we shared good stories about the importance of ethos in business.

Fally Upcycle Fair at The ReStore Albuquerque.

Fall Upcycle Fair at The ReStore Albuquerque.

Randomly, we ended up serving tea at The ReStore Albuquerque’s Fall Upcycle Fair. It was a perfect place for us to be, as so much of the bus is salvaged. People loved the tea bus, even gifting us mugs from inside the store. There was live music, rejoice about new solar panels on the building, several vendors selling upcycled goods, and a storewide half-off sale. Sometimes events like this just come together for the tea bus, and it’s such a great way to share our service. Thanks, Beth!

Serving tea in Madrid, NM.

Serving tea in Madrid, NM.

After some good rest, play time with friends, filling up on biodiesel, and centrifuging some waste vegetable oil, we took off from Albuquerque on a (successful) mission to find my mom’s high school friend. This adventure brought us on The Singing Road, through Tijeras, Cedar Crest, and Los Cerillos (where Young Guns was filmed).  In Madrid, a super fun and funky art town, we stopped to serve tea, meet new friends, and admire the junk-atecture (lots of salvaged materials, old freight cars turned house or restaurant, etc.). We met a nice astrologist/tarot-reader who we shared food with, I did some repair projects on her van she was moving back into, and she read mine and Ally’s charts. It was one of those nice reciprocal exchanges that took place over many days in a couple different towns.

Poetry in Motion van.

Poetry in Motion van.

In Santa Fe, we had the nice fortune to end up at a cohousing community called The Commons, where a couple friends from back home on San Juan Island are living. It is a great little community of people, and the grounds are beautiful. We participated in a couple community meals, and served some tea in the parking lot, where we stayed for a week or so. Their residents (and our tea guests) included Alice Khan Ladas (co-author of the book The G Spot), Ilan Shamir (who owns Poetry in Motion – a mobile interactive magnetic poetry van), and many more wonderful folks. It felt good to be in a place where people care so much about community. If you don’t know about cohousing, look into it. We also served tea at a really slow farmers’ market, and took some time for self.

Farmers' Market goers gather at Edna's door to grab some tea ad explore the Gift & Take.

Farmers’ Market goers gather at Edna’s door to grab some tea ad explore the Gift & Take.

We arrived Taos on a Friday evening – just in time to get up early and cruise to the Farmers’ Market. It was rainy, and the market was slow, but we still got some great guests. Eventually the sun came out, and it felt good. Our days in Taos were filled with the cold autumn air, yellow leaves, some mellowing, and much adventuring. The back roads (that Google Maps brought us down) to Stagecoach Hot Springs were rough for Edna, but she made it. We served tea at the Earthships out on the mesa, picked up a hitch-hiker who told stories of local history, made tea at the Hanuman Temple for one of their thrice-weekly free meals, met some other white short bus WVO travelers (Lewis and the Fireflies), brewed up some tea at the Taos Herb Company while they had live music, and made some great new friends. If winter wasn’t so close on the horizon, I’m sure we would have stayed there for much longer. Thank you so much to Dara, Moss, and family for hosting us!

Edna admires the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, NM.

Edna admires the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, NM.

Ally left Taos midway through our stay and headed back to her bakery-on-wheels van in Southern California – a long delayed event. Her companionship on this journey off the west coast has been amazing. She supports this project on many levels and has continued to offer herself as a collaborator, teacher, supporter, and more. I will miss her presence in the bus. Thank you, Ally… seriously!

New friend plays some tunes  in front of the UFO Museum in Roswell after he reported a UFO sighting from last night.

New friend plays some tunes in front of the UFO Museum in Roswell after he reported a UFO sighting from last night.

The drive south from Taos was steep, but beautiful, and landed us in the town of Las Vegas, NM, where we spent the morning in Montezuma Hot Springs, just outside of town. Continuing south, we arrived Roswell, NM. Many towns exist like Roswell, where there’s no one walking around town, there’s no places to meet people, and nowhere that helps facilitate community-building on a daily basis. Towns like this are hard to serve tea in, because there are very few people on the street. At least Las Vegas wasn’t just one big strip mall – there was a downtown here. I was curious, so we parked outside the UFO museum and made tea for people. At first a couple teenagers came by, but lost interest before they even got their tea, likely due feeling sketched out by a stranger offering them something for free. A few stragglers came by, including a woman who works at the museum. She came back a little while later with a pass for me to go in, so I did…

Tinkering on Edna in the desert outside Carlsbad, NM.

Tinkering on Edna in the desert outside Carlsbad, NM.

Continuing south, I needed a break from constant travel and serving tea. I knew I would find this place outside Carlsbad, likely in the form of some desolate desert. After Google Maps send me down an overgrown road in the dark of night, I found my transmission acting funky. I finally found the road to the campsite I was trying to get to, but the road was incredibly gnarly, and my transmission was acting up, so I parked out there in the middle of the desert. My long needed alone time was forced by this little breakdown. I spent the next day, however, tinkering with some wiring, and ended up getting the computer diagnosis plug to work (never has before), and determined that it was the electrical connections to the tranny that were pushed around by tall grass from the night before.

BLM campsite outside of Carlsbad, NM.

BLM campsite outside of Carlsbad, NM.

 

Driving a rough road out into the desert for the alone time.

Driving a rough road out into the desert for the alone time.

That night I drove farther out into the desert to a BLM “campground” (really nothing but fire pits and parking). It was beautiful and away from everyone. I spent two nights there, reading, writing, tinkering, making lists, transferring waste vegetable oil, and exploring some caves that were right next to where I was camped. It was beautiful, needed, and showed me that I need to do this often.

Coming south, I passed over the Texas border, by the Guadalupe Mountains (gorgeous!) and on to Marfa, TX for Halloween, where I reside now. We’ll be exploring a little bit of Texas, so keep your eyes peeled for us!

Thank you also to David and Lauren in Albuquerque, Nate Dog for the bio and veggie, Rosa and Grisha at The Commons, Silvianne the van-dweller in Madrid, Yarrow (for the good conversation and the Rosemary plant), Tim and Ryan at Tim’s Place, the fellow at Montezuma Hot Springs, Ilan and his Poem Van, Alice, and all our other guests, hosts, and friends.

Autumn in Taos - golden trees and burning the wood stove.

Autumn in Taos – golden trees and burning the wood stove.

Making tea at the Earthships.

Making tea at the Earthships.

Alice, who co-authored The G-Spot, sipping tea at The Commons in Santa Fe.

Alice, who co-authored The G-Spot, sipping tea at The Commons in Santa Fe.

Serving tea at the Taos Herb Company.

Serving tea at the Taos Herb Company.

Sonny jams some tunes at the Taos Farmers' Market.

Sonny jams some tunes at the Taos Farmers’ Market.

Ally sips tea while watching balloons take off.

Ally sips tea while watching balloons take off.

Silvianne and her home on wheels.

Silvianne and her home on wheels.

A silversmith cowboy plays some tunes at the Upcycle Fair.

A silversmith cowboy plays some tunes at the Upcycle Fair.

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25,000 Cups of Free Tea – Flagstaff, AZ

The recipient of the 25,000th cuppa free tea, Ward, and his gifts.

The recipient of the 25,000th cuppa free tea, Ward, and his gifts.

Another milestone is upon us! On Friday evening we served our 25,000th cuppa free tea at the First Friday Artwalk in Flagstaff. As we set up for the evening, we only had 30 cups to go, and I was a little nervous.

Tea on the streets of Flagstaff.

Tea on the streets of Flagstaff.

We had had a little run-in with a local teashop owner, who wasn’t too stoked on the “competition” that the free tea bus brought to town (read about it soon here). He had contacted the city and the county in regards to our operation, so I thought we might have to be a little careful – we were indeed probably breaking some laws. Flagstaff has some of the strictest anti-homeless and anti-camping laws in the nation. Regardless, I read up on local health code (as I often do), and printed out some signs stating that “You are engaging with a private individual in their private home. Please note that any food (e.g. tea) is prepared in this home kitchen, and is not subject to regulation and inspection by any regulatory authority.”

Tea passing.

Tea passing.

As the Artwalk started to pickup, and we got closer and closer to our 25,000th cuppa, the bus filled with a bunch of college-aged folks. Earlier, I had seen some of them walk by and heard them say something that included the word “sketchy.” I made a fun comment like “Didn’t you ever hear: Don’t take candy from strangers in a van?” After a bit, they came back to see what it was about. They came aboard and the bus became packed (14 people inside and a crowd outside).

Ward opening his tea certificate.

Ward opening his tea certificate.

 

I secretly tallied each cup I served, and eventually gave a refill to a Belgian fellow named Ward, who was sitting on the floor. “With that cup of tea, you should also grab that envelope hanging up there.” He grabbed the envelope and opened it up. Inside was a certificate that said: “You have received a RANDOM CUPPA TEA. Which just so happens to be our 25,000TH CUPPA FREE TEA! This certificate entitles you to: one tea mug, one jar of tea, and one piece of non-integral tea bus memorabilia of your choice.” He was excited, and the more he and others thought about it, the more ecstatic he became. His excitement and the inspiration that this project was to him, showed me that he was the perfect person to receive such a thing. He spent hours on the bus, and finally picked the smallest teacup I had, a bag of Winter Spice tea, and a small handcrafted copper seal on a necklace as his piece of memorabilia (it, itself, was a beautiful gift from the Lopez Island tea goddess, Kyra – don’t worry, I’ll still think of you!).

Serving tea outside the Orpheum Theater.

Serving tea outside the Orpheum Theater.

Each time we reach a landmark like this, I insist that it’s about quality and not quantity, but I do have to say that even with this quantity, we have managed to maintain quality. It is the guests, the people who have sipped all 25,000 cups of tea, who are the heart of the tea bus. Thank you!

This don't make no cents.

This don’t make no cents.

I also just wanted to note amongst some of our other tea parties around Flagstaff (Herb Folk Gathering, at Wheeler Park, at the Sunshine Rescue Mission, and downtown), that we had an awesome experience with the owner of the White Flag Laundromat. After Herb Folk we had done a bunch of laundry here, but I had somehow managed to forget my three small beautiful rugs – one of which I had just purchased at an antique mall. It had been a couple weeks, but I called them as soon as I realized. They had kept them safe, and after I identified them over the phone, I went in to get them. Earlier in the day I had expressed that I wanted to pay the Laundromat back for saving the rugs. Ally had asked me what it was worth to me. I immediately said $50. Ally told me I should offer them that out of the Gift and Take. I was hesitant, as I seem to be a little protective of the Gift and Take. Yet, as we arrived, it felt like the right thing to do. John took one look at the money and said, “no way.” His mindset was that people should help each other. “Jesus doesn’t like money,” he said as he referenced the story of Jesus getting angry at people trying to make money in the temple. “I can’t take your money. Only the Lord can pay me back.” Yet, we continued to offer the money. “No, you keep it. It’s just enough to me that you acknowledge it and offer your gratitude.” When he had pulled the rugs out of the dryer and was folding them, someone even offered to buy them on the spot, but he said “no,’ believing that the owners would come back for them. I was blown away, and by the end we were hugging. I thank you sincerely, John!

Cheersing the 25,000 cups of free tea!

Cheersing the 25,000 cups of free tea!

Now, we sit at the Arizona-New Mexico border, sipping Earl Grey, and enjoying a nice desert morning. As for now, we are Albuquerque-bound. Look out, New Mexico – the Land of Enchantment!

Arriving New Mexico!

Arriving New Mexico!

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Herb Folk Gathering – Mormon Lake. AZ

Nighttime at the Herb Folk Gathering tea zone.

Nighttime at the Herb Folk Gathering tea zone.

 

Whoa! We’ve been fairly stationary in Orange County for months. This weekend blew me back into the family and tea bus explosion world. The Herb Folk Gathering is a yearly herbalism conference at Mormon Lake, AZ with plant walks, workshops, classes, an herbal marketplace, live music, and a masquerade ball. Bringing together a strong group of herbalists, practitioners, students, enthusiasts, friends, re-wilders, and more, this event is made for sharing knowledge and connecting people and plants. The community of people here embraced us, shared with us, and cultivated an amazing community in the few short days we were there.

The basic structure.

The basic structure.

The zone we set up was an experiment in construction. When I built my roof rack six years ago, I designed it with telescoping aluminum poles that could be used to hang a shade cloth (like a parachute) or a tarp. I’ve used the setup minimally, but mostly because I wasn’t fully happy with it. Brainstorming with my fellow nomad/structure-builder friend Abigail beforehand, helped me solidify a new structure plan. Upon arriving at Herb Folk. I telescoped out the three aluminum poles, added two more telescoping PVC poles out from each of those. This gave me three flexible ribs that extend outwards and curve down to rebar pounded into the ground. Reminiscent of the cheap PVC greenhouse designs, this structure was rigid and strong. Due to rain in the forecast, We attached a tarp over this, and my fun orange and white parachute atop it, mostly to hide the ugly tarp. The great thing about this setup, is that the ribs triple telescope back into themselves and store inside the roof rack!

Crafty guests.

Crafty guests.

Inside the structure, we laid out a tarp, upon which was rugs, cushions, a table, herb/tea books, tinctures of the day, a café table with chairs, and more. It rained once or twice most days we were there, and each time we had to tighten the zone down, trying to make sure our rugs, cushions, and books remained dry. As a comfortable zone, with hot beverages and offering a commercial-free zone, we became a little hub for the event. People immediately felt at home, with many folks spending large portions of their free time there.

I heard in previous years it had been hard for folks to even find hot water for their tea (the general store offers microwave-your-own), so the tea bus was welcomed just for the fact that we had hot water available 24 hours a day. And because this was an event full of herbal enthusiasts, much of the tea we served was just pouring hot water on participants’ own herbs.

Evenings were busy at the tea zone.

Evenings were busy at the tea zone.

Especially in the evenings, the tea zone became a hot spot for in depth, vulnerable, and philosophical discussions. I had so much fun participating in, and listening to the amazing conversations being had. I can’t stress how much I love this aspect of the tea bus. The zone created allows people to be vulnerable (partly because I am being vulnerable in inviting the world into my home/space). I give many thanks for so many who participated in this way! The zone also became a spot for people to nap, do different crafts, identify mushrooms, read, and more. What fun!

 

The tea zone.

The tea zone.

 

Tea wenches! Ally and Califa.

Tea wenches! Ally and Califa.

Joining me here at Herb Folk were two dear friends, Ally and Califa. They, along with some wonderful guests, helped out by washing dishes, serving tea, helping keep the area clean, and being darn good hosts. Ally has helped out with dozens of tea parties and events, and knows the system well. Her help here, as well as many, many other places, has been incredible and I want to send a special shout out of love to her. Califa has been creating specialty drinks in her “regular” life, so she shared some of her blended teas with the bus and the guests, as well as a couple tea cups hand-crafted by her father – what a delight!!! Having extra help made my job a lot easier (although I still worked my butt off, and only attended less than one class).

WANTED poster (by Mia and Carla).

WANTED poster (by Mia and Carla).

There were two wonderful little girls, Mia and Carla, who came for tea every day multiple times (One Peace Tea, and one Fairytale Tea, please!). When they heard that many of our cups had walked away (as they often do), they took it upon themselves to make MISSING posters for the tea cups for us to hang up around the event. Plus, they went to a thrift store and bought us several more mugs. We ended up leaving with more mugs than we came with. What sweethearts!

A big thanks to Mountain Rose Herbs for giving us tickets to Herb Folk; to Wolf and Kiva for creating and hosting it, and for having us; to Ally and Califa for making it all run smoothly; to all the guests who lent a hand; and to all the wonderful folks who shared tea, tinctures, salves, deodorizing sprays, food, lip balm, a 5 gallon jug, and soooo much more – so much love to you all!!!

All in all, we served about 1,000 cups of tea over the course of the four days here. Whew!

From here, we don’t know where we’re going! How Fun!

Jim McDonald schools Ally on the truth about melancholy.

Jim McDonald schools Ally on the truth about melancholy.

Califa, Guisepi. Ally, and Abigail all dressed up for live music!

Califa, Guisepi. Ally, and Abigail all dressed up for live music!

Shoes off!

Shoes off!

Two masqueraders.

Two masqueraders.

Learning about mushrooms.

Learning about mushrooms.

Edna at Mormon Lake

Edna at Mormon Lake

He-Who Sips-a-Lot showed up for the Masquerade Ball with his Crow-bo

He-Who Sips-a-Lot showed up for the Masquerade Ball with his Crow-bo

Ally and a guest have an in depth conversation.

Ally and a guest have an in depth conversation.

 

 

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Autumn Update – Flagstaff, AZ

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Edna along our drive from Prescott to Jerome, AZ.

Howdy, folks! Another season is upon us, and the most exciting news I have to share is that WE LEFT THE WEST COAST! Right now we are in Flagstaff, AZ on our way to The Herb Folk Gathering – the Southwest’s premier herbalism conference – where we’ll spend the weekend making tea and learning. Leaving the west coast is kind of a big deal for us. Ever since I purchased Edna Lu (the Tea Bus), I’ve known that a big North American Tour was in store. One and a half years ago, we started a 2+ Year North American Tour, but have yet to leave the west coast (except for an accidental hour in Nevada, due to missing an exit on the freeway). In fact, in the first five years of having Edna, we only left the west coast once, and that was a quick trip to Colorado and back.

Opening up shop in Prescott, AZ.

Opening up shop in Prescott, AZ.

Now, as we branch out into the unknown of the rest of the country, we are excited, scared, and hopeful. The west coast has raised and nurtured the Tea Bus, providing the community, resources, and love that have been needed to make such a project blossom. Now, as the Tea Bus feels mostly complete in construction and function, the flower that she has become is ready to be shared as far and wide is it can be. As we leave these communities and resources, we ask you to share our project with your friends and families out in the parts of the country we are visiting. We want to be pollinators, a connecting string between places, and love to connect with the right people, with whom we can both give to and receive from.

Teaching high-schoolers about waste vegetable oil.

Teaching high-schoolers about waste vegetable oil.

The past 6 days, we’ve been in Arizona, stopping in places like Prescott, Jerome, Sedona, and Flagstaff. In Prescott, we fell in love with the town as soon as we drove in. With a beautiful central park/plaza, we couldn’t help but serve tea for a couple days right there in downtown. Exploring Prescott, I can’t help but think that we’ll be back there. I was also invited to give a presentation to the Junior class at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy on running waste vegetable oil, as well as the whole free tea bus project. They absolutely LOVED it. I spent an hour with them talking about petroleum, energy, etc.

Edna in Jerome, AZ.

Edna in Jerome, AZ.

Jerome was a surprise, and we fell in love with this little European-feeling mountain mining village. And the scenery! What amazing ecosystems and landscapes! We’re experiencing a real diversity of these things compared to Southern CA. We are truly in heaven. Why haven’t we known about all this before? The sun, the clouds, the rain, the thunderstorms. We’ve been pushing Edna’s limits for steep, windy, high altitude driving, but she’s doing ok…. Showering off the side of Edna in the misty mountains, and washing Edna in a downpour (a true hobo shower)… So much fun!

OMG GMO movie night at The Ecology Center.

OMG GMO movie night at The Ecology Center.

In the last months of summer, we’ve been spending lots of time working at The Ecology Center, and digging in in Orange County. We served up a bunch of (GMO-) free tea at a movie night at The Ecology Center, where we watched GMO OMG, a documentary on GMOs (highly recommended). We served tea in San Clemente for 4th of July, at Saddleback College, and the Santa Ana Downtown Farmers’ Market twice (read about all of these here). We also served tea twice at Yoga Bungalow, a local yoga studio that offers free yoga on Fridays from their student teachers. Evidently we drew a much larger crowd than normal (we could barely do yoga with that many people in the studio). A big thanks to Tam for inviting us to her studio, and to all the wonderful folks who brought donations of tea and things. Also, our collaboration with The Herb Bus, was fabulous (see here). Love!

Webasto muffler and lagging.

Webasto muffler and lagging.

BUILDING/MECHANICAL: As far as bus projects go, we did a few fun and important things. First of all, because there is no shower onsite at The Ecology Center, I was showering off the side of Edna (see the set up here). If I wanted hot water, I was having to idle the bus for half an hour or so, because my Webasto wasn’t working. After spending a bunch of time trying to figure out why this was (I thought it was an electrical problem with the circuit board), I found that it was because the fuel pump was so far from the fuel tank. After moving it closer, my problem was solved. The Webasto heats coolant (via a biodiesel blend) and circulates it. This coolant runs through a coil in my hot water heater, and heats it. It’s fabulous now! It heats enough water to shower in 20-60 minutes, depending on how long of a shower I need. This consumes 1/3 to 1 cup of fuel. I can get wet quickly (30 secs), soap up, then rinse (1 minute), and that only uses 1.8 gallons of water. Or I can shower for 6 minutes with full hot water (7.2 gallons). Of course, when I drive the bus, the water gets hotter, and my shower time is increased.

Along with getting the Webasto dialed, I also installed a nice little stainless muffler into the exhaust and put some fiberglass lagging over the exhaust pipe, so that it doesn’t heat too much of anything in close proximity. The Webasto definitely runs a bit quieter, and should help when I’m trying to be incognito for city dwelling.

I also installed a new digital temperature gauge above the drivers’ seat, which allows me to switch between reading the hot water heater’s temperature, and the injection pump return line. This allows me to see what temperature my injection pump is, so that I know when I can switch to WVO (I preheat the injection pump via an inline 12v fuel heater, which preheats (bio)diesel, or can be used to boost WVO temps). These 7.3 IDI injection pumps are a known weak point for running WVO, mostly because they can break due to “thermal shock.” Although there are a couple different theories as to why this happens, I installed the temp gauge to allow me to make sure I’m not injecting hot WVO into a cold IP.

Guisepi andf Edna at Teapot Rock, Sedona, AZ.

Guisepi andf Edna at Teapot Rock, Sedona, AZ.

In my ceiling, I’ve had a computer fan hooked up to nothing for several years. There was already a vent in the roof from the school bus days (it just vented the 2” gap between the ceiling and the roof). When I redid the ceiling with wood a few years back, I put a 12v computer fan that would eventually vent from the inside of the bus up and out through the roof vent. I recently purchased a 5 watt solar panel, which I mounted on the roof, ran the wires through the roof (sealed with one of these), and to a switch. The switch is and ON-OFF-ON, which allows the panel to be OFF, ON from my solar/house battery bank, or ON from its own solar panel. The main reason for having it on its own panel, is for hot climates like southern CA, where I can leave it on, and it’s just on when the sun is shining on the bus. This means that it exhausts the warmest air from the bus, and helps keep it cool inside. I’ve definitely felt a difference on hot days. Then the fan shuts off automatically as the sun goes down. The fan itself is really, really quiet, and you can barely hear it, even when it’s going full blast.

A few other small projects are: A nice curved railing for the curved shelf over my desk, made from salvaged brass and copper plumbing parts; a hose holder made from ABS plastic for my grey water drain hose; some little salvaged decorative corners for some of my upper cabinets; and fixing my falling-apart FREE TEA sandwich board sign. Oh, and a fun little project I completed recently, was mounting a lazy Susan up by the front flapper door, where my tool bucket sits. This allows my tool bucket to be accessed easily by rotating it (now I can more easily get to the tools on the back side). I love it!

Now, onwards! We head to The Herb Folk Gathering tonight to set up, and have not much of an idea as to what is next, other than being of service, traveling forth, cultivating community, and having fun! Yes!!!

Presenting to Juniors at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy.

Presenting to Juniors at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy.

Edna-eye view of the road leading into Sedona.

Edna-eye view of the road leading into Sedona.

New friends in Prescott.

New friends in Prescott.

 

 

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A Tale of Two Buses – San Juan Capistrano, CA

 

The Herbalista Free Clinic and Edna Lu the Tea Bus collaborate!

The Herbalista Free Clinic and Edna Lu the Tea Bus collaborate! (photo: Ann Nguyen)

A few years ago, after consistently having people come to the bus with health issues from digestive troubles to headaches to cuts, I decided I needed to take the health part of my mission up a notch. Because Edna Lu (the tea bus) is always in places like city streets, festivals, parks, etc. where there are no homes, she appeals to people who are in need of the care they might find at a home. Last summer I took it upon myself to take a Wilderness First Responder Course geared towards herbalists, activists and homesteaders. Working with the amazing folks from MASHH helped inspire and invigorate my desire to learn more first aid and how to incorporate herbs. But honestly, since then I have had very little need to use these skills (thankfully, I guess), and my enthusiasm has subsided a bit – that is, until this Thursday.

Lorna and myself in our wagon circle.

Lorna and myself in our wagon circle. (photo: Ann Nguyen)

A while back I was introduced online to a woman named Lorna, who travels in a VW Westfalia Vanagon, known as The Herb Bus, or the Herbalista Free Clinic. Finding out about another free herb-based, community-building bus made me want to meet her – and collaborate, if possible. Lorna’s project is based our of Atlanta, GA, where she services two “stations” on a regular basis that help underserved people, as well as a foot clinic. When she can, she rambles out into the country teaching classes, gathering herbs, making medicine, and offering her services.

When I heard that The Herb Bus was out west and making its way down the coast, I had to meet up. I contacted Lorna and set up a collaboration at The Ecology Center. We were to create a wagon circle with our vehicles, free tea, some basic herbal first aid and medicine, and of course, community…

Some of the participants.

Some of the participants. (photo: Lorna Mauney-Brodek)

The event took shape wonderfully, filling up to 30+ people under my half-parachute with chairs, rugs, iced hibiscus tea, and fresh baked goodies from Ally. We introduced our projects and Lorna went into teaching mode, talking about the how’s and what’s of her project and some great specifics of first aid and using herbs in healing. The end of the formal talk was a nice Q&A. Afterwards, I brewed up a pot of hot tea in Edna and invited everyone to stay for a while.

We passed books around for people to see.

We passed books around for people to see. (photo: Ann Nguyen)

When the hopping tea party slowed down, I made my way over to Lorna’s van where we talked shop. We jabbered about vans and buses, onboard systems, experiences, herbs, organization and more. Lorna took one look at my giant jumbled bag of over 100 tinctures (a recent donation), and my box of miscellaneous tinctures, and shook her head. “You’ve got to organize and label these,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to know where they are when you need them.” My technical/mechanical/organizational mind knew she was right. Now I’m tinkering around in my mind as to what the best way to organize and label them is.

 

Tea party!

Tea party! (photo: Lorna Mauney-Brodek) 

We talked late into the night, and knew that wasn’t enough time for us. I suspect we’ll see each other down the road and have ore time to collaborate and connect. She left early in the morning to help with a foot clinic in LA. Adios, Herbalist Free Clinic!

Please consider supporting her project by visiting her website and seeing what she needs. www.herbalista.org

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