Not Far in Miles, but Light Years in Smiles – Bellingham, WA

Western Washington University's students loved the tea bus!
Western Washington University’s students loved the tea bus!

What an amazing start to our tour off the Islands! Edna and I left the Islands a week ago Friday in time to serve tea at the Anacortes Art Walk. We were invited to set up in front of the Anacortes Center for Happiness, which is an amazing organization/space that hosts anything happiness related, from yoga to music to film screenings. They reached out through their networks to make sure the tea bus was full of people all evening. It was so great to get off the island and get back in the flow of life in new places with new faces. This is what I am meant to do! People were super receptive and eager to interact.

Serving at the Anacortes Art Walk with Freddie in tow.
Serving at the Anacortes Art Walk with Freddie in tow.

I trekked off that night to the Lookout Arts Quarry with my horse trailer in tow, where I had been six months earlier serving tea for the Sh’Bang Festival. The site seemed dead at this point compared to the hustle and bustle of what was there last time we were. It was a long needed resting point, as I was still recuperating from being sick. Even though I arrived late, I awoke early the next morn to look for someone to talk to about where to park the horse trailer. No one was in sight, so I dropped it out of the way and headed off towards the first farmers’ market of the season in Bellingham.

This was probably the best place I could make the tea. It was actually quite a magical experience. I pulled by the market as people were setting up and spotted a perfect spot on a closed off street right next to the festivities. As I pulled around the block I noticed a fellow nomad by his RV and was tempted to honk in solidarity with him. 30 seconds after I

The first farmers' market of the season.
The first farmers’ market of the season.

pulled into my perfect parking spot, the nomad drove up in his RV, stepped out, came over and said, “Um so, I hate to say this, but this is my parking spot.” He was about to set up his booth on the sidewalk and have his RV there in case it rained, which was in the forecast. I told him I would totally move, but first I wanted to tell him what I was doing. “No way, this is the free tea bus? My friends in Arcata totally told me about this! It’s funny because part of the reason I wanted to park here was so that I could make tea for people while I sold my stuff out of the rain.” We agreed that Edna and I could stay, but he asked if he could set up inside if it started to rain. My gut reaction was NO! No money here! But I soon realized that my no money policy wasn’t a moral that I needed to be so dogmatic about. I said, “Okay.” And guess what happened? He set up outside, and it didn’t rain! And it was actually beautiful out! Thanks, Will!

A fresh baby. My ex-roommate Katie is pregnant and admiring.
A fresh baby. My ex-roommate Katie is pregnant and admiring.

Many people came out for the market, and many stopped at the bus. It was great to see and meet all sorts of folks. There were folks I met at Sh’Bang, in Oregon, on the Islands, and many more who I was meeting for the first time. Bellinghamsters are super curious about this kind of thing, so many great conversations were had about the project, the bus, the tea, the lifestyle. It was a busy day of more than eight hours of tea.

I was surprised the next day by a few friends from San Juan: Ally, Amanda, and Amanda’s son Findley. At Amanda’s suggestion we all met up Monday morning at Western Washinton University’s campus to serve tea. We pulled right up onto the bricks just off Red Square, the campus’ central area. With no permission, a bit of anxiety, and lots of tea,we set up and started serving. We showed at just the right time to catch people on their

A fellow from the capoeira club plays the berimbau.
A fellow from the capoeira club plays the berimbau.

way to and from class, and pretty soon we were a full house. It was packed! We literally couldn’t make enough hot water on two burners with two kettles to keep the tea flowing fast enough. Reporters from the campus paper, The Western Front, showed up, took photos, and asked a lot of good questions. Ally helped people choose their teas and get hot water from me. I just kept the hot water coming, washed dishes, and talked to dozens and dozens of strangers. With all the strangers, however, there were folks from the Islands, and folks I had met at Sh’Bang too. People were making awesome connections, there was music, and people were walking away with huge smiles. I ended up making tea for 11 hours there that day, and was exhausted.

David Tiller of Taarka is sweet enough to jam with the fans.
David Tiller of Taarka is sweet enough to jam with the fans (River in the middle).

The days following were a mix of taking care of personal needs (like food, sleep, running, stretching), and serving tea at a few places. For two nights I served tea outside the Green Frog, which was hosting some live music (Gallus Brother and Foghorn Stringband the first night, and Taarka the next). My friend Artemesia came through town on a visit, and we visited my friend River’s wooden sailboat that he is restoring and wants to make the ocean counterpart to the tea bus (I told him he should consider calling it the Tea Turtle)… It was great to connect with many people over and over again in Bellingham, and see fresh faces every day too.

On Friday I headed back to campus because it had been such a blast last time, and I knew the article about the tea bus was coming out that day. Immediately after I set up I got a copy of the article. It was the center spread and looked amazing! It was rainy and slow for tea sippers. About an hour and a half after I showed, a police officer showed up and asked if we had a permit. The article didn’t amuse him and he asked us to leave. He was kind about it and told us who to go to get a permit. It was inevitable, in my opinion. I was already pushing my luck when I came onto campus four days earlier without permission. The good thing about it is that if I every do want to serve on Western Campus (or any campus for that matter), I have this beautiful article to share with whomever is in charge of giving out permits… Overall it was a good experience.

Article in The Western Front
Article in The Western Front (read the article here)

After getting booted from campus, we went briefly to serve at Food Not Bombs, and then on to The Roost – an underground venue in a renovated house (using salvaged materials) where my friends The Shook Twins were playing that night. I ended up selling their merch and being the doorman. Although we only had a spot of tea before and after, it was a fun little event. I ran into a fellow who I have met six or seven years ago at Barter Faire when I was trying to trade my way from a piece of pocket lint to a school bus. He has traded me an accordion for some antique blown glass fishing floats. He was stoked to see that I had actually gotten about built out a bus. These kinds of meeting help to remind me that I am living a dream, a dream that I had many many years ago. Thanks for that reminder, Aviathar.

Tunes!
Tunes!

The next morning brought us back to the Farmers’ Market. We got our same awesome spot, but it was SNOWING when we first put out the FREE TEA signs. Wow! But again, the clouds parted and it got super sunny, even though rain was in the forecast. And again, we got an amazing slew of folks who came out and drank tea with us. Thanks, ya’ll!

Yesterday as the Shook Twins were on their way back through town, some friends and I met up with them to check out their Bass player Kyle’s bus. I have been advising Kyle on the build out of his bus for the past 6 months or more, so it was super special to get to see his project coming together (same hot water heater that runs off the engine heat, same foot pump, wood work, etc). I helped them figure out and wire up a new 12v plug for their inverter, and we talked bus. It was a real wagon circle with both our buses, plus my buddy Nico’s Sprinter Van.

Hanging out at the B St. house in their new net.
Hanging out at the B St. house in their new net.

Throughout our stay in Bellingham many wonderful people hosted us. For the first three nights, Edna and I parked outside of Amiel and Hallie’s house, who I met at Sh’Bang, and where my old roommate and her partner live. They were gracious hosts and it was an instant little community of sharing food, games, and ideas. We moved on to The Oasis, a community house south of campus that is a wonderful blend of permaculturists, musicians, herbalists, etc.  Now I am sitting on the front porch of a sweet house on B St. that houses seven college folks. All the places we’ve parked have been great communities who have shared so much in the way of space, food, conversation, herbs and teas, and all the human needs we have… Thank you to all out hosts so much!

I do have to say that Bellingham was one of the most receptive places that the tea bus has visited. So many people are open to and wanting this kind of thing here. We were inspired by people and people were inspired by us. So great!

Tonight we serve our last cups of tea in Bellingham at Vaudevillingham – a monthly vaudeville show at the Cirquelab, put on by the Bellingham Circus Guild. We look forward to it! Hope to see you there.

Edna and Kyle's Bus kiss noses.
Edna and Kyle’s Bus kiss noses.
Serving in the snow!
Serving in the snow!
Serving tea at the Taarka show at the Green Frog.
Serving tea at the Taarka show at the Green Frog.
Tea time at the Gallus Brothers and Foghorn Stringband show
Tea time at the Gallus Brothers and Foghorn Stringband show
River's wooden sailboat meets Edna.
River’s wooden sailboat meets Edna.
I gave my remaining mustache wax to the guy on the left.
I gave my mustache wax to the guy on the left.
Come and get it!
Come and get it!
The tea bag bowl...
The tea bag bowl…
A fellow from the capoeira club plays the berimbau.
A fellow from the capoeira club plays the berimbau.
Findley
Findley
A long day of tea.
A long day of tea.
This guys used to serve free Pop Tarts on WWU campus!
This guys used to serve free Pop Tarts at Western!
The tea goes through the tea-th and out the tea-t..
The tea goes through the tea-th and out the tea-t..
New friends!
New friends!
Will, who gave me his parking spot.
Will, who gave me his parking spot.
Serving in front of the Anacortes Center for Happiness.
Serving in front of the Anacortes Center for Happiness.

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