Summer Update – Thomas, WV

Our summer home in Thomas, WV

Our summer home in Thomas, WV

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

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

Spring to Kettle.

Spring to Kettle.

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

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

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

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

It feels good to be HOME!

It feels good to be HOME!

Front Street Grocers.

Front Street Grocers.

So, without hesitation…

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

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

Douglas Falls

Douglas Falls

Front Street Grocer provides FREE FRUIT to engage to community.

Front Street Grocer provides FREE FRUIT to engage to community.

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

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

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

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

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

Let me know what you think of the new changes.

Enjoy!

Folks gather on 4th of July weekend for tea.

Folks gather on 4th of July weekend for tea.

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

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

William from #AmericanCultureIs plays some classical music on Edna.

William from #AmericanCultureIs plays some classical music on Edna.

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

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

4th of July weekend.

4th of July weekend.

Corey holds a new banner.

Corey holds a new banner.

Preparing to serve tea at ArtSpring.

Preparing to serve tea at ArtSpring.

Hanging with Konrad from Possessed by Paul James during ArtSpring.

Hanging with Konrad from Possessed by Paul James during ArtSpring.

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Transmission Mission – Mooresville, NC (NASCAR Country)

Edna gets hooked up!

Edna gets hooked up!

Wow, I am stunned…

Luckily we were home while waiting for a tow!

Luckily we were home while waiting for a tow!

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

Finally getting a tow.

Finally getting a tow.

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

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

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

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

The nephews!

The nephews!

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

Edna mounting the tow truck.

Edna mounting the tow truck.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edna, hanging with the big boys.

Edna, hanging with the big boys.

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

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

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

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

The old bands and clutches.

The old bands and clutches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I have my community to thank!

IMG_3559

Reunited with Edna!

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Mother Earth News Fair and More! – Asheville, NC

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

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

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

Ally helps gather spring water prior to the fair.

Ally helps gather spring water prior to the fair.

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

The weekend opened with threatening weather.

The weekend opened with threatening weather.

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

Guests and hosts!

Guests and hosts!

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

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

John of Food is Free Project holds my adapted sticker.

John of Food is Free Project holds my adapted sticker.

Guests and music.

Guests and music.

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

Not a vendor, but a sponsor!

Not a vendor, but a sponsor!

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

Guisepi and Ally serving up Isla Botanica tea.

Guisepi and Ally serving up Isla Botanica tea.

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

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

Guests play and listen to the oil tin ukulele.

Guests play and listen to the oil tin ukulele.

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

New friends in downtown Asheville.

New friends in downtown Asheville.

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

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

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

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

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

Kelan and Aether.

Kelan and Aether.

Kelan pours some tea.

Kelan pours some tea.

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Spring Update 2016 – Efland, NC

Celebrating 8 years of Edna and 3 years of our North American Tour at CCB Plaza at Third Friday Artwork in Durham, NC.

Celebrating 8 years of Edna and 3 years of our North American Tour  at Third Friday Artwork in Durham, NC.

Ah, with the new growth of spring comes another year of Edna and my 2+ Year North American Tour. Eight years ago today, I purchased Edna, knowing she would be built out into a mobile free teahouse, and eventually travel from sea to sea. Three years ago today, after five years of traveling the west coast, serving a ton of free tea, and building Edna into a permaculturists playground on wheels, we left on a multi-year North American tour. Our travels have been slow, allowing us to settle in places, build our community, and serve a lot of free tea. From Texas to Maine, from Southern CA to North Carolina, we’ve been meeting new people, helping people fix and build things, doing bus projects and maintenance, and pushing the boundaries of words like WORK and FREE and INTERDEPENDENCE and SHARING.

Sweeping snow off of Edna's solar panel.

Sweeping snow off of Edna’s solar panel.

Over the past three months since our last update, we’ve been mellow. The plan for the winter was to spend it writing. And I’m proud to say that lots of writing has been accomplished! What am I writing? Some of you have figured it out. I am writing the Tea Bus Factory Service Manual. This will be a freely downloadable, Creative Commons licensed PDF featuring all of the systems of Edna Lu the teabus as an example and inspiration for your own personal small-scale, DIY, low-environmental impact, and mobile living systems. This includes info on solar/electrical systems, water systems (fresh, filtered, hot, and grey), using coolant to heat things (waste vegetable oil, water, air, etc.), running alternative fuels like waste vegetable oil and biodiesel, building with salvaged materials, and so much more. Each section has primers on skills, tools, and materials needed, including tips on salvaging and purchasing the greener options. I’m excited to share it when completed! This will hopefully be later this year.

Sip[ping tea with strangers in Durham, NC.

Sipping tea with strangers in Durham, NC.

Over the past few months, we served tea on New Years Eve to celebrate 10 years of free tea, at a Black Lives Matter/Say Her Name rally in Durham, at a Really Really Free Market in Carrboro, at a Last Friday Artwalk in Hillsboro, and at a Third Friday Artwalk in Durham. We also went to Carolina Friends School (again) and hosted a workshop for middle-school boys called Bros on the Bus, where we talked about flirting and other fun things about growing up. Although we haven’t been out serving tea much, the few times we have been out, we’ve been well received and had a great time.

Bus Projects (skip if uninterested):

New water filter (Doulton) with silver impregnated ceramic element with a carbon core.

New water filter (Doulton) with silver impregnated ceramic element with a carbon core.

Of course, bus projects are continual. This winter, we’ve seen: Replumbing the coolant system into two loops (Loop 1: clean WVO system; Loop 2: either dirty WVO system or hot water heater, or neither, as well as the Webasto and heater core), installing a new light above the dash area, installing a new solar tilt system (blog entry to come), working on a solar dump to heat hot water with waste solar power (still in the works), fixing the skylight support system (for when it’s open), attempting to solve an air leak in one of my Racor fuel filters (still in process), fixing some minor electrical issues, installing a new water filter, installing a high-pressure adjustable propane regulator, etc.

The new loop/unloop switch. This allows me to choose whether to loop or unload my clean WVO system. The inlet  (left center of switch) bring the return fuel from the engine, and chooses whether to send it back to the tank (upper hose barb shown) after changing the filter and there's air in the system, or back into "send" fuel line (inlet is right hose barb, and outlet is on left through pre-fuel pump filter).

The new loop/unloop switch. This allows me to choose whether to loop or unload my clean WVO system. The inlet (left center of switch) bring the return fuel from the engine, and chooses whether to send it back to the tank (upper hose barb shown) after changing the filter and there’s air in the system, or back into “send” fuel line (inlet is right hose barb, and outlet is on left through pre-fuel pump filter).

I also have been trying to figure out why my WVO system has been losing heat. I thought it might have been the way I mounted my final heat exchanger (facing down), when it should have been placed with the WVO outlet facing up, or at the upper end of the heat exchanger. I removed the heat exchanger half thinking it would be filled with polymerized oil from having air caught it, plus a ton of heat, but nope, it looked pretty clean. I cleaned it out, and put it back together, and  relocated it to face the proper direction, only to not have solved my heat problem. I also removed a rear, and likely unnecessary heat exchanger, which definitely had a lot of polymerization in it (probably because it was facing down). I haven’t driven at all since I completed this, but I don’t think much has changed, heat-wise. I’m still trying to figure out if there’s some hidden polymerization in the final heat exchanger, or what???

The new location for the final heat exchanger, and access panel.

The new location for the final heat exchanger, and access panel.

As part of my WVO replumb, I installed a pressure relief valve on the WVO filter head. I have a history of WVO leaks, stemming from pressure building in the clean WVO system from heat. It can’t expand because there’s a 3 way switch in the front of the system, and a fuel pump that doesn’t allow fuel to flow backwards in the back of the system. Originally, this was showing itself as a spike in the fuel pressure when running bio/diesel because the o-rings in the 3-way valve were letting excess pressure it slip by. When I replaced the 3-way valve with one that can stand higher pressure (WVO Designs), that problem stopped, but fuel started to leak elsewhere – especially around the fuel filter housing. Hence the pressure relief valve. I haven’t driven much yet, so we’ll see how it holds up!

Lisa and a newborn goat on the homestead in Efland, NC.

Lisa and a newborn goat on the homestead in Efland, NC.

A HUGE shout-out to Randall and Lisa of Fireside Farm, where we have been staying for the winter. This little homestead has been such a blessing. Our hosts offered us a place to write for the winter, a tiny community to be with, and an atmosphere for learning and growth. In exchange, we have been helping out around the homestead, fixing and building things, preparing food, fermenting a ton of food and beverages, cleaning, organizing and offering our support in the ways we know how.

The house I was deconstructing in Bonlee, NC.

The house I was deconstructing in Bonlee, NC.

I also spent a week in Bonlee, NC as en employee of the ReUse Warehouse, a salvaged building material non-profit based in Durham. I was hired to single-handedly take as much wood out of a house as I could as quickly as I could in order to salvage the material, as well as get it ready to be burned by the fire department. It was a tough, but super fun job. I pulled 5 floors, 4 rooms of wall paneling, a ton of trim, and most of the larger siding pieces.

Our future has never been so planned! We leave early April for Asheville to attend and serve tea at Mother Earth News Fair. We’ve never been to Asheville, so we’re looking forward to it! We will be stationed by the main gate, where 18,000-20,000 people will walk through over the weekend. Wow!

Serving tea at a Black Lives Matter/Say Her Name rally in Durham, NC.

Serving tea at a Black Lives Matter/Say Her Name rally in Durham, NC.

After a month back in Efland of writing and bus projects, we take a couple weeks through Virginia on our way up to Thomas, WV, where I will be working for the summer. I will be working with friends to help do a salvaged remodel of a soon-to-open grocery store, music listening/recording room, an apartment, a bakery, and perhaps a little work on their earthen tiny house hotel. I feel blessed to work with good people, doing work that is within my moral framework.

Strangers become friends over a hot cuppa tea in Durham, NC.

Strangers become friends over a hot cuppa tea in Durham, NC.

Traveling the west is much easier for me. I can go almost anywhere on the west coast and have a place to park, good work (monetarily compensated or not), community to be with, and more. Since heading east, those things have been more rare, as these relationships take time to build. In this process, it’s been a little harder for me to get my ever so small monetary needs met. I only need to make about $6,000 or $7,000 a year in order to live well (most of this goes to bus maintenance and projects, then food, tools, biodiesel, and on down the list). As my monetary resource have dwindled, the work offer in Thomas was crucial, welcomed, and feels absolutely right. That being said, I will be serving some tea in WV, and hope to make a few side trips as well.

Randall and Ally hanging around the homestead.

Randall and Ally hanging around the homestead.

Mad love to all the folks who have sent sweet care packages of tea and supplies: Alex for the maple syrup; Annie of Pollinator Handmade for the tea, teacups and tea towels; Casey in Brooklyn for the 3 month Global Tea Hut subscription; White Deer Apothecary for the Fire Cider, tea, and tinctures; Joanna Kulezsa for the 4×5 framed portrait; and so many more!

Also: A HUGE THANKS to the 35 or so folks who pitched in more than $600 dollars to help get a mega order of tea bus stickers made. Wow, I was floored at the response to our need. We now have stickers for the next 2-3 years to give out! Wow!

New stickers!

New stickers!

Our Little Cod wood stove cooking tea and oatmeal mid-winter.

Our Little Cod wood stove cooking tea and oatmeal mid-winter.

The "Belf" (bench-shelf). One of the projects I helped build around the homestead.

The “Belf” (bench-shelf). One of the projects I helped build around the homestead.

The newly freshened up and cleaned final WVO heat exchanger.

The newly freshened up and cleaned final WVO heat exchanger.

Lots of polymerization in the rear (and permanently removed) heat exchanger.

Lots of polymerization in the rear (and permanently removed) heat exchanger.

Celebrating 8 years of Edna and 3 years of our North American Tour at CCB Plaza at Third Friday Artwork in Durham, NC.

Celebrating 8 years of Edna and 3 years of our North American Tour at CCB Plaza at Third Friday Artwork in Durham, NC.

The new clean WVO coolant loop outlet from the engine (with temperature sensor and 12v circulating pump).

The new clean WVO coolant loop outlet from the engine (with temperature sensor and 12v circulating pump).

 

 

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10 Years of Free Tea – Durham, NC

10 years and almost 30,000 cups of free tea.

10 years and almost 30,000 cups of free tea. That’s nearly 8 cups of tea a day for 10 years!

10 years ago, I was lonely. I was living in my pickup truck and working 50-60+ hours a week in front of a computer as a video editor in Hollywood. When we finished the rough cut of the documentary, my hours dropped to 30-40 hours a week. With all this free time suddenly dumped in my lap, I realized that I had almost no friends, and no community.

What does a 22-year-old do when they want to meet people? In Los Angeles, like so many places, the best and most acceptable option was going to the bar. I tried my luck a couple times, but the noise and dim lights didn’t help foster good conversation. And to top it off, I was approached both times by women who asked if I could buy them a drink. Wow, was it me, or was that the least genuine human interaction I could possibly have? These people only wanted to talk to me because they wanted my money.

Serving tea back in the day.

Serving tea back in the day.

One evening, in January of 2006 as I left work, I ended up driving down to Hollywood Boulevard to cook dinner on my tailgate. As some of you know, the characters who find themselves on Hollywood Blvd. are what give that town the name Hollyweird. That night, and the several nights that followed over the next couple weeks would shape my life in ways that I hadn’t imagined.

When I pulled out my camp stove on those evenings, and started cooking dinner, instantly there were curious passersby who would stop to chat. “What are you doing?” “Why are you cooking dinner here?” There was the Nazi gutter punk street kid, Lefty, and the guy who dressed up like the Christmas Bunny (whatever that was). Then there was the gangster with street names tattooed on his face, and that family from Japan. Oh, and there was the sweet Hispanic family from East LA. Then Rudi from the Erotic Museum, and the Middle Eastern shopkeeper. Geraldine was a German music student, and Lunchbox lived on the street. A club promoter came by, followed by a college professor. Some of them I fed food. Some of them I fed conversation. And after dinner was done, to keep the interaction going, I put on the kettle.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard 2+ years after first starting to serve tea.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard 2+ years after first starting to serve tea.

All of a sudden I had community! And so did they!

For the same price I could buy a girl a drink at the bar, I could buy 100 Lipton tea bags and have 100 genuine human interactions.

I had discovered that when my interactions with people had money taken out of them, it made them much more genuine. There was something about unconditional sharing that created trust in a way that no interaction based around profit maximization could. And no wonder, because people have been using free tea for thousands of years as a way to create bonds between people.

All of a sudden people started saying, “Hey, when are you going to be serving tea again?” “Hey, it’s the tea guy!” “It’s the tea man!”

I thought to myself, “I don’t even know if I like tea!” And then I thought about it more, “I guess I could be the tea guy.”

Making tea made me happy!

Making tea made me happy!

After those three months on Hollywood Blvd, and when I left LA, I served tea wherever I went as a way to meet people. There was never a FREE TEA sign, just the welcoming camp chairs, rug, and steaming kettle. Those first few years, I probably only served tea about once-a-month, but nonetheless, people enjoyed it, and I met the most eclectic people everywhere I went.

After a long stay in my hometown, I hit the road again, stopping in Seattle to serve some tea on Broadway with my friend Elena. After a great evening of street kids, Christian missionaries, and Seattle yuppies, Elena turned to me and said, “You have to do this… more.”

And that’s when I realized that making free tea was going to be the main function of my existence.

Edna survives the mountains and deserts of Big Bend National Park.

Edna survives the mountains and deserts of Big Bend National Park.

As most of you know, I spent the next 8 years building out and traveling the country in Edna Lu, the teabus. In fact, we have served almost 30,000 cups of free tea, which ends up being on average almost 8 cups of tea a day for 10 years! New Years’ has become an anniversary of sort, as the first tea parties occurred in January of 2006.

New Years Eve in Durham, NC

New Years Eve in Durham, NC

Last night we drove the tea bus down to downtown Durham, NC to bring in the New Year and celebrate ten years of serving free tea. Wow, ten years! I still can’t believe it. What does this mean? Am I lonely any more? Nope! Do I feel as inspired serving tea as I did way back then? Yup! Every tea party presents new characters and new ideas. I am actually happy to say that something that has never ever happened before happened last night – the money drawer in the Gift & Take was emptied.

As many of you know, the Gift & Take money drawer is for anyone to put in and anyone to take out. There is an allegory about the Gift & Take that I often use: The Gift & Take has never, ever been empty, which says to me that when you trust people, even strangers, they will take personal responsibility for themselves in relation to the whole 99% of the time.

Last night, a nicely dressed fellow came to the bus with a sad story of hard times. He was a minister, one-time staff sergeant, and had done homeless outreach. But due to a series of events, he had been locked out of his apartment for not having rent money. All he needed was a small amount to get his landlord to open his apartment back up.

The Gift & Take

The Gift & Take

I told him he was in luck and that he came to the perfect place. “You see that set of drawers over there? There’s one for money, where anyone can put in and anyone can take out, based on excess or need.”

“Wait, seriously? Can I?”

“You don’t need to ask me, you just need to ask yourself.”

He looked half startled and feeling like he was in a dream. At first he took all the cash (probably around $20), and then he asked about the change in the drawer. I gave him the same response. And then, amusingly, he asked for a bag to put all the money in.

I could have been heart-broken that the drawer was empty, and my faith in the goodness of people when given the opportunity to act responsibly could have been destroyed… But, as tea guest Ellen said that night, when you give people that responsibility, inevitably there will be someone who has had hard times compared to the rest, and there will inevitably be people who need everything that’s in the drawer.

A typical day on Hollywood Blvd.

A typical day on Hollywood Blvd.

I am also amused to think of the sight when that fellow counts the money. People have been putting coins from all over the world, pennies painted with peace signs, parking coins, and more into that Gift & Take for many, many years. He did not take the wooden nickel, nor the coin good for “One Dollar in Trade for Whiskey, Women, or Tobacco.” He also did not take any of the money in the coin dispenser.

Whether the money was for rent or drugs, what this man really needed wasn’t necessarily money, but for someone to treat him as a human being. Just as I was needing to be received as a human being on Hollywod Blvd. ten years ago, I could see from the look on his face that this is exactly what he received.

As I reflect on a decade of sharing tea for free, I can’t help but think about power that sharing has. It has given me purpose and happiness. It has made me realize that sharing is completely karmic, and the reason I can travel around sharing is because of all the sharing that is done with me. You give and you receive – this is how the world works. The tea bus has also created impacts on people that I can only begin to see. Beyond the emails and stories of how the tea bus has inspired people, I can only imagine the effects that it has had. For a culture of hyper-individualism, mega-consumption, and fast-paced lifestyles, the tea bus has been a remedy for many, a natural reaction to our current conundrums. If you feel inspired, check out our Share Page for ways to help the tea bus to keep sharing.

Thanks to decade of tea guests.

Thanks to all of the help from friends, family, and strangers.

And thanks especially to loneliness and Hollywood Boulevard.

Serving tea on Hollywood Blvd in 2014, 8 years after the first time.

Serving tea on Hollywood Blvd in 2014, 8 years after the first time.

 

 

 

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Maine to Georgia (or Not!) – Winter Update – Efland, NC

Our winter home on Fireside Farm in Efland, NC

Our winter home on Fireside Farm in Efland, NC

More than a month and a half ago, Ally, Edna Lu The Teabus and I left Maine on a long journey south to potentially spend the winter in Georgia. I had decided that after years of pushing off “wintrospection,” that it was finally time to work on all the winter projects I had been wanting to. Plus, Ally was aiming to finish writing her novel.

Ally enjoys Jiling and Billy's music at Out on a Whim Farm.

Ally enjoys Jiling and Billy’s music at Out on a Whim Farm.

After picking up a new solar panel and charge controller in Massachusetts, our first stop was at Out on a Whim Farm in Bethany, CT. We arrived in time to see our herbalist friend Jiling as she was setting up for her weekly herbalism class. This week’s topic was on tea, so she had invited me to sit in and share some knowledge along side her. It was fun to get to share some of the tea and herb knowledge I have acquired in a semi-formal setting.

Out on a Whim Farm is a sweet old barn and connected house, with each room decorated with fancy junk – everything from antiques to quirky second-hand finds. Billy, who owns the farm, is a retired doctor who has grown out his beard and dread locks, and is usually without shoes. He’s taken his love for healing people to a whole new level since retiring. Billy offers a community hub for locals, respite for travelers, and a monthly barn dance of sorts called BMAD.

The amazing colors of Sleeping Giant in CT.

The amazing colors of Sleeping Giant in CT.

Preparing to serve tea at BMAD along Route 69 in Bethany, CT.

Preparing to serve tea at BMAD along Route 69 in Bethany, CT.

After exploring the area (scrumping apples, hiking through fall colors at Sleeping Giant, wild-harvesting autumn olives, etc.), we were convinced to stay for the monthly Bethany Music and Dance, or BMAD that weekend. The evening was a fanciful whirlwind of live music in every room, from bluegrass to drum circles to square dancing. We set up Edna Lu the Teabus right outside The Big Room, and served tea well into the evening. Our interactions were spectacular, and many new friends were made.

The insulated water house I built at Meadowburn Farm.

The insulated water house I built at Meadowburn Farm.

Installing Edna's new 320 watt solar panel.

Installing Edna’s new 320 watt solar panel.

After our week in New York City (read about it and our New York Times article here), we made our way to northern New Jersey to Meadowburn Farm to visit with my college friend, Quill and her friend Nick. After a week of being in NYC, we were ready for some down time, and Meadowburn turned out to be perfect for this. We spent our days resting, or working around the farm, and I installed Edna’s new solar charge controller and panel. We drank gallons of free raw cow’s milk from the farm’s cows, hiked through the fields and forest, and had family meals every night with good conversations and company. Our couple of days there turned into a week. I finished our stay by finishing an insulated water house, built around a spigot, filter and hose to increase the season which the spigot could be left on to include early Spring and late Fall.

In West Philly passerby Nas stops in for some tea and fills out a Share Card.

In West Philly passerby Nas stops in for some tea and fills out a Share Card.

In Philadelphia, we met up with Jon and Meagan (remember them from Blues Recess Massive?). They’re two of our favorite Quaker activists, and they welcomed us warmly. We spent our evenings at Clark Park, and even decided to open up one day there to serve tea. The day was slow, but good. The diversity that Philly holds definitely came out in the people who showed up for tea.

The new drain (from sink to greywater tank).

The new drain (from sink to greywater tank).

Down the road, we stopped in Dover, PA, where our friend Sarah and her family live. They welcomed us with food and community. Sarah’s dad was excited to help with some plumbing I was fixing (replacing the whole sink drain from sink to greywater tank), and I was grateful for it.

After wandering through Harper’s Ferry, Charlestown, and Sherpardstown, WV we stopped in to Middleburg, VA, where we got some waste vegetable oil from a restaurant that Ally used to work at.

Tea guests in Warrenton, VA.

Tea guests in Warrenton, VA.

Finally, we settled into Warrenton for the week around Thanksgiving. Ally grew up in Warrenton, so much of our time was taken by family and friends. I had the chance to install a new drain for my hot water tank. In downtown Warrenton, we got the chance to serve tea on Shop Small Saturday in front of Ally’s friend’s shop. We made tea for hours, and people loved it. One fellow stopped in to tell of his relationship woes; the head of the Chamber of Commerce came by and told us how much she loved the tea bus; and some of Ally’s old friends got to experience the tea bus firsthand.

The perfect place to be!

The perfect place to be!

In Mineral, VA, we were hosted by Acorn Community – a commune and seed company. They were celebrating their Thanksgiving late, so we got in on the fun, and served tea into the evening. People in this community were living much of our money/community/sharing talk. All money is made communally, and the community provides all food and shelter for people who live there. Ally and I are always talking about how if we didn’t have to use money ever again, we’d be perfectly happy sharing our skills freely.

A bunch of students at Carolina Friends School gather around as I talk about sharing.

A bunch of students at Carolina Friends School gather around as I talk about sharing.

Chatting with kids at Friends School.

Chatting with kids at Friends School.

In Efland, NC we were welcomed by Randall (who we had met in Philly) and his wife Lisa. They live on a 6 acre homestead called Fireside Farm and teach at a Quaker school nearby called Carolina Friends School. Their home was incredible, with chickens, goats, a garden, a sawmill, and more. Randall taught us how to run the sawmill and Ally how to drive the tractor. They also invited us to come to Friends School and make tea with the kids. We drove down there one day and parked in the middle of campus. Kids of all ages came throughout the day with their teachers. We chatted about the Gift Economy, sharing, relationships being the highest form of currency, etc. The kids at this school were so open to talking. I was impressed.

The bench I built for Hostel in the Forest.

The bench I built for Hostel in the Forest.

After a brief visit to Savannah, GA, we arrived at Hostel in the Forest, our potential winter destination. The Hostel is an amazing Ewok village of domes, tree houses, composting outhouses, and good community. As we prepared to dig in, we were faced with one major setback – there was nowhere to park and get sun on our solar panels. That, along with the fact that people aren’t supposed to use devices or computers in common areas, made it hard for us to attempt our main winter goals of writing. This small logistical hiccup was just as important as getting the right parking spot to serve tea. The Hostel community was so welcoming, and kept us feeling comfortable, even after we decided not to stay. I also took the time to leave an imprint by building a small bench for the porch out of salvaged materials (Mr. Tinker strikes again!).

Billy shared some old vegetable oil that he had laying around with us.

Billy shared some old vegetable oil that he had laying around with us.

As we considered our departure from the Hostel, we had to think about finding waste vegetable oil, as we had used our stash to get us down there. In nearby Brunswick, we were having a heck of a time finding any waste oil. We were getting a lot of no’s, or yeses where the oil was too dirty, or where we couldn’t access the oil. But what was happening was that customers at the bars and restaurants we were asking at were super curious. We ended up in several conversations with all sorts of folks who ended up coming on the bus and checking it out. We had a truck driver, a guy who works for the US Marshall Service, and two fellows who were hesitant to tell us what they did. They sheepishly told us that they were federal agents with Homeland Security. They were super intrigued with the bus, and one of them pulled Ally aside and told her that many people in their line of work are waiting to retire to do something like we’re doing. Even his wife was into “micro houses.”

One restaurant we asked at was The Farmer and The Larder in downtown Brunswick. The owners, Matthew and Javon, didn’t have a deep fryer, but they took the tea bus and our search for vegetable oil to heart. Matthew made phone calls, asked his friends, and searched far and wide for us. In the meantime, when Ally and I ate at their restaurant on her birthday, our check came back with no $ owed, only a Happy Birthday wish. Matthew ended up finding us a huge supply of vegetable oil from the college.

The Farmer and The Larder is a farm to table restaurant, with hopes that most of the food come from the owners’ personal farm as the years go on. They offer lots of local and organic options, with so much emphasis put on quality. Lots of the interior is salvaged material, and you can feel the goodness of the place as soon as you walk in.

Ed Hose starts sketching her illustrations for my vegetable oil collecting card.

Ed Hose starts sketching her illustrations for my vegetable oil collecting card.

One evening as we were hanging in the bus outside The Farmer and The Larder, a couple knocked on the door. Moses and Ed came aboard, and as we explained our vegetable oil woes, Ed asked, “What do you need?” I said, “I dunno,” and then in passing, I told her that I was looking to make an illustrated card to hand to people at restaurants to give them a brief description of my bus and what it is, partially because it’s hard to tell people in one sentence when I walk into a restaurant to ask for waste vegetable oil. Moses and her gave each other a funny look. It turns out that Ed is an illustrator and my project was just up her alley. She went and grabbed a sketch pad and she started sketching while I showed her photos and explained a few things. Wow!

Just as Ally and I were feeling low on resources, people stepped in! Ed also linked us up with a couple different restaurants to give us waste vegetable oil. Another couple we met at a restaurant brought us out to lunch and let us shower at their place. The Farmer and the Larder gave us steep discounts on lunch. And it went on and on. Brunswick was the town that gave us so much without us even serving tea once.

Our reception as we’ve headed south, and people were “worried” for how we would be received, has gotten better and better. The deeper south we’ve gone, the more people are asking us directly what we need. In most other places people say things like: I’m leaving my email in your guest book, let me know if you ever need anything. The further South we’ve gone, more and more people are just saying: What do you need? And these folks aren’t satisfied until we’ve given an answer. Southern hospitality takes east coast directness and puts a sharing spin on it. Ally and I were feeling well taken care of all of a sudden.

Savannah, GA tea party at the Forsyth Farmers' Market.

Savannah, GA tea party at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market.

Gifts from Asi Yaupon Tea in Savannah, GA.

Gifts from Asi Yaupon Tea in Savannah, GA.

We had chatted with Randall and Lisa back up in Efland about coming up there for the winter, so we started heading back north. We served tea at the Farmers’ Market in Savannah, GA, which was such a blast (even the Mayor – also named Edna – showed up for tea). We love that town. We also made friends with a local tinkerer and artist named Krystal, who shared her tinker studio/home with us. Lou from Asi Yaupon Tea invited us to their headquarters, and they gave some Yaupon to us. Yaupon is North America’s only native caffeinated plant, and was drunk by natives regularly. In both downtown Raleigh and Chapel Hill, NC we cooked dinner on the street and enticed passersby to come and chat with us (without FREE TEA signs out), like the good ol’ days on Hollywood Blvd.

Krystal's tinker studio/home in Savannah, GA.

Krystal’s tinker studio/home in Savannah, GA.

Back in September in Maine, when we were serving tea along the Appalachian Trail, Ally and I went on a hike one day. As we were walking, I pulled a quarter from my pocket and tried to see what state it was from down by my waist. I couldn’t tell, but I had a moment of clarity: whatever state this quarter had on the back that was the state where I would spend the winter. Lo and behold, the quarter was for North Carolina. I dismissed this clarity as stupidity, and decided a month later that Georgia was going to be the place. In my never ending travels, it helps to have a goal, but to also be flexible. And I am pleased at this turn of events.

Little did we know we'd be back so soon!

Little did we know we’d be back so soon!

Ally learns how to use the saw mill.

Ally learns how to use the saw mill.

Now we are back at Fireside Farm with Lisa and Randall in Efland, NC. We plan on being here for the winter. They have welcomed us with no explicit arrangement, other than living and sharing in community, a general hope that we can help them a bit around the homestead, and they can help provide the space for us to write and grow in the ways we want – an amazing form of non-calculated exchange (AKA, reciprocal altruism, or traditional human economy). I can’t imagine a better place to be. We will be spending the winter here working on writing, bus, and homestead projects, as well as reading, and likely serving tea around the Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh area on occasion. Keep yer eyes out for us!

Happy Solstice!

THANK YOUs:

A huge thank you to: Greg at AltE; Billy and Jiling at Out on a Whim Farm; Quill and Nick at Meadowburn Farm; Jon and Meagan in Philly; Sarah and the Ferraro Family in Dover, PA; Missy and David and fam in Charlestown, WV; Kristen and Nate and Kylie in Warreton for hosting us; Jerrod and Kierstin and fam; everyone at Acorn; Randall and Lisa and all of Carolina Friends School; Pinto, Jonah and everyone at Hostel in the Forest; Matthew and Javon at The Farmer and the Larder for food and support; Ed Hose and Moses for excitement and help with illustrations; Kate at Indigo Shanty; Jill and Danny in Brunswick for food and showers and good company; Krystal in Savannah for the stockings and sharing; Lou and Yaupon Asi Tea for tea, shirts, and good conversation; and so many more folks who stopped in for tea and conversation, or shared resources like honey and food.

Mad love also to Gopi Kallayil for sending out his book (with a chapter on the tea bus); Dr. Bronner’s for sending some soap; Bill for sending some maple syrup; Mason at Herb Rally for sending a t-shirt; Betsy from Enbi Studio for sending out some amazing little tea cups; Mountain Rose Herbs for sending out some tinctures and cinnamon; and WishGarden Herbs for sending out an enormous amount of tinctures and teas.

Billy and Ally.

Billy and Ally.

Harvesting autumn olives in Bethany, CT.

Harvesting autumn olives in Bethany, CT.

Jam session and kids at Carolina Friends School.

Jam session and kids at Carolina Friends School.

The Mayor of Savannah (also named Edna) stopped in to say hello at the Farmers' Market.

The Mayor of Savannah (also named Edna) stopped in to say hello at the Farmers’ Market.

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The City that Never Steeps – New York City, NY

Our last day in NYC - new friends and a New York Times journalist and photographer.

Our last day in NYC – new friends and a New York Times journalist and photographer.

A dream has come true. For years, even prior to Occupy, I had a dream of serving tea on Wall St, and another of being featured in the New York Times. Upon arriving in New York City, I realized the first dream was an impossibility due to lack of parking on Wall St. The second dream, however, just came true.

Downtown NYC skyline.

Downtown NYC skyline.

So many people had warned me that NYC might be a little hostile. From people who knew the city, as well as people who only knew the stereotypes, we heard about the culture of money, the lack of eye contact, the fast-paced lifestyle – all things that seemed to oppose many of the foundational ideas behind the free tea bus. Friends and acquaintances were warning us about police, how graffiti artists would see Edna Lu the teabus as a canvas, and how difficult it would be to find places to sleep.

Ally, Edna Lu the teabus, and I arrived in NYC without knowing where we’d stay, or what our week in the city would hold. On Halloween evening, hoping to find decent parking near the end of the Halloween parade, we arrived in the Big Apple. Our late arrival, however, left us in bumper-to-bumper traffic though the streets of Manhattan for two hours, until we finally found a spot in SoHo near the parade. Somewhat exhausted from the traffic, and not knowing what to expect, we opened the door to serve tea.

The Joker eats a donut on Halloween in SoHo.

The Joker eats a donut on Halloween in SoHo.

Our reception from NYC was fantastic. That first night there in SoHo we had programmers, some ladies from Egypt, a stockbroker, a couple from England, and many, many more people – most of them in costume. The stockbroker played devil’s advocate, as his job is to move money, and despite the disagreements on money and sharing, he ended up offering a place to shower and stay. Two programmers decided to be friends. Free donuts were shared. The depth of the conversations, the willingness for New Yorkers to come aboard the bus, and the wide variety of people who came aboard, really made this tea party special, and set the mood for our entire stay in NYC.

Ally fills water from a rec center in Brooklyn.

Ally fills water from a rec center in Brooklyn.

Our daily activities were searching out our resources, as it is when we get to any new place. In places we have visited often, we know where those resources will come from. In NYC we had to figure out where to get water (a rec center ended up letting us fill up a couple times), where to empty grey water, where we can shower, where we can park and feel comfortable, who our community is, where we can get food, etc. Most of these things are fulfilled through non-monetary means – but through relationships instead, so it takes time to figure these things out. This is part of the reason that the tea bus travels so slowly – because relationships, both with people and with the objects we use and consume, take time.

Fellow Colorado College friends sip tea on Edna Lu.

Fellow Colorado College friends sip tea on Edna Lu.

I was also very fortunate that so many folks I went to college with live in Brooklyn, so many of my days included visits from, and meals with old friends. It was fun to share the tea bus with so many folks who had only heard about it, but never experienced it.

I also spent a bit of time working on my solar upgrade (blog entry soon), rebuilding some cabinet doors to fit my new charge controller, and more. One of the reasons I also came to NYC was to finish up some filming for a documentary about the tea bus that a Brooklyn filmmaker (Jackie Snow) began filming in Austin earlier this year. She was able to capture more footage of some of the hands on aspects of my lifestyle for the film.

Our home on the end of 12th street, where we often slept and did projects.

Our home on the end of 12th street, where we often slept and did projects.

One evening when leaving my friend’s art studio, as Ally, my friend Nick, and I all rounded a corner to the street where Edna was parked, I said, “How much do you want to bet someone is tagging Edna.” And sure enough, half-a-block up, there was a fellow with a paint marker doing graffiti on the side of Edna while his buddy watched. I ran full speed, yelling profanities about how they were messing with my home. I think the word “home” was one of the things that made the fellow apologetic — I mean apologetic enough to help clean it off, but not apologetic to let down his machismo and admit he had done something wrong. It was actually a very interesting experience.

A bus full of tea sippers and new friends.

A bus full of tea sippers and new friends.

One weeknight we were there, our dear friends Elephant Revival were playing a show in the Bowery at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan. We parked right out front, right by the entrance to the subway, and opened our doors to the wide variety of folks that pass by, and who were headed into the show. And again, the willingness of people to participate, and shove off the NYC stereotype was incredible. At one point, the head of security at the Ballroom stopped Ally and said, “There’s people on your bus who shouldn’t be there – known drug-addicts and robbers. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, scratch your nose, and I’ll take care of the rest.” We felt well taken care of, but of course knew that all people are welcome on the bus, and in fact misled people are some of my favorite people to engage and to actually re-engage in genuine human interactions. It is my firm belief that people become addicted to drugs partially due to lack of genuine human interactions (see this study), and people become robbers because our society teaches us to act out of self-interest (see Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations). Most people actively attempt to not interact with these kinds of people. For me it’s the opposite. Regardless, the night went on without a hitch. Old friends showed up, new ones came aboard, and many cups of tea were had until 2 am.

Folks jamming tunes at the Brooklyn Free Store.

Folks jamming tunes at the Brooklyn Free Store.

The next day in Brooklyn, Ally and I were looking for a place to relax in Edna. We stumbled upon a nice park and set ourselves up to chill. Looking down the block we saw a bunch of books lined up. What’s that? A FREE STORE! No way! Despite being exhausted from serving tea the night before, we pulled up next to the Brooklyn Free Store and started serving tea. The Brooklyn Free Store has been happening once a week for 10 years. Similar to the tea bus, the Free Store offers a completely non-monetary exchange, with people sharing simply because they want to build resilience into their community. Just as stoked as I was, the people around the Free Store were stoked for the tea bus. We shared in much tea, people played music out front, and the conversations were spot on.

Guisepi and a guest chat at McCarren Park, Brooklyn, NY.

Guisepi and a guest chat at McCarren Park, Brooklyn, NY.

The next day I got an email from Colin Moynihan, a writer for the New York Times, who was interested in doing a piece about the tea bus. Wow! I asked him to come the next day for our last planned tea party in NYC at McCarren Park in Brooklyn. He sat with me asking a few questions, observed all the folks coming for tea (and it attracted quite a few), sat down and totally busted out an 800-word article in about 45 minutes. Holy moly! The tea party went fabulously, so it was easy to be excited about the article.

Here’s the New York Times article:
A Vagabond Teahouse Pours Camaraderie, One Free Cup at a Time

Serving tea outside the subway in front of Elephant Revival's tour bus.

Serving tea outside the subway in front of Elephant Revival’s tour bus.

I think the main reason why the tea bus was so well received in NYC was precisely the same reason that people thought it wouldn’t be. Because part of the mainstream culture of NYC is money focused, because there is a lack of slowing down – these things make the need for the tea bus even more apparent. When people actually find something that doesn’t revolve around making a buck, when they find something that’s closer to that sharing aspect of human nature, they want to experience it. It feels right. And I think that’s also why I experienced more eye contact walking down the street in Brooklyn than I expected, and I experienced things like the Free Store, but there still is a heavy, dominant culture that is based on profit maximization and self interest, and this is why we had so much success in the city that never steeps.

A tea guest takes a deep sniff of some pu'erh.

A tea guest takes a deep sniff of some pu’erh.

A big ol’ thanks to Nick Gehling for helping us get our bearings and resources; Colin Snapp for sharing some space; Jackie Snow for making a movie and lending an address; Kelly Britton for reconnecting and a nice shower; the rec center in McCarren Park for letting us fill water; All of Elephant Revival; Dexter at The Bowery Ballroom; Abbey and Camillo for being our van dwelling community; Colin and Alexandra for sharing food, friendship and a shower; Calvin; Julia and Bruce for organizing a brunch and feeding many of us; Thadeaus and all the folks from The Brooklyn Free Store; and so so so many more. Thank you, New York City!

Woodworking on the streets of Brooklyn - is this legal?

Woodworking on the streets of Brooklyn – is this legal?

Edna gets a shower from FDNY.

Edna gets a shower from FDNY.

Jackie gets some needed shots of kombucha, sauerkraut, and sprouts.

Jackie gets some needed shots of kombucha, sauerkraut, and sprouts.

Halloween in SoHo.

Halloween in SoHo.

Folks gather in the tea bus near the subway station in The Bowery.

Folks gather in the tea bus near the subway station in The Bowery.

Handing out some tea!

Handing out some tea!

Visitors outside the Elephant Revival Show at The Bowery Ballroom.

Visitors outside the Elephant Revival Show at The Bowery Ballroom.

Tea sippers in The Bowery, NYC

Tea sippers in The Bowery, NYC

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Autumn Update – Square Pond, ME

Serving tea at the monthly First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

Serving tea at the monthly First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

 

Ah, another season is upon us. I can feel the Fall in the air, and I think I’m ready for it.

Edna gazes out on the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on Cape Cod near Provincetown, MA.

Edna gazes out on the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on Cape Cod near Provincetown, MA.

Our summer has been interesting and fun. After arriving New England for the International Herb Symposium in June, Ally, Edna (the teabus), and I were excited to explore a little of the Northeast. Our path took us out Cape Cod, where Edna gazed across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. We were disappointed by parking restrictions, anti-camping laws, pay-parking, and what seemed to be upper-class snobbery. We were blessed at a roadside pizza joint with 55 gallons of waste vegetable oil, but other than that, the only other activity we enjoyed was thrifting.

We made our way up through New Hampshire, visiting with one of Ally’s oldest friends and her family, and landed at my family’s camp outside Sanford, Maine. In Sanford, we served tea at the local Farmers’ Market a couple times and got to know some local farmers. It was fun to share the tea bus in the town that my Great-Grandparents had lived, and where my Grandfather had grown up. We gathered water from a spring that my Great-Grandfather had used as well. It was great to get together with family to work on some projects at The Camp, and serve a little tea on the side.

Ally and I have tea on a tiny island in Square Pond, ME.

Ally and I have tea on a tiny island in Square Pond, ME.

Over the course of our summer in Maine, we used The Camp as a little home base and getaway. We ended up there three times, with one more couple-week stay coming up in October before we head south. It has been so nice to have a place to be, do projects, relax, swim, fish, and recuperate from work, travel, and tea.

The other place that we ended up spending a lot of time was Portland, ME. I reconnected with friends of old, Owen and Courtney, and their new kids, Oisin (pronounced Osheen), and Caimhoa (pronounced Kiva). We needed community to interact with, and they were our main source of this. We shared in food and space, spent time with the kids, worked on Edna’s transmission in their driveway, helped them with some projects, and had a great home-base.

Our 'family' in Portland, ME - Oisin, Owen, Caoimhe, and Courtney.

Our ‘family’ in Portland, ME – Oisin, Owen, Caoimhe, and Courtney.

Some folks enjoy tea at free music in the park on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, ME.

Some folks enjoy tea at free music in the park on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, ME.

Amongst our adventures, we set up to serve tea a couple times at Portland’s Eastern Promenade for their summer weekly free music on Thursdays. It was a great little introduction to the people of Portland. What a blast! On our second time there, a man from the City who organizes the event told us to leave the park or else he would call the Code Enforcement Officer to come down the next week, who, he said, would shut us down. We explained that we were just like everyone else out there on their blankets, sharing food and drink with their friends and family. He knew in his heart that we were right, and just asked us to move onto the street (and into reserved parking for food trucks). He biggest concern was that we were “competition” to the food trucks that were there. It’s a funny time when sharing is demonized because it has the potential to obstruct profit maximization.

A variety of folks enjoy tea at First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

A variety of folks enjoy tea at First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

We ended up serving three times at Portland’s monthly First Friday Artwalk. What a great time it is, with people filling the streets for blocks and blocks, walking, selling art, exploring, playing music, fire spinning, and more. At Monument Square, we set up the tea bus, inviting in people of all walks. Artwalks have always been a favorite of mine because it’s an accessible free event for all people, who, inevitably, are open to new experiences. We had everything from people in suits and dresses, to those living out of backpacks, to local business owners, artists, and more.

In July, we went out to the Great Northern Sound Society in Parsonsfield, ME to spend some time with our friends of Elephant Revival and do some filming of the recording process of their new album. Nearby, we visited Willowbrook – a 19th century town and museum.

Wood shop at Willowbrook 19th Century Village.

Wood shop at Willowbrook 19th Century Village.

Bus Projects (skip if uninterested):

Installing a shift kit and new solenoid pack in my E4OD transmission.

Installing a shift kit and new solenoid pack in my E4OD transmission.

Throughout our journeys in Maine, we undertook several bus projects (per usual). Edna’s transmission has been trying to hold in there for the past few years, so I babied it a little by installing a new solenoid pack, a shift kit (Transgo Tugger HD2), and a new ECM/EEC relay and relay pigtail.

I have also been having alternator issues, where the voltage would jump or bounce. After someone told me it was a diode going bad (and I believed them because it made sense to me), I’ve been replacing alternators left and right (luckily I bought one form Autozone with a lifetime warranty). However, I realized that it was actually some of the wiring that was causing it (specifically it was either the voltage sensing wire, or the wire that tells the alternator to be on). After replacing the alternator pigtail (wiring harness) and the voltage sensing wire, my alternator has been all good. Although, throughout the process, Autozone was testing all my alternators and they were coming out “bad” – strangely, their test doesn’t tell you why the alternator is bad (silly). I plan on replacing the rectifier with a police/ambulance one with welded instead of soldered diodes (much more heavy duty).

One of the new window screens.

One of the new window screens.

One of the most impactful projects was finishing the window mosquito netting. I had been unsuccessfully messing around with some snap on screens for the inside of the bus, but it was almost impossible to get them to lay flat and keep all the bugs out (the screen likes to stretch over time – especially if the window is open and it gets wind while driving). My solution: install C channel on both sides of each window on the outside so that the open side of each C channel face each other. I build custom screens out of materials from Ace and Home Depot – I know, I felt weird not making it all out of salvaged material, but the outside of the bus is important to keep looking nice. The screens fit nicely in the slots of the C channel, and stay put using screen springs, which also allows the screens to slide up and down in front of the open window. I used “pile” weather stripping both on the inside bottom of the screens as well as on the top of the window, which, when the screen is up and the window down, seal the only open gap. After lubing the C Channels, the screens slide like butter, and stay up when wanted. Soooooo nice!

Drilling holes in the bed for ventilation.

Drilling holes in the bed for ventilation.

I had been having some slight mold issues with my bed, especially once I started heading into moister climates. After some consulting with my friend and anarchitect Jonathan Odom, who works at Instructables.com, I decided on drilling holes through the bed platform (through both layers of plywood) in a geometric pattern, while leaving some 6” wide strips – all for structural support. Although I didn’t get to completely finish the project (needed a plunge router), I got the holes drilled, which was the most important things. It just so happened that the neighbor I was helping build a pole barn has a friend who manufactures a product called Mortairvent – a roll of light, but strong fabric with criss-crossed plastic, adhered in a way to keep air pockets and allow for ventilation. My mom had just a week earlier been telling me about a product for beds on boats with almost the same exact construction. What great serendipity. I cut a piece for between the bottom mattress and the platform, as well as a piece for between the two mattresses. 

The product from the neighbor wasn’t quite up to spec to sell (not sure why – looks great to me), so he had been given it from the manufacturer (who is local here in Sanford, ME). Oh, and it just so happens to come in rolls that are 39” wide – the size of a twin bed. For anyone else looking to ventilate a bed, this product is cheaper than the marine version ($1.51/sq ft  vs $3.69/sq ft), but only comes in 61.5 foot rolls (enough for 10 single beds).

Primering new rim, spare tire brackets, and sink backsplash.

Primering new rim, spare tire brackets, and sink backsplash.

Some other projects: added a seatbelt to the co-pilot chair, painted the backside of the stainless sink backsplash black so you can’t see it from the outside anymore, made a tire cover for my spare tire (from a firepit cover), made a bike cover (from an old rainfly), installed a new (used) rim on one of Edna’s wheels (old rim had worn out lug holes from tire installers not tightening nuts all the way), refinished the counter-top, resealed inside of roof after small leak in torrential downpour, painted back door (lower half has been primered for several years after welding shut a window), did an oil change, installed new solar batteries, installed a new gear for the Vehicle Speed Sensor on my transmission, fixed some curtains (added stainless rings for sliding on cable after biased tape for this job wore out), repainted the spare tire brackets, cleaned out the fresh water tank, installed a fuel return line filter/clear sight, replaced the drawer slides on my slide out WVO filter station, replumbed the WVO transfer pump, replaced a 3-way electronic valve for the send line of my WVO conversion, and probably 100 more things… 

The Peace Parade in Belfast, ME.

The Peace Parade in Belfast, ME.

In August we took a trip up to Mid-Coast and Down East Maine. We stopped in Liberty to go to Liberty Tool, which is the most EPIC antique tool store in the world (in my mind, at least). If you’re into tools, go there! In Belfast, we accidentally arrived on the evening of their monthly artwalk, as well as the opening night of their Peace Festival. We served tea for an evening and part of the next day, slowly meeting people from the town, and making new friends.

The main reason for our trip up the coast of Maine, was to visit the Blue Hill Inn – which Ally is currently writing an essay to try and win. They are the second inn in Maine to offer their inn to someone who writes a 200 word essay and pays an entrance fee. We drove by the inn as we came into town, and set out to see town and meet people to see if this was the place for Ally to start her (long dreamed about) community café/hostel. We heard live music coming from a park, so we went down to serve some tea. However, the scene was straight out of a Grateful Dead parking lot – with lots of dirty, dready, stoned, drunk folks making trash and being loud. Whoa, I felt like I was back on the Arcata Plaza. I never expected to find this in this little coastal Maine town. The parking was poor, and everyone was super messed up, so we ended up not serving tea.

Making tea at the Loose Canon Jug Band CD release party in Blue Hill, ME.

Making tea at the Loose Canon Jug Band CD release party in Blue Hill, ME.

As I walked into the Blue Hill Coop, I recognized my friend Eryn, who was a regular on the tea bus in Arcata, CA years ago. She had a baby on her hip, and it was a fantastic reunion. Seeing her, and meeting other folks at the Coop left us feeling like we wanted to explore more, and get to know the community. We were swooped up and directed to the CD release party of the local Loose Cannon Jug Band, where we danced and served tea in the parking lot.

Headed out to Deer Isle, ME.

Headed out to Deer Isle, ME.

At the suggestion of several folks, we ended up at Tinder Hearth Bakery for their open mic night. And what a wonderful community! Since Ally has been searching to create a community hub based around food and baking, this place was food for Ally’s soul (and mine too). We brewed up tea all evening, meeting people, and learning about the real locals. People were excited for our reasons of coming to the area and wished Ally the best of luck in winning the inn. We fell in love with this little community.

After a trip to Deer Isle, we cruised back through Tinder Hearth, and back south to Chewonki – a school and boys summer camp with gardens, boats, camping, lots of sustainability, and so much more experiential learning stuff. We got to spend an afternoon making tea in the middle of campus to a bunch of kids and staff, got fed two meals, went out around the bay in a motor boat, hung with birds in the aviary, and they even filled both our biodiesel tank and dirty WVO tank (80 gallons of fuel, total). It was great to see the awesomeness of this great model of education (I was so impressed that I put in a little word to them about future employment for myself). Thank you, Chewonki!

Music and tea at Chewonki with teenagers.

Music and tea at Chewonki with teenagers.

The Apothacary and loft we built for Sarah in Homegrown Herb & Tea.

The Apothacary and loft we built for Sarah in Homegrown Herb & Tea.

Back in Portland, we worked out a deal with Sarah, the owner of Homegrown Herb and Tea, to build her an apothecary in the back of her store. We spent five days building and helping her organize, and in exchange, she bought us new solar batteries and a tool I had been wanting (pocket screw jig). Our exchange started out as a calculated monetary transaction, but worked itself, through cooperation and communication, gradually into a relationship based on reciprocal altruism – where we helped each other simply because we wanted to see each other succeed. It was a great break after Ally and I had spent three weeks working a remodel that had been quite the opposite.

School Bus Row at Common Ground Country Fair.

School Bus Row at Common Ground Country Fair.

In September, we spent an epic four days serving free tea and pancakes along the Appalachian Trail near Sugarloaf ski mountain, followed by a weekend at the Common Ground Country Fair. We served tea in the volunteer parking in the evenings, and wandered and volunteered at the fair during the days. On the final day, we pulled up to the top of the parking lot and served tea almost all day to people coming in and out of the fair. The people, the exhibits, the concepts, the talks and workshops – all top notch. The kind of sustainable, organic, low-impact lifestyle that Common Ground Fair promotes is so awesome because it’s accessible, fun, and well-attended.

Making tea for people coming in and out of Common Ground Country Fair.

Making tea for people coming in and out of Common Ground Country Fair.

Currently, we are at my family’s camp on Square Pond, getting ready to head south for the winter. I’ve spent part of the past few weeks here working on bus projects, helping a neighbor build a pole barn, and getting some well-needed rest.

Current mission: Find the right place to spend the winter on the east coast/southern US. Help me find a place to hunker down so I can write the tea bus factory service manual! A little work-trade, a little paid work, good people, and easy access to resources are all pluses. We’re looking at possibly work-trading at Hostel in the Forest in Georgia, or heading to a friend’s place in Hot Spring, AR.

Ally and I work at Two Toad Farm.

Ally and I work at Two Toad Farm.

A huge thanks to Owen, Courtney, Oisin, and Caohmia for being our family and community; to my mom, Levi, uncle Brian, the twins, and all my cousins; Kristen, Nate and their whole family in NH; Ian and Betty the bus for solidarity and WVO; Mountain Rose Herbs and WishGarden Herbs for boxes of teas, tinctures, and more; Scott, Tom, Lesley, and all the folks at Chewonki; the whole Tinder Hearth community; Ruthie from Chai Wallahs of Maine for tea and a chicken; Bahia in Blue Hill for a home, water, and a shower; Eryn on Deer Isle for a quiet place to rest (and blueberries); the folks from 44 North; Case, Roger, and Eda in Freeport; Chase from Sugarloaf; Sarah from Homegrown Herb and Tea; the whole Alchemy family; Pastor John for helping us get a place to stay on Cape Cod; the parking lady in Augusta, ME; the parking lady in Provincetown, MA; Tyla and her family in MA; Scott on Square Pond; Barack the Baker; Dave and Pat at Common Ground; Mary Beth and Jordan from Two Toad Farm; Cousins Dick and Cathy; and so many more!

The pole barn I was helping build on Square Pond, ME.

The pole barn I was helping build on Square Pond, ME.

Donation from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Donation from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Ally collects water from a spring in Dixmont, ME.

Ally collects water from a spring in Dixmont, ME.

New solar batteries! Work-traded from Sarah at Homegrown Herb & Tea.

New solar batteries! Work-traded from Sarah at Homegrown Herb & Tea.

Seriving tea at Chewonki.

Seriving tea at Chewonki.

A Chaga chai donation from Chai Wallahs of Maine.

A Chaga chai donation from Chai Wallahs of Maine.

A fellow looking for work is given a card by a fellow who might have work - lots of wonderful interactions stem from the tea bus!

A fellow looking for work is given a card by a fellow who might have work – lots of wonderful interactions stem from the tea bus!

Oisin loves the bus!

Oisin loves the bus!

Making Chaga chai in front of Alchemy apothecary in South Portland as part of a fundraiser for Stone Cabin Collective.

Making Chaga chai in front of Alchemy apothecary in South Portland as part of a fundraiser for Stone Cabin Collective.

Local teenagers dig in to the Gift & Take area along a bike/walking trail in South Portland, ME.

Local teenagers dig in to the Gift & Take area along a bike/walking trail in South Portland, ME.

Getting ready to serve tea at First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

Getting ready to serve tea at First Friday Artwalk in Portland, ME.

A boy and his dog stop for tea at the Sanford, ME Farmers' Market.

A boy and his dog stop for tea at the Sanford, ME Farmers’ Market.

Ally and I have tea on a tiny island in Square Pond, ME.

Ally and I have tea on a tiny island in Square Pond, ME.

My mom, Levi and Ally collecting water from a spring that my great-grandfather used to collect from.

My mom, Levi and Ally collecting water from a spring that my great-grandfather used to collect from.

Serving tea at the Sanford, ME Farmers' Market.

Serving tea at the Sanford, ME Farmers’ Market.

WVO from a roadside pizza joint on Cape Cod.

WVO from a roadside pizza joint on Cape Cod.

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Making a window screen.

Making a window screen.

Installing window screens.

Installing window screens.

 

Case gets tea-bagged (chamomile).

Case gets tea-bagged (chamomile).

Edna at Liberty Tool in Liberty, ME.

Edna at Liberty Tool in Liberty, ME.

 

 

The new 3-way valve for my WVO system (mounted to my 30-plate flat plate heat exchanger).

The new 3-way valve for my WVO system (mounted to my 30-plate flat plate heat exchanger).

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Appalachian Trail – Stratton, ME

The Tea Zone along the Appalachian Trail near Stratton, ME - Mile 2001

The Tea Zone along the Appalachian Trail near Stratton, ME – Mile 2001

Free tea and pancakes!

Free tea and pancakes!

Wow! What an amazing place to serve tea.

My girlfriend in college hiked the Appalachian Trail before coming to school. She told me about the arduous 2,200 mile hike from Georgia to Maine, the highs and lows of trail life, and most importantly, she told me about Trail Magic.

Trail Magic happens when someone decides to help a hiker simply because they want to see them succeed in their hard journey. It can take the form of a ride from the trail to town so the hiker can resupply. Or perhaps it’s someone who leaves some energy bars at a trailhead. Often, the best trail magic is unexpected, personal, and/or includes needed resources like food, transport, or showers.

Two years ago, I brought Edna Lu the teabus, and Ally brought her van up to Packer Saddle – mile 1204 of the Pacific Crest Trail. We camped there for five days serving tea, snacks, and baked goods to hikers. It was such an incredible experience that we knew we had to do the AT should the opportunity present itself. And since we were already in Maine during the right season this year, we just had to!

Jukeboxx (northbound) shows 00-Zero (southbound) whats ahead for him.

Jukeboxx (northbound) shows 00-Zero (southbound) whats ahead for him.

Ally and I showed up with Edna Lu in the Sugarloaf area as recommended by Chase (the owner of the bar The Rack in Sugarloaf), who we met in Portland, ME. He told us about a nice parking area at the trailhead. Almost immediately upon arrival, we found several hikers in the parking area getting ready to hitch into Stratton to resupply, or get back on the trail. Thus our tea-making began.

We stayed up into the dark hours sipping tea, getting to know our first AT hikers. As we were chatting about calories and energy, it came to me that we should be making pancakes for hikers. I knew we had some pancake mix, and it wouldn’t be hard to get more ingredients. So, the next morning, we drove into Stratton and stocked up on pancake ingredients. We gave some hikers a ride back to the trail, and started setting up our tea zone – rugs, cushions, a table, and topped it off with my half-a-parachute. It was minimal, but cozy, and much more than what hikers are used to. In fact, many hikers wouldn’t even come onto the rug throughout the week, and preferred to sit on the ground or on their packs. I think it’s because not only have they become accustomed to that, but they also know that they’re “dirty” by some people’s standards and are a little tip-toey around non-hikers and their space. We didn’t care.

Hikers enjoy tea and pancakes.

Hikers enjoy tea and pancakes.

Much of the conversations revolved around community, sharing, the trail, the teabus. A common observation by hikers is that they often start what they think is going to be a journey of rugged independence, only to find that the community of the trail is what ultimately makes a huge impact on them. When someone gets hurt, everyone pitches in to divvy up their load so they don’t have to carry it. When someone runs out of food, everyone pitches in for them to eat. People often gather in “shelters” to share a space to cook, eat, and engage. In towns, there’s always “hiker boxes” that have people’s excess gear, food, and more for anyone to take for free. For most people who upgrade their gear or have extra food, it goes in a hiker box, rather than being sent home. Because hikers can only bring necessities with them, any extra they have is shared freely. And it’s easy to do so, because you want to see those around you succeed as much as yourself. You’re all in this together.

00-Zero

00-Zero

I really loved all these concepts because this is what the tea bus is about out in the non-trail world. Serving free tea is Trail Magic, but for anyone and everyone. The Gift & Take is like a hiker box – where anyone can put in and anyone can take out. The teabus is like a shelter, where people can gather, drink tea, and connect. And all of this happens because the culture around the tea bus is wanting to help people simply so that they succeed in this hard, arduous journey called life.

Throughout the four days that we were set up, we served more than 40 hikers 80 pancakes and 150 cups of chai. People slept in our tea zone, and we had hikers for all but 3 hours of our four days. The spot we chose was awesome because it was at mile 2001. The first thing you came upon after the 2000 mile marker was the tea bus. We made friends like 00-Zero, who earned that trail name because he “zero-ed,” or didn’t hike any miles, for three days in a row when he stayed with us.

Mile 2000 of the AT.

Mile 2000 of the A

One day, a fellow in a white SUV pulled up, asked if we were doing trail magic, and started bragging about all the Trail Magic he’d done this year. “Here’s a list of 70+ hikers I’ve given a ride to.” Then he mentioned being the Chief of Police for Carabasset Valley (the closest town). “Really?” I asked. He held up his badge and gun, and continued to gloat about his Trail Magic. I loved this interaction for many reasons. One, I loved that the Chief of Police was helping so many hikers. But I also loved this interaction in that it was quite to opposite from many interactions we have with authority while serving tea. Contrast this with the time we were forced to shut down at a National Park for serving tea, or “conducting business,” as the Rangers said. Since we had been camped there for several days, I would have more likely expected an authority figure to tell us we couldn’t camp there. But what I find is that many people around trail culture latch on to the awesome power of community and helping people. Thanks, Chief Lopez!

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Our tea zone became a hub for folks coming in and out of Stratton for resupply.

I truly believe that if we put as much weight into seeing people (and even strangers) succeed in their daily lives, the non-trail world would look more like the Trail – with people sharing excess freely, helping without being asked, and offering the comfort of community to those in need. And we’re all in need. I truly believe that genuine human interactions and community are, along with food, water, shelter, warmth, and air, one of the basic human necessities. Without community we perish.

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Sucking up WVO from The Rack at Sugarloaf ski resort

Thanks to Chase for letting us know the good spot to serve tea and hooking us up with waste vegetable oil; to all the hikers who shared their stories; to the hikers who brought us more pancake supplies; to Fotter’s Market for letting us fill up water; and Chief Lopez for serving people like police should.

Next stop, Common Ground Country Fair!

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International Herb Symposium – Wheaton College – Norton, MA

The Tea Zone at the International Herb Symposium

The Tea Zone at the International Herb Symposium

What an unusual weekend! Ally, Edna Lu the teabus, and I spent almost a month making our way from Austin to Boston for the International Herb Symposium. The whole trip was interesting because on one hand I had committed to the event, but on the other hand, it didn’t feel like the event had committed to us. This, combined with the fact that we fell in love with so many people and places along the way and wanted to spend more time each place we visited, made for an interesting balance to try and be had.

Rosemary and Guisepi at FHP in Eugene, OR.

Rosemary and Guisepi in the tea bus at FHP in Eugene, OR.

At the first Free Herbalism Project in Eugene, OR in August of 2013 I had the wonderful chance of having (renowned herbalist) Rosemary Gladstar over for tea. Excited about the teabus, she invited me to bring it to the 2015 biennial International Herb Symposium that she helps put on. I kept this invitation filed away for when the time was near. A few months prior to the Symposium I got in touch with the event organizers and it seemed like a “go” for us.

First off, the organizers were quick to ask what our ideal situation and setup was. It made me feel welcome and invited. We don’t need electricity, we don’t need money, we don’t need lodging, we don’t need anything other than entry registration for two tea helpers (Mountain Rose Herbs had given me their extra registration), a sink to wash dishes, some ice, and to be included in the meal plan for attendees. In return myself, Ally, and another friend Tyla would provide free tea, a lounge space, and work our butts off.

In doing events like the IHS, it takes a lot work. Because I don’t do a lot of larger events, I have to do a fair bit of shopping around at thrift and other stores for more mugs, large glass containers for sun tea, an extra pump top thermos, more cushions, local honey, etc. Ally and I started this process when we left Austin, and finished it a few weeks later on the day before the event. I also like to make sure I have a tank full of good water (in this case, spring water). All items have to be thoroughly cleaned and the bus must be in immaculate condition. All of this on top of traveling 2000 miles, collecting and filtering vegetable oil along the way, serving tea, gathering and making food, helping people who need it, and living a generally DIY-lifestyle – this takes a lot of work.

Erin finds some new shades in the Gift & Take

Erin finds some new shades in the Gift & Take

Living a low-monetary input life requires lots of hands-on skills and projects, but also lots of relationship-building. These relationships revolve around building trust, collaboration, and reciprocal altruism – which is the activity of sharing with people simply because you want to see them succeed, but also know in doing so you are strengthening and supporting your community, which will in turn will do the same for you. It felt like I had my hand extended to provide for the IHS, but they didn’t have a hand extended back. They were happy to provide the basic service of a sink to wash dishes and ice for iced tea, but other than that, there was no support for us being at IHS.

My first hint of feeling a little un-supported was IHS not wanting to give us each a meal plan. Okay, I understand, IHS is a fundraiser for United Plant Savers. Then, they asked us to look into getting a health permit (see the relevance of this in our Texas Tea Festival blog entry). Luckily, the woman at the health department said we didn’t need a permit to brew tea for a short-term fundraiser. Then an email to IHS organizers with important info wasn’t returned. As the event drew near, and we were driving closer, there was a slew of things that happened: IHS took back how many event registrations they offered us, they didn’t have any posting about the teabus on their website, Facebook, or even the final event schedule PDF, they had a free tea table planned that they hadn’t mentioned to us, etc. In the end, we didn’t even get one full registration for the event – only two single day passes for my tea helpers (even though Mountain Rose had given a full one of theirs to me).

The tea zone.

The tea zone.

Regardless of all this, we arrived to make tea.

The International Herb Symposium offers an excellent assortment of classes, workshops, and hands-on herbal learning opportunities from an assortment of regional and international teachers. It takes place on the beautiful campus of Wheaton College in Norton, MA every other year. From my experience, the knowledge shared, the friendships created, and the lasting impressions that people carry from this event back into the world are top notch, to say the least.

We set up the usual medium-sized event setup – Edna’s telescopic shade structure with a half-a-parachute, outdoor rugs and cushions, waste vegetable oil-powered lanterns, Free Tea signs – everything to tantalize passersby to stop and share a hot cuppa. We were fairly centrally-located on a nice lawn, with lots of morning sun and afternoon shade – quite ideal. The only difference between other events and this one??? Almost no one was stopping for tea.

Weird!

A few folks enjoy the tea zone.

A few folks enjoy the tea zone.

On Friday, the first day of the event, a few stragglers stopped in, and as the first half of Saturday rolled past, it seemed like this was going to be the trend for the weekend. Ally, Tyla and I literally sat sipping tea for hours amidst a quiet tea tent on Saturday morning, with a full pot of chai, gallons of fresh sun tea and no guests. As we watched people scurrying about with to-go cups in hand, we began to question why this was happening. Was it because this was the teabus’ first event east of the Mississippi? In the west, people know us wherever we go, and our reputation precedes us. Here we were stepping into new territory. Was it because east coasters have a different mindset that makes them less likely to approach something as different as a free tea bus? (Nothing’s free!) Was it because there was a free tea table with to-go cups in the main building? After asking a few folks who had experienced the teabus at other events, this seemed like a likely contributor. Inside the event was a free tea table, with endless hot water in big plastic insulated containers, and stacks of easy to-go cups. Several guests remarked about how busy people were getting from one class to another, and that to-go cups were easier. In other words, taking the time for genuine human interactions isn’t a priority when people have places to be.

Erin, Howie, and Mason - good peeps!

Erin, Howie, and Mason – good peeps!

Having both a free tea bus and a free tea table seemed like the organizers misjudged the situation. To me, it made sense that the organizers would have seen having both as a redundancy, and suggested that the two were combined. Even though I’m not super fond of disposable cups, I would have agreed to host the free tea table, as well as keep the hot water and tea bags stocked, if I had been asked to. To have another free tea option felt a little disrespectful to me – not because I want to have a monopoly on free tea, but because I want my energy to go into actually being of service. I thought that I would be working as hard as at most other events that I do, but when no one showed up, I felt like I had traveled thousands of miles and worked hard to provide a service that was already being provided. I knew I would have had a bigger impact serving tea at another event or on the street.

A busy afternoon.

A busy afternoon.

Regardless, as Saturday rolled on, more folks began to come to the teabus. This often happens as word spreads about the teabus and the space provided. As more folks came by, and people shared conversation over tea, played music, talked herbal knowledge, and shared in the experience, I knew that I had nothing to worry about. Over the weekend, I was able to see many old friends and made many new. We had a great time sharing in music, telling stories, dressing up, and staying up late laughing.

From nearly the beginning of all of my interactions with IHS coordinators, I felt unsupported in being there. I’ve had this happen before. Usually, people have no idea the value of having the teabus there until the event starts. When it picks up, lots of people come to the bus, and it becomes a hub, then organizers start to realize. But this didn’t happen. It didn’t become a hub – for the first time in teabus history. By the end of 99% of events I do, organizers ask for the teabus to come back next year, or next time. This didn’t happen at IHS.

The three wiremen - Howie Brounstein, Jim Mcdonald, and He-Who Sips-a-lot.

The three wiremen – Howie Brounstein, Jim Mcdonald, and He-Who Sips-a-lot.

Instead, I felt like I had promised so much, but because the “demand” for my services was low, it showed the organizers that what I had to offer wasn’t particularly special or important. It was truly a weird experience. I thought that even though I wasn’t met in my conversations with organizers before the event, I was hoping that once we got there, they would realize the teabus offers something worthwhile, and would then reciprocate.

Overall, the importance of the International Herb Symposium wasn’t necessarily in getting there, but in getting the teabus to new and uncharted territories. Here in the Northeast we will meet up with family, old friends, and visit new people and new places. The Northeast is an unfamiliar frontier for the teabus, and one that we’ll be exploring this summer and fall. We hope to see you here!

A huge thank you to Tyla and Ally for helping make the tea zone happen at IHS; to Rosemary Gladstar for having us out (this blog entry definitely does not reflect on her personally as one of the organizers); Mountain Rose Herbs for shipping out a bunch of tea for the event and providing an event registration (or at least trying to); John from LearningHerbs.com for long-term herbal support; Cheng for making a sweet video about the teabus at IHS; Buelo for playing tunes; Erica for the lemon balm for our garden; Jim McDonald for lots of laughs (and help fixing the water filter); and all the Tea Wenches (Ally, Tyla, Mason, Erin, Howie).

Check out this video about the tea bus from IHS:

 

'Buelo plays some tunes

‘Buelo plays some tunes

Mason rocking his new Tea Wench name tag

Mason rocking his new Tea Wench name tag

Howie and John like each other.

Howie and John like each other.

Tree Huggers!

Tree Huggers!

Mason and Erin - Tea Wenches!

Mason and Erin – Tea Wenches!

Howie's favorite pastime at IHS - sleeping in the tea zone.

Howie’s favorite pastime at IHS – sleeping in the tea zone.

 

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