Every year I celebrate the New Year as an anniversary of serving free tea. It was eight years ago this January that I first started serving tea on Hollywood Blvd to strangers. I learned in those early days that included in the genuine interaction I was seeking with people, I would have to be a listening ear, provide a comfortable space for people who are going through rough times, and be a genuine friend to these complete strangers. Last night was a reminder of many of these things for me.
Throughout the evening there was good number of people who were out seeking relief, going through emotional pains, in rough relationships, and more. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it’s a new year and people take time to reflect on the past and future at this point in time, or the fact that there’s lots of drinking involved, but there were many out who needed the tea bus.
This is one of my favorite things about the service that the tea bus provides: the services we provide are multifaceted, and not always obvious at first glance.
A fellow came up to the bus, but was nearly in tears. It was obvious he had a lot going on in his mind. He couldn’t even pick out a tea to drink, and finally when he was sipping his tea, his tears came out. When he was finished, he said, “I don’t want any more tea, but can I just stay here for a while?” He was overheard talking to some other guests, telling them about how he hated this world and didn’t want to be here. But throughout the evening, he began to play music, talk to people, a friend of his came by and called his name eagerly. In the end he sang us a song and left with a little more lightness in his stride.
A middle-aged woman came to the bus with some friends. Not only was she the only one brave enough to come aboard, but she was also the most curious. She asked the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions that many people ask. I could see on her face that she was inspired by my answers and immediately she became comfortable. When the chance came up for her, she began to tell me about her daughter who passed away very suddenly recently. She told me how her daughter would have loved the bus and the whole concept. When I learned that the daughter had lived in the Eureka/Arcata area, where I have served lots and lots of tea, I told her that her daughter had probably been on the bus at one point in time and sipped a cuppa tea. This touched her, and she left the bus with a little spark of happiness amongst the grief of losing her daughter.
At one point, four teenage girls came to the bus. Two of them were eager for tea and interaction, while the other two looked at their phones and urged them to leave for a party. The two who got tea were full of questions – whys, hows, and whats. Captivated by my responses, they encouraged their two friends to stay saying, “How often do you come across something like this?” Eventually all four girls were listening and interacting, and they stayed until the last drops of tea were sipped from their cups. As they left, one of them turned to me and said, “This changed my life.”
A 50-something-year-old fellow came to the bus and was immediately intrigued. He was a little quirky, a little quiet, a little shy, but you could see in his eyes that he sought community and connection. I run into fellows like this sometimes. They become regulars on the bus when we’re around. Maybe it’s because they’re lonely, want to interact, and seek some guidance and answers for these things. Because I was a somewhat like this before I started serving tea, I tend to connect well with them. This particular fellow was in and out of the bus all night. “Why be anywhere else?” he said in regards to the countdown to the New Year. I told him I made a conscious decision that this country, my home country, is where my energy is best put towards making a change in this world. He said he made the same decision in his life years ago, but felt like he wasn’t acting on his desire to make a difference. I could tell when he left, however, that his unspoken New Years Resolution was to act on this desire. I could see in it his eyes – the way that the wheels were turning in his mind.
A young woman enjoyed spending some time on the bus, ringing in the New Year with a few of us. Later, she left and came back with her boyfriend and friends. She came to me and said, “You’re saving people tonight, providing a space like this. You even helped save a rocky relationship. Thank you.”
It was great to have such a mix of people throughout the evening: my good friends Eghan, Ally (and even her parents briefly), Suzette, and Gregory all showed; a fellow who I had met while serving tea at Reed College a month ago; Miss Pink (who called me four years ago and tried to convince me to travel with her pink revolution across the country); two ladies who used to live on Lopez Island (sent by my friend Sue); Keith (who was traveling in a bus when I met him in Eureka last year); Sam (another RV dweller); Truk (who has been on his own free tea adventures in his truck); several musicians; and more all came in for tea. The conversations dipped in and out of politics, money, dreams, environment, community building, and our intentions for the year to come. I feel blessed to have been in such company, and to be a well-used service to people in need.
Tea is not the defining feature of the tea bus, only the vehicle for some of these unseen services. It is a pleasure to share them.
Happy New Year!!!