Summer Update – Arcata, CA

Edna hangs in Nevada City, CA.

Well, our West Coast Tour has been shaken up a bit. After receiving news of a family emergency, Edna and I cruised on up to Arcata to be with family. This means that we probably wont be making it to the Bay Area/Sonoma/Mendocino this time around (sorry folks! It makes us sad too.). But hey, that’s what community is about. When relationships are the highest form of value, we take the time to care for the ones in our circle who are in need.

Read more about our journeys from south to north in California below.

Edna in the Sierra Mountains.

The best drinking water around – spring near Lee Vining, CA.

On our way North along highway 395, Edna and I had some wonderful adventures, even though I was still recovering from being sick. We took some epic roads, with switchbacks, 3000-foot elevation gains, and amazing scenery. Also along the way were plenty of great free campsites (see freecampsites.net). I had planned to stop at several hot springs along the way, but still being sick, I decided that it might not be a good idea. Just outside of Lee Vining/Mono Lake there is one of the best fresh water springs I’ve been to in my journeys. It has some of the tastiest and cleanest water (30 ppm), and I highly recommend stopping there on your way through.

The location of the spring water near Lee Vining, CA.

A free campsite along HWY 395.

In Markleeville, CA, we stopped in and gathered some WVO from a local bar/restaurant, and loved the transition from desert to forested mountains. When I pulled into town, my transmission acted a little funny. Then, as I continued on, it was shifting really weird. I checked the transmission fluid, and it seemed a little full. Over-full transmissions can get frothy, so I figured this is probably what it was, exacerbated by all the steep hills. When I pulled into South Lake Tahoe, I was hoping to let the transmission cool, so I could drain a touch of fluid off. (I later replaced the tachometer sensor, and all is good!).

As I was sitting in the bus in front of the natural food store, a truck pulled up and a fellow got out while staring at my roof rack. He began walking towards the bus when the look on his face turned from curiosity to recognition. “Hey, I know this bus. I saw a video on YouTube about you. Your bus is my favorite of all buses I’ve seen.” Adam was building his own bus just a few blocks away with his girlfriend, Dallas. He invited me over, and I needed a place to hang, so I said sure. And I’m glad I did.

Adam and Dallas’ reclaimed bus counter.

I was truly blown away by his and Dallas’ projects (under the name Onus Art Projects). They are artists and makers, and use a ton of reclaimed materials. They had sewn the old vinyl school bus seat covers into bags. Adam built their entire counter from a mix-match variety of salvaged wood of all colors – an inspiration from all the salvaged-woodworked heriloom-quality surfboards he makes. “When we have to go to the hardware store, first we go to the ski resort dumpster… and half the time we find what we need there. Just today I needed some plywood, and found three full sheets in the dumpster.” They were a couple after my own heart.

Bear attack! The screen a bear tore off Edna.

They invited me to stay at their place, which I did. They were excellent hosts, feeding me a couple meals and offering a place to park. It was truly a blessing. In the morning, I found that a bear had tried to break into Edna that night, although I didn’t hear it because I’m such a heavy sleeper. The bear had torn down the window screen just inches from my head as I slept. I always imagined that bears were more likely to try and steal my vegetable oil…

 

Ally’s surprise tea party.

I arrived three days early to Nevada City to surprise Ally. Immediately, I set up a tea party in the woods behind her parents’ house. It was a wonderful reunion after months apart for the winter. Ally arranged for Edna and I to serve tea at the Foothills Fusion Friday Night Dance in Grass Valley. It was wonderful to be back in a community as such. They truly appreciate the service of the Free Tea Bus, and show it with all sorts of hugs, invitations, and gratitude. Thank you!

Justin and Tzoul chat at the Foothills Fusion Dance.

In Nevada City, I was able to do some fun projects on my friend Gregory’s vintage Airstream-like Avion trailer. It needed some aluminum work to repair some damaged aluminum paneling, as well as some help designing and building a solar system. I was happy to oblige, and we had an excellent time working on the project. It was my first solar project with lithium batteries. 

Aluminum repair on Gregory’s Avion

Edna turns 200,000!

A trip up to Oregon with Ally (but without Edna) for my mom’s wedding and some visits with friends turn into a detour when we caught wind of some serious family stuff that was going on. We rerouted to Arcata, where I’ve been mostly since the news. I went back to Nevada City briefly to get Edna, and will likely be here in Humboldt until mid-August when we head into Oregon.

In Redding, Edna’s odometer rolled over to 00,000.0 miles. I think it’s 200,000 miles, but one can never be certain with a 5-digit odometer. I purchased her with (probably) about 122,000 miles in 2008, and average about 7,500 miles/year (half than the average car in America).

Serving tea at the Fairy Festival on the Arcata Plaza. Photo: Daruka Das

I was stoked to serve some tea at the Friday Night Market in Eureka, CA this past weekend, as well as the Fairy Festival on the Arcata Plaza. It’s the first time I’ve been able to serve tea right there on the plaza, because the organizer let us in. We parked the wrong way on a one-way, and opened up the side door to the plaza. It was so wonderful to get to reconnect with people here in a place that was so involved in the making of the Free Tea Bus. I served tea every Tuesday for two winters at the Arcata Plaza about 8 and 9 years ago. I built a lot of Edna in Eureka, and I also served tea at Arts Alive in Eureka on many occasions. I am looking forward to heading to this event this weekend! Come join us!

Mostly, I am simply happy to be here in Arcata with my brother. He’s been wonderful support to Edna and I over the years, and I am honored to get to be here with him to repay the love. I’m helping with things he needs, offering support, as well doing some projects on Edna and working on finishing the rough draft of the Tea Bus Factory Service Manual.

I hope to see you soon, Humboldt!

Guisepi + Edna

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Gregory’s charge controller, breaker panel, and 12V fuse panel.

Gregory’s battery bank and inverter, hidden under his bed.

Fixing one of Edna’s window latch with VHB tape and an angle brace.

New and old friends in Grass Valley and the Foothills Fusion Dance.

Rebuilding the window screen after the bear attack.

Gregory’s solar system design.

It’s been a long road.

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Announcing West Coast Tour – Spring Update – Alabama Hills, CA

Recuperation at free BLM camping in the Alabama Hills off HWY 395 in CA.

Yes, y’all, you hear correctly! Edna and I will be spending this year serving free tea from San Diego, CA to the San Juan Islands, WA. Our kick off was Edna’s 10-year anniversary in Ocean Beach on the first day of Spring, and thus far we’ve spent time in Orange County and Los Angeles. And today, we started the journey up highway 395 through the backside of the Sierra Mountains. Joy!

Our rough tour:
May/June – Nevada City
July – Bay Area/Sonoma/Mendocino
August – Humboldt
Sept/Oct – Coos Bay, Eugene, Portland
Oct/Nov – Olympia, Seattle, San Juan Islands

This west coast tour is a journey of gratitude. Edna and I are revisiting communities that helped shape the Free Tea Bus – the communities that shared in many cups of tea. For 8 years I traveled the west coast serving tea, 6 of those years with Edna. During that time, these places that you live became our home, our community. Y’all shared resources, good food, and wonderful moments with us. You coddled the tea bus, allowing it to grow, and pushed us out of the west coast nest when we were ready to cross the land. The past 4 years has seen us in other parts of the country, from Maine to Texas, Georgia to Colorado… And in those places the main message of the Free Tea Bus was reinforced – relationships are the highest form of value! It was a lot of work building relationships everywhere we went. And now, we’re back to say thank you, and to maintain many of our old relationships through free cups of tea.

Once we get “home” to the San Juans, I will be taking the winter to reflect, and recuperate from years on the road. Changes are on the horizon, and I’m hoping for some clarity.

West coast! We look forward to spending time and sharing hot cuppas. Reach out, will ya?

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Saying good bye to William and CC.

Our wagon circle in William’s yard – Blythe, CA

Our winter was a success. Edna and I got to spend a good amount of time in the Sonoran Desert writing. We parked in Blythe, CA in the yard of William, a retired schoolteacher, hermit, and nomadic enthusiast. It was nice to be received so wonderfully by William. He was full of wisdom and spirit, saying things like, “There is no such thing as death… only continuance.” He opened his house, his shop, and his heart to myself, as well as a rag tag crew of vehicle-dwellers who came to stay. Andi and Dorothy came in their step van. As did Seven and his step van. Tara of Fermentation on Wheels showed up with her 40-foot bus, and a filmmaker came with his RV. It was a spectacular community of people sharing food and spending time doing projects. Of course, I spent a bit of time with each of these people helping with solar and other projects.

Edna arrives Skoolipalooza.

This winter, we also spent time popping in and out of Quartzsite, which was only 22 miles from Blythe. In January, we went to Skooliepalooza – a campout for school bus conversions. We had a blast meeting all sort of other skoolies and serving up some free tea. Just up the road we attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Because of the whole #vanlife thing, the RTR had grown from 1000 people last year to 4000 people this year. We camped with seven step vans, all parked in a row, with Edna in the middle, where I strung out a parachute and created a central space for our camp, and to serve tea. During this event, Seven Grey (of Seven Wanders the World) had the grand opening of his step van free teahouse and travel book exchange. Seven contacted me one day on the internet a year or two back, expressing interest in living in a large van and serving free tea. I’ve been mentoring him since, and it was great to see him in a place where he could open his van to the world. Leading up to the opening, Andi and I busted out a second bench for him, and did what we could to make sure his opening was stress-free. It was a blast.

Step Van Row – Rubber Tramp Rendezvous ’18

Edna and I were also featured in a NYTimes article about the RTR called The Real Burning Man.

It was really interesting going to these two events geared towards nomads. In this particular community, I felt very well respected and even revered as someone who has spent 12-years full times on the road. As many of these folks are in the build process of their vehicles, people were also very interested in Edna for the fact that she is pretty much complete, with some wonderful systems. I actually had to start closing my doors during the day and “nap” for a couple house at RTR because there were too many visitors.

Even with all this commotion, I still made time to do a bit of writing in Blythe. I left with my rough draft of The Tea Bus Factory Service Manual 90% done. Whew!

On our way we took a side trip to the Sahara.

 

“The Last Free Place” — Slab City, CA

I made a stop at Salvation Mountain and Slab City, serving tea in East Jesus. In San Diego, I had a great time staying with old friends and serving tea at Windansea, where we gave out free cookies baked by my friend Malia, as well as (dumpster-dived) roses. It was a fun evening perched atop a seaside cliff, watching surfers, and sharing good company. Also in San Diego, we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Free Tea Bus!

Edna fits in at Salvation Mountain.

Serving tea at Windansea. Photo: Hank Gaskell

Edna and Road Trip.

For a month I worked my butt off. I spent weekdays at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, where I designed and installed an 800W solar system on a double decker eco-education mobile called Road Trip. On the weekend I was working on Evan and Kristen’s Sprinter van, which I helped lay a floor, insulate, wire, panel with wood, and install a solar system. It was non-stop hard work, but it was nice to put some money in the pocket. I really love this kind of work – especially when it’s not hourly pay (I don’t believe time is money), and when it’s for good people and good causes. All this work led me to retreat for 5 days up in Silverado Canyon on a nice piece of property owned by Earthroots Field School – a nature connection non-profit that I work for occasionally. I took some time to centrifuge some WVO, read a ton, and spend a day writing. Ahhhhh, nature!

Truk serving pozole from his truck!

Serving tea and pozole in Oceanside, CA.

In Oceanside I met up with Truk (remember him?), and his partner Mari. Truk is a free tea server, but perhaps finds his highest calling in sharing good food with people. In fact, that’s how him and Mari met – making food day in and day out at Standing Rock. He loves wild, native, organic and heirloom foods, and is known to make stoves from large flat rocks out in nature. I had met Truk years ago in Nevada City, where he climbed aboard the bus one night during a tea party and said, “This is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do!” It had been a while since I had seen him, so we decided to make free tea and pozole at Buccaneer Beach Park. The native corn in the pozole was grown by Mari’s family in Mexico, and it was delicious! Several of Mari’s family members showed up, as well as some friends, strangers, and even a couple folks from the internet (via Instagram and Facebook).

The Magic Foam Experience crew at Dr. Bronner’s

I was lucky to get to spend part of a day at the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap headquarters in Vista – or more specifically at the Magic Foam Experience (MFE) warehouse. Dr. Bronner’s has been donating soaps to the Tea Bus for probably 8 years, so it was great to be able to give a little back. The MFE is Bronner’s way to activate and excite people with their mobile foaming fire truck and foam trailers, as well as all the sculptures and infrastructure they bring to Burning Man. They are staffed with some of the friendliest folks, who took me in like kin, shared so much with me, and had a wonderful tea party in Edna. I was lucky to have David Bronner aboard and chat soap and biodegradability. Thank you so much, to everyone there, especially AB.

Evan shows off Road Trip.

On Earth Day, I spent the day at The Ecology Center. I had first arrived at this permaculture learning center 4 years ago for the same event. I fell in love, was asked to do some work for them, and ended up there for 4 month fixing and building things. It felt nice to be back, to see some familiar faces, and catch up with all the good happenings. The day was a madhouse, however, with a almost consistent line out the door, and I served over 200 cups of iced tea. The only reason I could keep up was because some old friends pitched in to wash dishes, pour tea, find more cups, and pass out tea. It was good, but I was beat!

A magical evening of tunes and good peeps on Hollywood Blvd. Egon and Jon.

Northward! A quick stop to serve tea at free Yoga on the Bluff in Long Beach, and then visit some friend and family in Harbor City, Palos Verdes, Santa Monica and The Brewery near downtown LA. In Hollywood, I stopped where it all started – right there on the Boulevard. I had a packed evening connecting with old-time tea-sippers, and a steady stream of new faces. It was nice to be serving tea on Hollywood again!

Then onwards to Monrovia, where I arrived just in time to serve tea for their weekly Friday Night Festival. I had made some good connections here 4 years back, and it was good to reconnect. I had friends from other places I hadn’t seen in years show up as well. All the go, go, go had taken it’s toll, however, and midway through the night I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. I passed off tea serving duties to some guests and ate some food, but by that point I had lost half my voice. By the time I packed up, I was pretty sick. I rarely get sick, and I’ve never gotten sick that fast.

Jake and Aimee, tea guests from 4 years ago.

 

A new deck for Robin.

I spent the past few days trying to take it easy in order to recover. Thankfully, my friend/teacher Ed and his wife Robin were wonderful hosts in Monrovia. I did manage to help Ed build a deck for Robin’s studio, which I was hoping to do more of with him. Ed was an early teacher of mine when I first bought the bus. He taught me how to weld, and helped me build the roof rack. He taught me about wood-working, materials, methods, and more. I always hope I can give back as much as I can to those who have shared so much, but I left Ed again today feeling like he shared so much with me again. Thank you Ed and Robin!

Now I barrel down the road, fumes smelling like French fries, moving quickly towards my Love, Ally. We’ve been apart since Christmas, and I’m eager to see her.

I hope to see you somewhere on the west coast!!!

G

Insulation, wiring, and the beginning of paneling the Sprinter.

Half the solar array on Road Trip. Flexible panels.

Evan and I are excited that we got the solar panel mounted!

Inside the Sprinter.

Building out the Sprinter.

Akenaton, from WAAAAYYYY back in the day in Arcata.

My mom’s high school friend Valenta came out to Hollywood Blvd.

Wood paneling, lights, and a fan in the Sprinter.

Batteries, charge controller, and amplifier for Evan and Kristen’s van.

The whole center is a skylight, so the solar array  had to go on the ends.

The battery compartment in Road Trip.

 

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10 Years of the Free Tea Bus – San Diego, CA

Celebrating 10 years of Edna Lu, the Free Tea Bus in Ocean Beach, CA! Photo: Hank Gaskell

Yes, you read right. 10 years ago on the first day of Spring, I purchased a little, empty, yellow short bus. As I drove out the driveway, I asked the woman whom I purchased her from what her name was. She said her partner had been calling it “Eddy” because it was a Special Ed. bus. As the bus purred down the block, she seemed more feminine to me (or perhaps I just wanted a female travel companion) so I called her Special Edna, and she eventually became Edna Lu, the Free Tea Bus.

Original Craig’s List photo and NOW!

I knew from day one that the purpose of Edna was not only to be my home, but also to be a mobile free teahouse. I had started serving free tea a little over two years earlier on Hollywood Blvd. My big city loneliness had been squashed by these accidental non-monetary interactions. I had discovered something that fulfilled my deepest social and emotional basic needs – and ironically it was radical sharing. The bus was to be both a literal and figurative vehicle for this newfound passion of creating a non-monetary experience in order to cultivate genuine human interactions and community.

Original Craig’s List photo and NOW!

Legos, graph paper, and building forts in the woods as a kid helped my mind begin to wrap itself around the idea of building a bus, but it would take years of living on the road, being mentored by elders, and having a whole community of support that would create Edna Lu to where she is today.

Edna is now a radical example of small-scale, off-grid, low-cost, DIY, earth-friendly, and reclaimed living systems! In the past 10 years, she’s sipped mostly waste vegetable oil and biodiesel (only 5% of her fuel has been petroleum-based). She has a robust solar electric system that runs the fridge, lights, computer, and even the hot water tank once the batteries are full. Her hot water is also heated by waste engine heat from driving, as well as a biodiesel blend if need be. 99% of her wood, and 75% of her hardware is reclaimed. She’s got a tiny wood stove for heat, and an engine to bring her north or up in elevation to keep her cool. She has warm and cool zones for keeping ferments alive, and keeping food and herbs cool. Edna also has a decent enough kitchen to support my strong love for food. I get to ferment all kinds of krauts and kombucha and kefir, as well as cook, pressure-can, and sprout.

Original Craig’s List photo and NOW!

“Did you build all this yourself?” people often ask.

“I had many mentors and teachers, friends with good ideas, people who shared resources and skills with me. And the trees. Trees did most of the work. You know, photosynthesizing, building beneficial relationships with mycorrhizae – the hard part. But yes, it was mostly my hands.”

Ed helps level the bus for building the roof rack.

It was Ed in Los Angeles who taught me how to MIG weld, so we could build the roof rack. He also helped me plane and lay donated reclaimed Douglas fir for the floor. It was Ric in Coos Bay, OR who taught me how to TIG weld and machine metal so I could build my vegetable oil tanks. It was Joe in Eureka, CA who not only who let me work trade for shop space and access to tools and salvaged materials, but who also taught me a great deal about woodworking. It was the friends who let me park on their property, who let me pilfer their stash of materials, and who fed me food. It was Califa and her family in Sonoma County who let me set up shop in an abandoned house on their land. It was my brother Josh who I housesat for, and the resources that family share with one another. It was Jim, who mentored me in Hollywood, and got me a good paying job within the first few weeks of getting Edna, so I could start investing in my home. It was Paul, who answered so many mechanical questions and gave Edna some maintenance love. It was my mother, whose land and nurturing character I could always retreat to. It was all the strangers who came aboard and shared in the vision. It was Kyle, who’s sailboat-rigging expertise helped me rig the bed that lowers from the ceiling. It was Jorgan, who helped weld the interior bed support frame. It was Matthew, who gave enthusiastic support of building tiny living spaces, and shared a shop with many of us. It was Owen, fellow-bus builder, who shared adventures, passion, shop space, and so much more.

It was you!

Writing the new specials on the menus. Photo: Hank Gaskell

It was you, who has come aboard Edna and shared your stories and visions; who has supported the Free Tea Bus in places to park, food to eat, resources to share; who has been inspired to pay-it-forward. It is you who has helped cultivate community resilience through sharing. Edna and I are resilient because of you!

It is because of you, my community, that the Free Tea Bus has been rolling for MORE THAN 10 YEARS! Your support has allowed me to support you! It allows me to focus on being of service to people, rather than being of service to money. And that’s the point, the help create a world where money is not the most valuable thing in the world – relationships are. This is both relationships with people (family, community, etc.), as well as the resources we use and consume (real skills, knowledge, etc.). This is why I like to spend my days being of service to you. I love fixing your plumbing, installing your solar, oiling the creaking door, and building your necessity from reclaimed materials. For me, that’s the life – spending my days keeping things from the trash by putting them to use to help fulfill your basic needs, so that you can focus on more valuable things than money – family and community, creativity and mindfulness, building resilience through real skills and connection to basic needs and resources, and so much more.

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Edna finally made it back to the Pacific Ocean! Photo: Megan Wu

When I spotted the Pacific Ocean, I began to cry. I was driving west down a residential street in Ocean Beach scoping spots for a potential 10-year anniversary tea party. It had been almost 4 years since Edna and I had been back to the west coast together. We traveled the west coast for more than 6 years serving free tea before starting a 2 (or More) Year North American Tour. That tour became 5 years on the first day of Spring this year. Being gone from our main community for so long had been a wild ride with ups and downs. We made it from Texas to Maine, Georgia to Colorado, West Virginia to North Carolina, New York City to Atlanta. And for much of this journey, my partner Ally was aboard to share in the adventure.

In these past 5 years, we’ve discovered that we were right: relationships are the highest form of value. It was hard to be away from the places we knew we could park, the dumpsters we could dive, the communities we knew we could integrate with, the paid work from people who appreciated our skills, and the people who love the tea bus. Quality relationships take time. We had built that community and connection to places over the 8 years we traveled the west serving free tea. It was hard to build deep meaningful relationships every single place we went. This is not to say that didn’t happen, but it usually took time. Some of the places we dug in became like home. And these are places I would feel super comfortable going back to. These places are West Virginia, Maine, North Carolina, West Texas, Georgia, and Colorado. These places embraced us, absorbed us, drank a ton of free tea, and offered so much more in return.

Free tea and roses! Photo: Megan Wu

There were hard times, however. In North Carolina Edna’s transmission went out. Because we were in an area where we hadn’t spent much time cultivating relationships, the only way to fix her was to pay someone a ton of money. And for this same reason, we hadn’t been in places where the little money we needed was flowing in easily. It was you, our community that supported the tea bus. The relationships we’d built in other places jumped in to support us. In 36 hours, y’all shared $3600 in gifts with us. Edna’s transmission is tougher than ever!

And now, we set foot and tire back on the West Coast – our old stomping grounds. From Hollywood Blvd. to Arts Alive in Eureka, CA to the Sierra Mountains to the San Juan Islands, we are so excited to share in warm rounds of hot tea, story-telling, and re-invigorating bonds with people we’ve been away from for so long.

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Selecting a tea for the 10 year tea party. Photo: Hank Gaskell

Last Tuesday, March 20th, the first day of Spring, we arrived on the street in Ocean Beach, CA to celebrate 10 years of the Free Tea Bus. It was 10 years to the day that I purchased Edna right here in San Diego. With ease, Edna and I found a parking space right next to green grass, palm trees, lots of walking traffic, and the sound of lapping waves.

Uncle Paul and Aunt Wynne making new friends. Photo: Hank Gaskell

Bonding over the slackline. Photo: Hank Gaskell

I was joined by Malia, who was an old friend from up north, her boyfriend Hank, who was a new bro-mance, and some of their house-mates. We had dumpster dove 5 dozen roses a few nights before, so we set them out in a large bucket of water for people to take. Chris and Emily (Shaggy and Goldilocks), baked cookies in their own short bus to share with folks. We met them when they stumbled upon hot chai and pancakes from the Tea Bus on the Appalachian Trail in Maine as they were in the process of falling in love. Not too long after, they purchased their own short bus, and have been traveling in it for more than a year and a half. My aunt and uncle, whose house I slept in front of the first night I purchased Edna, came and spent time catching up and meeting tea guests. Several folks who had been following the tea bus on social media arrived and shared some time. A fellow van dweller shared some tea from his girlfriend. A slack line was set up, people basked in the evening sun, and good cheer was in the air.

Some guests even dressed up! Photo: Hank Gaskell

Free Tea for all! Photo: Hank Gaskell

A homeless man with a tattooed face came to tell us that the world was ending in 7 years. Only the Native Americans and the government knew. But he knew because he was part Native. At some point he showed me a fresh gaping wound on his dirty hand. It was from a rape in progress that he stopped the night before where the guy had drawn a knife. I urged him to clean it and bandage it. He refused, but eventually let me bring him some hydrogen peroxide to clean it. I spent time with him, and several other homeless folks. We chatted, shared stories, and had a few special moments of recognizing each other.

I also enjoyed watching all the other interactions happening. My aunt and uncle were meeting new folks. People were engaging over the slack line. The roses brought smiles. The cookies satiated taste buds and conversation.

Free Tea and cookies. Photo: Hank Gaskell

Free tea, cookies, and roses anyone?

By the end of the evening, I packed up the rugs, chairs and cushions. I washed the cups and swept the floor. When I closed the doors, I took a moment to reflect on the past 10 years. And I couldn’t help but get sentimental.

I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Happy 10th Re-Birthday, Edna!

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If you appreciate this journey, please consider visiting our Share Page for both monetary and non-monetary ways of supporting the Free Tea Bus.

See also 10 Years of Free Tea

Ocean Beach tea party! Photo: Megan Wu

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Winter Update – Writing Retreat! – Blythe, CA

Welcome to AZ, where even the rest stops are beautiful.

We made it! To our winter retreat, that is. Edna Lu and I rolled into Blythe, CA just a couple days ago in perfect time to start our winter writing (finishing the Tea Bus Factory Service Manual – hopefully!). We’re parked at a new friend’s place, where we shouldn’t have too many distractions.

He Who Sips a Lot and his witchy partner Artemesia Mugwort serve tea to families on the streets of Manitou Springs, CO for Halloween.

Colorado was swell this Fall. On Halloween, we dressed as a witch and a wizard and served tea to unsuspecting passersby in downtown Manitou Springs. In Colorado Springs, I stopped at my alma mater, Colorado College, to serve some tea and give a talk. The Tea Bus was well received, and many students stopped in for tea. The talk went well, and it was a wonderful opportunity to create an hour-long talk on the Free Tea Bus and Relationship-Based Economy. I’ve needed this practice, and I think it went fairly well. My favorite part of visiting CC was meeting Dan, who runs the woodshop at CC. If only I had been interested in such things in college, and had met Dan, I think I would’ve had a good friend and mentor. We spent hours chatting, walking around campus, and hanging in the shop. Thanks, Frances for introducing us!

Banner in Worner Center at Colorad College.

Homework about myself and Edna from Maestra Stuarts class. P. 1

Also in Colorado Springs, Ally, Edna and I were invited to spend the day at Horizon Middle School with six Spanish classes. Our arrival had been preceded by Maestra Stuart using the Tea Bus’ story as a way to teach vocabulary (words like free, travel, worth, etc.). Each student drew a storyboard of my journey. And finally Maestra Stuart showed them a YouTube video of the Free Tea Bus. They were blown away that such a thing really existed. When we arrived, I felt like a movie star. Students were coming up to me and shaking my hand, and knew my name. They all wanted to interact. Students were giggling in the hall, pointing and whispering my name. It was quite comical. 

P. 2

It was a long, but very rewarding day. Each period started with me telling the origins of the Free Tea Party story, from being lonely in a big city to finding community through non-monetary interactions on Hollywood Blvd. Then Ally and I would answer questions, and finally we would surprise the students by telling them that they got to come out and see the Free Tea Bus. Ally would take half the students inside the bus to let them explore, and I would take half the class outside to show them the systems, like solar, waste vegetable oil, and more. 

Spending our day talking to kids about the value of relationships at Horizon Middle School.

The main message for the day was: Despite what we’ve been taught, money is not the most valuable thing in the world – relationships are, both with people, as well as the resources we use and consume. Even the principle and superintendent enjoyed our presentation one period. What a rewarding day! Thanks, Maestra Stuart for having us! 

That evening we went into Old Colorado City for the monthly Artwalk. It was slow, but the interactions were superb. Even a student fram the middle school brought her family out. I loved interacting with her father who was a tinkerer and builder, and salvaged a lot of stuff from working on a nearby military base.           

The Walden tiny house at the Denver Int’l Film Fest.

In Denver, we met up with our friend Laura Goldhamer (an ex-WVO-short-bus-owner, and old friend). She asked Ally and I if we could tow one of her tiny houses across Denver to the Denver International Film Festival. This particular tiny house was a prop for a film she was very involved in called Walden. As I was hooking up the tiny house, I noticed that the axle was shaped like a smile – sketchy! Nevertheless, Edna towed her fine across Denver, where she had a parking spot waiting in front of the red carpet. It was fun having Edna in the mix. It was a sight to see! We also pulled around the corner to the after party and served tea with the tiny house attached all evening.

Will and Laura’s tiny house/bus-stead.

Laura’s place is a tiny house and bus haven. She has two tiny houses there, and Will, who owns the main house has his band Trout Steak Revival’s tour bus there as well. Will was the kindest host, and one of the sweetest most genuine people I have ever met. We shared in food, tea, and most precious of all, time. It was refreshing as always to land with people who are ready and willing to be in community.

Salvaged cedar fence paneling in Gwen’s bus.

Gwen’s shower I finished.

The skylight in Gwen’s shower.

 

Back in Longmont, I got to work finishing up Gwen’s bus. I finished the pop-up with salvaged cedar fencing, complete with laminated arched window trim and dimmable LEDs with wire cages. In the bathroom I installed corrugated metal and more cedar. All of this on top of the previous wood stove install, propane heater install, and other various projects.

Edna at the Beloved Community Tiny Home Village in Denver, CO

Laura sings a tune at the Beloved Community Tiny Home Village.

I dropped Ally at the train station in Denver in mid-November. Often our goodbyes are for months, but this one wasn’t the hardest since we knew we’d be seeing each other in a month for the holidays. I immediately drove on down to the Beloved Community Tiny Home Village to make some tea. Laura had connections there, so we got the gate opened and pulled right in to the community. I opened up the doors and spent much of the afternoon hanging with several (previously) homeless folks. The tiny house concept to house people in need seemed to work so well here (with the exception of the city making them move 100 feet across the alley). Laura brought her guitar and sang some tunes, and I got a tour of a tiny house.

In Denver, I also met up with alternative living space filmmaker Dylan Magaster, who shot a video tour of the Free Tea Bus. Watch it here:

Sunset on the road in Colorado. (no filter)

Centrifuging waste vegetable oil at the site of rate Ludlow Massacre on Thanksgiving.

I drove south into the unknown. I didn’t know where I’d be spending the winter. I only knew I needed to go south, as the nights were getting colder. I tried Colorado Springs, but after a short stint I kept moving. On Thanksgiving Day, I spent the day centrifuging vegetable oil at the site of the Ludlow Massacre, trying to give thanks the working people who stood up to poor working conditions. The oil I had received from a kind bar owner in Colorado Springs who not only gave me waste oil, but invited all his friends out to the bus, and baked me a pizza.

Serving tea at Meow Wolf.

In Santa Fe, I took the advice on visiting Meow Wolf – a fantastic creative endeavor that no words can describe. I was told to go setup out front by an artist and musician I’d met in Denver. I had a wonderful tea party out front the day after Thankgiving. But boy was it busy! The line to get in Meow Wolf was around the block. I had lots of out-of-towners, as well as locals and people who worked at Meow Wolf. The security guy loved the tea bus and even came over to give me two tickets to go in. Everything was swell until a woman came up and started complimenting the bus and me. “Wow, what a great rig. And a cool project… buuuuut, word has come down form the ‘higher-ups’ that we’re going to have to ask you to stop doing this.” I named dropped the artist/musician that told me setup there, but it wasn’t enough. Alas, the security guard brought me and a new friend to the front of the line and let us into Meow Wolf. And what a wonderful experience. To describe it in words would do it an injustice, but I’ll try. Imagine if you gave an old warehouse/bowling alley to a bunch of creative artists, funded them really well, and they created an interactive experience of mystery, art, carpentry, tricks, music, and so much more. Go check it out… trust me.

New Mexico sunrise.

In Albuquerque, I met up with a small-scale biodiesel producer. I’d been through about 3 years ago, and then he charged me full rate for bio, as well as a small sum for WVO (the only time I ever paid for WVO). This time, he had been following Edna’s journey, and he hooked us up with $1/gallon biodiesel and 50 gallons of WVO for free! Thanks, Nate!

Southward. Onward. To Truth or Consequences, NM. I awoke at Walmart and Edna wouldn’t start. She wouldn’t even turn over. Click. I’d been having this issue occasionally. Usually if I simply tried a few times, she’d turn over and fire up. This time, not so much. Finally, after 100 tries she started. I decided it was time to replace the starter. I drove around town, purchasing a starter, always afraid to turn off the engine.

As I was looking for an RV dump site to dump and fill my water, I pulled down the wrong street. Looking confused, I was approached by Punk, an ex-police officer and truck driver. He asked what I was looking for, and what I needed. I told him about the RV dump, and he gave me directions. Anything else? “Well, I’m looking for a place to replace my starter.” Punk invited me to park in front of his house to do the job, as well as took me out to some good local Mexican food. I stayed the night and lay under Edna for a couple hours the next day pulling out the starter. Ever once and a while Punk would come and lay on the ground in front of Edna in order to have a conversation with me. He was super kind and a great conversationalist. What I really liked about him was that you couldn’t tell his politics from anything he said. With so much weight surrounding political conversations these days, it was nice to just talk human things.

Centrifuging vegetable oil in Gila National Forest on the way to Silver City, NM.

Edna’s new starter!

Once the starter was installed, Edna turned over in a beautiful, quiet whizzing sound that was so satisfying. She’s never started so good since I bought her. I thanked Punk, and moved on down the road towards Silver City. In the forest, along a river, I spent a few hours centrifuging vegetable oil. The curvy mountain highway was a pleasure to drive, and Edna did fine. This was nothing compared to the mountain passes this summer in Colorado.

That day, I started to feel sick, as I explored City of Rocks – an amazing state park and campground, where you can camp amongst the pillars of rocks. I pulled into a rest stop just down the road to sleep and it really began to kick in. I think it was the musical mushrooms I was playing at Meow Wolf. I meant to wash my hands before I snacked on cheese and crackers, but I forgot until after eating a couple. I rarely get sick, maybe once every couple years. But when it does happen, it puts me out. Luckily I was near Faywood. Hot Springs, so I spent a whole day becoming the tea bag, steeping myself, and trying to sweat the cold out of me. I interspersed hot soaks with naps and movies. And finally I went back to the rest stop to sleep.

City of Rocks, NM.

The next week and a half was a whirlwind of feeling too sick to serve tea, and trying to recuperate. I wanted to interact with the community in Silver City, as they seemed like my kind of folks, but I kept moving. I stopped briefly in Benson to meet a friend of a friend, and kept on down the road to Tucson. I stayed at my dear friend Abigail’s place out in saguaro cactus lands. She took good care of me as I lounged and took it easy. It was nice to be able to land at a place where I could simply be and rest.

Accidentally driving through Saguaro National Park.

The welcome sign at Renee’s in Phoenix.

In Phoenix, I parked Edna for three weeks in order catch a train west to see Ally and the family for the holidays. It was a nice break from the road. Back in Phoenix, it was my pleasure to spend some time with Renee, who’s house Edna had been living at. She was a tea drinker, and loved the tea bus for the fact that it brings diverse people together to interact. The thing I loved most about her was the she was a Trump voter, and she blew the stereotypes out of the water. These kinds of interactions are some of my favorite. I was very thankful for the spot to park Edna so I offered to help tile her daughter’s bedroom. Luckily a step-van dweller, Andi, who I had been consulting with solar stuff had just showed up in town with his wife Dorothy. He had remodeled bathrooms for 10 years of his life, and I had never laid a tile. He stepped it up with me, and we busted out the room in a day. All the while, Renee fed us great homemade food and tea and desserts. It made me dream more about my fantasies of helping people fix and build and get their basic needs met with a traveling free/gifting handyman service.

Two vans meet just before the Phoenix First Friday Artwalk.

Selfie at the Phoenix First Friday Artwalk.

At First Friday Artwalk in Phoenix, I serve what may be a record amount of tea. Over the course of 8 hours, I served 15 gallons of tea (about 300 cups) and had a line for most of the evening. It was a wonderful welcome to this big city. Some local tea people showed up for fun, and eventually served some tea out front of Edna on the rug. I nearly ran out of the 60 or so mugs that I keep around for tea. Even though I was busy as a bee, I got some great conversations in, and many, many people were able to connect and interact. What a wonderful night!

Meeting up with Seven! Wagon circle with Andi and Dorothy’s step van too!

In Phoenix, along with meeting up with Andy and Dorothy, we met up with Seven, who also has a step van. Andy and Dorothy had been following Seven’s YouTube channel, so we all become good friends and a sort of caravan. In Quartzsite, we all met up at SkooliePalooza, and next we meet up again at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (blog entry on both to come).

Now, I sit in Edna in the yard of William in Blythe, CA. William has opened up his space for me to park, as well as use some of the facilities. He’s a generous old-timer and ex-teacher with a fascination of vehicle dwelling and bicycles. His open mind has made our interactions great, and I look forward to getting to know him better as I spend the next 2 months writing in this area. I may take some voyages out to the desert, as well as to Quartzsite, which is just 22 miles down the road. Quartzsite is the largest gathering of nomadic people in North America (1-2 million people over the winter months). Most of these people are retired RVers, but many are van and skoolie dwellers, hitchhikers, and more. There’s flea markets, gems and minerals, overstock food tents, RVs for sale, and gatherings for everything from retired RVer singles meetups to school bus conversions to nudist camping. It’s an amazing place to junk around, meet people from all over the country, and find your traveling tribe.

I look forward to being in this area in order to complete The Tea Bus Factory Service Manual: A Guide to Small-Scale, Mobile, Off-Grid, Low-Cost, DIY, Earth-Friendly, and Reclaimed (SMOLDER) Living Systems. This will be a free PDF download, so as to be accessible to all.

MANY THANKS TO: Zita, Niki, and Frances at Colorado College for helping me get on campus; Dan at the CC shop, Maestra Stuart, Andres and family in C Springs; Andres in C Springs; Laura Goldhamer for being one of my favorite people in the world; Will for his kindness and hospitality; Gwen, for excellent work and community; Marcus and fam at the farm; Beloved Tiny House Community; Dylan for the great video; all the WVO sharers; Heidi and Andre in Santa Fe; Michael Combs, Nate Dog in ABQ; Punk in T or C; Evin in Silver City; Abigail in Tucson; Daniel G. for good catching up and a meal in Phoenix; Greg in Phoenix; Renee and Emily for being EXCELLENT hosts and sharers; Ashley and all the Phoenix tea peeps; Andi and Dorothy; Seven; William in Blythe; and the two dozen other people I forgot! 

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Seeking Winter Writing Retreat – Southwest United States

Edna needs some R&R time.

Edna needs some R&R time.

Hello, my community! Edna Lu (the Free Tea Bus) and I are looking for a place in the SW to hunker in for a few months this winter to finish writing The Tea Bus Factory Service Manual. As many of you know, I’ve been working on this book for a few years. I’m currently about 3/4th of the way done writing, and I need a place to finish it!

About a retreat space: So many places I go, I feel a great sense of wanting to reciprocate and help out (usually by fixing and building things). I need a place now to help my community in a different way: by finishing writing a free book that empowers people.

Necessities in a retreat space:

–       Space – I need to be able to hunker with little distraction. Mostly, I simply need a semi-level place to park Edna without lots of shade (need solar power to run my computer).
–       Nearby access to real food – Preferably 1 hour or less of a drive to a town that has real (organic/local) food.
–       WiFi and/or Verizon 4G data service. I need these things for research. I’d be open to not having these things onsite if it were easy to bike or walk to them.
–       Warmer nights (in the 40s+) or, if not, access to firewood (I’m pretty good at finding wood, whether in the forest, scrap, pallets, etc.).

Bonuses in a retreat space:
–       Access to a shower and toilet.
–       Access to water for filling my water tank.
–       Access to soil/plants to dump my greywater tank on.
–       Nearby town where I can serve up some free tea once every week or two.

Extreme bonuses:
–       Food provided.
–       Access to a workshop for a few small bus projects.

Time and location of retreat space:
I’m open to anywhere in the Southwest United States, and potentially even northern Mexico (Baja?). Sorry Texas, I can’t make it this time around. Currently, I’m in Colorado and plan on heading south in late November. Temperatures seem most welcoming in southern Arizona, and even southeast California (Slab City?). I’ve been looking at some free campsites about 45 minutes outside Phoenix, as well as some spots outside Tucson. I’d rather not be in the mountains due to cold, but I could be open to it with proper access to firewood.

About the book:
The Tea Bus Factory Service manual is a guide for small-scale, mobile, off-grid, low-cost, DIY, earth-friendly, and reclaimed living systems that uses Edna Lu, the Free Tea Bus as an example. Some of the systems and topics included are: water and plumbing, electricity and solar, WVO and biodiesel, coolant and utilizing waste engine heat, healthier options, reclaiming materials of all sorts and using them, and some of the philosophical ideas that guide these physical manifestations. One of the main aims of this book is to empower people with their own projects like tiny houses, vehicle conversions, off-grid cabins, and more. When people are able to live a more connected life to the things that make them live, they can focus less on “making a living” and more on things that are important to them. The book will be available to all for free as a PDF download, however I may eventually make a donation-based print version.

Thanks for taking the time to consider if you have a space, or know someone who does. Please share this post with people who you think may be able to help.

Thank you in advance!

Guisepi (and Edna Lu, the Free Tea Bus)

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Autumn Update – Longmont, CO

It seems like winter came and went already here in CO.

It seems like winter came and went already here in CO.

Edna at Gil's place in Hot Springs, AR

Edna at Gil’s place in Hot Springs, AR

Wow, it’s been quite a while, my friends! After a few months on the West Coast without Edna Lu the teabus, Ally and I got back on a train to Arkansas, where we hunkered in for more writing and bus projects. It was so so so nice to be hosted by Gil once again on his amazing property surrounded by Hot Springs National Park. We had our own little cabin and place to be. In exchange we shared food, stories, and did some work around the property. Gil said, “Rent is pages written.” It means a lot to both Ally and I to have someone like Gil to support our creative endeavors. This time allowed me to dig a little deeper in The Tea Bus Factory Service Manual (I’m about 3/4th of the way done writing), and Ally to work on finishing her novel. We also got to serve some tea at the Gallery Walk downtown Hot Springs a couple times, as well as at a café called Red Light Roastery, alongside live music. One of the simplest and best pleasures of being in Hot Springs, AR are all the wonderful city-maintained free springs. The water is SO good!

Geeky Stuff (scroll past italics, if needed):

Refinishing the floor and re-plumbing the fresh water outlet.

Refinishing the floor and re-plumbing the fresh water outlet.

In Arkansas, Edna’s floor got refinished, I un-mounted both WVO tanks for cleaning, and ended up having to replace the seals for the access panels (with Viton), I replaced the front brake lines, re-plumbed the fresh water outlet (in order to have the water draw from the curb side of the tank), and started making a new capacitance humidity probe for testing WVO for water content. I also worked on her back door and storage area, which I rebuilt with a fold down workspace in order to be more accommodating for my tools and working on small projects. I took the bed out and refinished it as well. I also put a new air pump on the dirty WVO tank for forcing moist air out of the tank when centrifuging. One of the last things I did was install an old heat exchanger on my clean WVO system right where it exits the tank. And thank goodness I did – it boosted my pressure and temps dramatically (both issues I had been fighting for the past year).

Refinishing the floor with Osmo Polyx Oil

Refinishing the floor with Osmo Polyx Oil

Dropping and cleaning the clean WVO tank.

Dropping and cleaning the clean WVO tank.

The new fold down tool storage unit.

The new fold down tool storage unit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving Arkansas was sad, and it felt like it might be a long, hot, humid drive to CO.  We were fortunate to leave in a cool spell, which kept us from being worn out. In Tulsa, OK, we spent time at the Woody Guthrie Center, did free yoga and showered on the splash pad on the Guthrie Green, attended a peace rally in response to Charlottesville, and had an all around swell time.

Woody

Edna at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK

DeVine Family free spring in Oklahoma.

DeVine Family free spring in Oklahoma.

In Waldron, KS, a town of 30 people, we visited our friends Sage and Aera (We Dream Dawn), shared in food (like their amazing grass-fed beef), and swam in a lake in Oklahoma. Sage let us pump 30 gallons of WVO from a nicely settled drum at his place. All this while surrounded by beautiful sunsets and old school buses. We left with a tenor banjo as a gift from Sage to Ally, in response to her inspiration from the Woody Guthrie Center. Nearby we gathered some fine spring water.

Sage and Aera's place in Waldron, KS. Busland!

Sage and Aera’s place in Waldron, KS. Busland!

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Welcome to Colorado!

We arrived Colorado almost two months after we were initially expecting. We immediately drove to Crestone to see Frank and Elena (and her kids). Frank is one of my mentors and teachers. I helped him build a straw bale house in Terlingua a couple winters ago. Recently, he bought 3 acres a couple blocks from downtown Crestone. We met up on his land for a wagon circle – his airstream and our bus – alongside a nice creek, under the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. What a magical place. Frank and Elena’s band, Paper Moonshiners, played while we were in town, as well as my old friend Laura Goldhamer. It was so nice to connect with old friends. We connected with one of the owners of the local grocery, café and music venue, named Benji. He started with a small teashop, and is all about cultivating community. Needless to say, he was extremely inviting, open, and was stoked to have the Free Tea Bus parked outside his place on a couple occasions, serving tea. Small towns like Crestone benefit so greatly from folks like Benji.

We also served tea at the Saturday Market right in downtown, where we met some great locals. I randomly met the brewmaster from Crestone Brewing Co. one day, who offered me 30 gallons of WVO without even asking. We were really enjoying being back in the land of the West where more people simply “get” the tea bus, where I began running into people I’ve served tea to before, where it was getting easier to simply be!

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Driving from Crestone to Crested Butte, CO.

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Mister Tinkerman’s Pinhole Beer Box Eclipse Viewer™

Down the road at Rainbow Park in Crested Butte, we arrived just in time for the eclipse. Because everyone else in the world had eclipse glasses, Ally and I became a hit with the head-mounted pinhole-camera style viewer I built from a beer box, along with our colander that projected dozens of eclipses. This sparked a fun run of interactions with strangers (even without serving tea – imagine that!), which led me across the street to a remodel, where I ended up getting hired.

The next week we camped in the mountains with friends Amanda and Colin from the PNW (home) and their VW Vanagon. Hiking, wild-harvesting, cooking on campfires, and more. One Friday we ventured into downtown Crested Butte and had an impromptu tea party on the street. It was bustling and fun, with college students from nearby Gunnison, locals, and tourists from around the country.

Wagon circle in the mountains with Ruby Sue

Ruby Sue and Edna Lu: Wagon circle in the mountains

Atop the mountains outside Crested Butte

Atop the mountains outside Crested Butte

The remodel in Crested Butte.

The remodel in Crested Butte.

For three weeks I labored away on the remodel across from Rainbow Park. It was an ideal situation. I was mostly making window trim with salvaged wood and installing recycled siding – all on a house that was being retrofitted for energy efficiency (with a layer of rock wool on the exterior), and solar panels on the roofs… not to mention the already amazing passive solar kitchen and living room. My co-workers were great guys, and we cruised steadily along ahead of schedule. Edna was parked along the street right next to the jobsite. Across the street was a bathroom at the park. Ally was able to be in our home, ride my bike around town, and hang out at the creek nearby. We were invited to serve tea at the Farmers’ Market for a couple weekends, where we also met a wonderful woman, Roxana, who, along with her family, opened their home to us for showering, just a half block from the jobsite. It was so great getting to know all of them.

Job site with a view of Mount Crested Butte and Rainbow Park.

Job site with a view of Mount Crested Butte and Rainbow Park.

Cash, Roxana, and Paloma picking in Edna.

Cash, Roxana, and Paloma picking in Edna.

Serving tea t the Crested Butte Farmers' Market

Serving tea at the Crested Butte Farmers’ Market

At the Farmers’ Market, I was able to share lots of free tea, right there amongst all the booths. Also, at Rainbow Park we had a tea party at a wedding/reception (“We didn’t crash the wedding… Your wedding crashed our tea party!”). It was an awesome experience, as many of the folks in attendance were excited to come aboard and have conversations. Good peeps!

Instagram Post: This is Colby and Buzz. They came aboard the Free Tea Bus last Sunday at the Crested Butte Farmers' Market. They were curious about free tea, and I told them, "Some of your teachers or parents may not like that I say this, but I'm here to say that despite what we've been taught, money is not the most valuable thing in the world - relationships are."  Their basic human instincts for Reciprocal Altruism kicked in when they came back later with gifts of a peach and an apple.  One of their moms, who was on the bus, later wrote in an email to me, "Who knew two eight year old boys would enjoy a cup of tea and conversation?"  These are the kinds of genuine human interactions that I love about the tea bus. They inspire, bring out deep human instincts like sharing, and shift culture.

Instagram Post: This is Colby and Buzz. They came aboard the Free Tea Bus last Sunday at the Crested Butte Farmers’ Market. They were curious about free tea, and I told them, “Some of your teachers or parents may not like that I say this, but I’m here to say that despite what we’ve been taught, money is not the most valuable thing in the world – relationships are.”
Their basic human instincts for Reciprocal Altruism kicked in when they came back later with gifts of a peach and an apple.
One of their moms, who was on the bus, later wrote in an email to me, “Who knew two eight year old boys would enjoy a cup of tea and conversation?”
These are the kinds of genuine human interactions that I love about the tea bus. They inspire, bring out deep human instincts like sharing, and shift culture.

Joe from Permanent Roadtrip

Joe from Permanent Roadtrip

 

During our time near Rainbow Park, I stumbled out of the bathroom one morning to a double-sliding-door Sprinter van that I recognized. “Hey, I saw a video about you guys,” I said. It turns out that Emilie went to school with our dear friend, Lisa, who had sent me a video about her and her partner Joe. They had quit their jobs, downsized, and are traveling the country with their dog camping, riding mountain bikes, and adventuring. After spending 4 days with us, sharing meals, and pretty much in a generosity battle, they left telling us that this was the longest they had been in one place since they started their journey 8 months prior. It felt good to help them slow down. Join them at Permanent Roadtrip (Instagram, Facebook, website).

Spring water outside Crested Butte!

Spring water outside Crested Butte!

On our way out of Crested Butte, we stopped once again at a family owned natural spring at Cold Spring Ranch, which flowed with delicious water.

Set up at Festival of the Muses, next to the Kasbah Boutique wagon.

Set up at Festival of the Muses, next to the Kasbah Boutique wagon.

Back near Crestone at Joyful Journey Hot Springs we were invited to The Festival of the Muses: A Goddess Gathering. A festival designed for empowering the feminine, this was a perfect fit for Ally and I to both have things to share. While I was set up to serve tea, Ally opened up her relationship therapy, emotional health facilitation, and female cycle awareness to all attendees to sign up for, for free. So often we are fulfilling my passions, like serving tea, and fixing/building things, that it was awesome to come to a place where she could simply plug in and do the things she loves and is good at.

Some of my favorite powerful women: Katie, Bridget, Ally, Bonnie, and Enion.

Some of my favorite powerful women: Katie, Bridget, Ally, Bonnie, and Enion.

Leaving the mountains was an incredible drive, as the Autumn colors were beginning to show. We stopped at a river-side pull off where I got a chance to do some fishing and we refreshed from the festival.

After a brief stay in Lyons, we headed up to Loveland to set up the tea bus for the wedding of Tierro and Bridget (my ex-partner). At Sunrise Ranch (an eco-community, and site of Arise Festival), Ally and I spent a day and a half helping setup for the wedding, including creating a free tea zone at the ceremony site. I felt at home with the company of many of my western US peeps, like the Shook Twins and Nico, Elephant Revival folks, and more. It was a wonderfully beautiful wedding and party with delicious food and great live music. I think it was the first wedding I’ve served tea at. Lovely!

Bridget and Tierro's wedding site at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.

Bridget and Tierro’s wedding site at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.

Most recently, we’ve settled in at McCauley Family Farm outside Longmont, CO. It’s a sweet little farm that specializes in pastured meat, eggs, and delicious ferments. We were drawn here by Gwen, a fellow bus dweller. Ages ago, I spent quite a bit of time on her family land in Sonoma County, CA, where I built-out some of Edna. Years later, I helped guide her through purchasing her own full-sized bus. Now, three years later, she drove it out to CO in order to go to graduate school at Naropa. While she built out much of her bus in California over the past few years, there have still been some projects to do. She asked me to come help her, which has been one of my main focuses.

Wagon circle at McCauley Family Farm with Gwen's bus Marguerite, and the farm's tiny house where Zack and Luna live.

Wagon circle at McCauley Family Farm with Gwen’s bus Marguerite, and the farm’s tiny house where Zack and Luna live.

Edna through a porthole from Gwen's bus Marguerite.

Edna through a porthole from Gwen’s bus Marguerite.

My largest project on Gwen’s bus has been insulating, wiring, and woodworking a 6’ x 8’ x 2’ tall pop-up over her kitchen. I’ve been using salvaged cedar fence panels, and other salvaged wood for most of the project. ReSource, the salvaged building material store here in Boulder, is what these kinds of stores used to be: reasonably priced, great selection, and friendly folks. I also installed her wood stove, a propane heater, and am preparing to finish out her bathtub/shower. More photos to come.

Wonderful gifts from Organic India, my friend Ilya, and WishGarden Herbs.

Wonderful gifts from Organic India, my friend Ilya, and WishGarden Herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

Over a two-day period, I traveled to both WishGarden Herbs and Organic India in order to serve tea to these companies who have been so graciously donating to the Free Tea Bus for many years. At both companies, it was great to meet many of the employees and have them aboard for tea, to see the warehouses and facilities, and to have inspiring conversations. I was impressed by Organic India’s on site garden and meditation/yoga room. Sam, the CEO of WishGarden, invited me over to his place to stay the night. I had an excellent time getting to know him, his wife, and his kids. The kids pretty much wanted to move in to Edna.

Birthday tea party on Pearl St in Boulder, CO.

Birthday tea party on Pearl St in Boulder, CO.

For my birthday, we hosted a Free Tea Party in downtown Boulder at the Pearl St. Mall. It was a wonderful occasion, with a great parking spot facing out towards the mall and intersection. Many folks were in attendance – even my mom showed up to surprise me, all the way from Washington! Wow!

The best birthday present: a surprise visit from my mom.

The best birthday present: a surprise visit from my mom. Photo: Angie Barnes

Now, as I begin to think about heading south for the winter, we are looking to see a few more folks around CO. Next week, we head to Colorado Springs, where we’ll be serving tea and giving a talk at Colorado College, where I went to school. In Denver we’ll host some tea parties as well. Come mid-November, Ally will head west on the train, like she often does for the winter. I will head south, as I search out a retreat space to finish writing The Tea Bus Factory Service Manual.

Do you have any suggestions for places in the SW to retreat for a couple months?

I hope to see you down the road for a cuppa tea!

Cooking on a fire in the mountains of CO.

Cooking on a fire in the mountains of CO.

Filling up on WVO from a local restaurant in Crested Butte.

Filling up on WVO from a local restaurant in Crested Butte.

Plumbing in an old heat exchanger early in the clean WVO system (with looped return valve).

Plumbing in an old heat exchanger early in the clean WVO system (with looped return valve).

Soldering a new capacitance moisture probe for WVO.

Soldering a new capacitance moisture probe for WVO.

THANKS: Gil, for being an amazing friend in Hot Springs, AR and taking us out in Tulsa; Adam, Brianna, and Jen at Red Light Roastery; Tim and Jennifer Monnot, for being fellow inspiring skoolie folks; Sage and Aera in Waldron, KS for excellent hosting and a respite in the middle of nowhere; Frank and Elena; Benji; Alma in Crestone; Greg from Crestone Brewing Co.; Amanda and Colin; Rob, Rob, Chris and the other builders from End of the Road Construction; Julie from Guerilla Composting; The Crested Butte Farmers’ Market; Cherisse, for being an old friend in a new place; Emilie and Joe for being community for us fellow van dwellers; Roxana and the family for showers and good community; Mackenzie from The Festival of the Muses; Bonnie and Dan; Oracle for the AirBNFree in Lyons and letting us borrow the solar golf cart; Emily Yates for sharing good stories and kale; All the folks at Sunrise Ranch; Bridget and Tierro for making an excuse for a community gathering, and for hosting us so much for food, showers, internet and a bed; The Shooks and Nico for hand delivering letters to Thomas, WV; Marcus and the family at McCauley Family Farm for welcoming us in to stay with non-calculated sharing; Gwen, for inviting, sharing, and being lovely community in our little wagon circle; Sam, Anna and all the employees at WishGarden; Satya and all the folks at Organic India; Ilya, for taking me on a tour of the Celestial Seasoning Factory; My mom, Beth, for surprising me for my birthday;

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Spring Update – Headed to Colorado!

Edna at the Farmers' Market  in Boulder, Colorado in 2012.

Edna at the Farmers’ Market in Boulder, Colorado in 2012.

It’s been a while folks. I’ve been head down, writing the Tea Bus Factory Service Manual, as well as traveling without Edna for the past few months visiting friends and family out west for weddings, births, birthdays, and more. I reunited with my partner, Ally, in Nevada City, where I write to you from now. On Sunday, we get on a train back to Edna in Arkansas, where we prepare for a few-week journey from AR to OK, KS, and finally CO. We hope to see you along the way!

This summer’s plan: Head to Colorado! I’m looking forward to serving tea, seeing old friends, and making some new ones. And I’m looking for recommendations!

First of all, I want to know where we should visit, whom we should see, and where we should serve tea.

Second, I am looking for a place to call home base for the summer in Colorado. Where can Edna, myself, and Ally plug into that wants good company, a handy man, and a community organizer?

Thirdly, I am looking for a good project or two to plug into for a month or two. I would love to help fix or build anything, especially if it has to do with small-scale, mobile, off-grid, low-cost, DIY, eco-friendly, and reclaimed projects. While I am open to some alternative compensation (gifting, work-trade, pay-it-forward, etc.), I am ultimately hoping to find some paid work. To see what kind of work I do, check out my latest big project: http://freeteaparty.org/blog/front-street-grocers-thomas-wv/

For the right project, I would be willing to be anywhere in CO (and perhaps WY, UT, or NM).

Check out my Craig’s List ad for more details!

Contact me here to be in touch!

I hope to see you along the way!
Guisepi (and Edna Lu, the Free Tea Bus)

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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 Josh 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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