It was a hectic last couple weeks at the shop on Orcas. I was packing up all my tools, building materials, doing some repairs on my horse trailer, welding, cutting, grinding, drilling, and on top of that my good nomadic friend Lily was visiting.
Lily’s visit came just in time for her to cruise down the coast with Edna and I. Her existence brings forth a whole ‘nother set of ideals, ideas, and forced reality of things. She lives off of her bike for the most part, making her way around the world by thumb, sailing, biking, and minimal combustion engine. She travels slow and light, bringing to her experiences a heightened sense of, and connection to, environment, community, and life overall. She likes simplicity. She spends a good deal of time writing letters. Although there is constant movement in her life, she finds plenty of time to slow down.
Lily’s passions for slow and sustainable travel, letters, and community have meshed themselves together rather poetically in one of her main projects – Lightfoot Sustainable Post (www.sustainablepost.org). The basic idea: If people are traveling already, why not keep as much mail as possible out of petroleum-fueled airplanes and send those letters off with people who are already going where letters are going. Beyond the environmental implications of shipping and sending, Lightfoot also encourages interactions and creates real connections between senders, deliverers, and recipients. Other than hand delivering letters, Lightfoot also sets up boxes in places where travelers come through where letters can be dropped, awaiting a traveler heading their way.
Lily and I decided unanimously that our passions combined could make for one epic journey. Loaded with lots of tea and letter writing supplies, we set off on our grand journey. First stop: Seattle. On Broadway, a cold and somewhat rainy day tested our commitment. But alas, once we were set up, a perfect amount of interested people came through. They eagerly devoured our hot tea and sat to write letters to loved ones and friends. Our letter service was not only to provide supplies to write beautiful and artistic letters, but an offer to hand deliver them on our way down the coast, or get them into a Lightfoot Box that would find their letters in the hands of other travelers headed towards the letters’ destinations.
The people of Seattle were excited. They peered in. They participated. Strangers. Friends. They drank and wrote. They were eager for a break from the rain. They shared back. As I was writing a letter to my friend Ally, telling her the only thing missing was some of her cinnamon rolls, she surprised us with a visit and supplied the said pastries. I was happy to see her, so we danced on the sidewalk. We made friends and told jokes.
We decided to serve on Hawthorne in SE Portland, which has been a regular spot due to proximity to friends’ houses and it’s just an easy location. However, it was super slow and I want to branch out to more places in Portland next time. Regardless, our tea party here flourished from the slowness, creating plenty of time and space for more letter writing and many old friends came to visit. I got to show my buddy Kyle (who hooked me up with some pulleys and line) my bed that raises for daily use and tea parties and lowers from the ceiling for sleeping.
The next day in Portland we made our way to three different houses to deliver Lightfoot letters. In Eugene we made a stop at Mountain Rose Herbs to pick up some tea and supplies (they just don’t stop with their generosity). In Florence, OR we stopped at a stamp shop to get some rubber stamps for letter writing and delivered a Lightfoot letter.
In Eureka we served tea at Arts Alive! – the monthly art walk there. Here’s where the difference in tea parties became clear to Lily, and her reaction helped make me think about the differences in tea parties. This tea party was CRAZY. Boil water, brew tea, serve tea, wash cups, repeat. I didn’t get but one chance to sit down in the five hours we were there. Because I have served tea here many-a-times before there were many people who were regulars (although it had been 8 months since the last time I was there). This made for lots of conversation, hugs, and just further added to the frenzy. It was obvious that Lily liked the slower tea parties of Seattle and Portland, and rightfully so because this tea party was definitely not conducive to letter writing with so many distractions and people coming in and out. It made me realize the difference between all the different atmospheres and speeds of tea parties. I think I like the slow ones better too, but I sure do LOVE the occasional hectic fun one.
Our journey landed us in San Francisco a week after we had started. That night we went into a friend’s place to shower and hang out. We came back out a couple hours later only to find that the side flapper doors of the bus were wide open. Sometimes I rig the door so that it looks closed and locked, but if you’re a genius with thin arms you could still get in. Unfortunately there was someone who fit this profile out that night. Lily and I searched the bus, only to find that none of our valuables were gone except for a laundry bag with my clean clothes.
Wandering around the neighborhood looking in trashcans for my clothes, I found myself in a nearby alley passing by a super sketchy looking couple who were looking in car windows and trashcans. As I passed them I noticed that the guy had a black bag with straps hanging down, which looked like it could be my bag, at least in the darkness of night. I followed them up the block only to realize that it wasn’t my bag. At the corner they stopped across from my bus. They were obviously scoping it out so I passed by them, not paying any special attention to the bus as I passed it, and only stopped up the alley at some trash cans where I pretended to be dumpster diving. Just then I realized that all my clothes were dumped on the ground right there by the trash can along with Lily’s letter writing folder, which only contained cut up National Geographics and paper. I gathered our things and spied the sketchy guy scoping the bus and walking up the alley towards me. I got up and walked past him, arms full of clothes. “I was going to dumpster dive there,” he said in a neutral tone. I grunted at him and half smiled.
After I got back in the bus, he turned around and came back, slowly walking by the bus and pretending not to be scoping it. He stood across the little street for a while smoking a cigarette and continuing to pretend not to be scoping the bus. Pretty soon he walked down the alley to a dumpster and pulled out a thick metal rod. He came back to his corner perch and looked threatening with his demeanor and metal rod. Lily said. “Let’s go, like right now.” And we did.
The next morning we awoke where we had parked the night before: in front of a church where two homeless guys were sleeping. I told Lily that I wanted to sleep by them, because unlike the sketchy dude who was scoping (and had probably broke into) the bus, these folks were just trying to sleep. We found my intuitions to be correct in the early morning when I awoke and offered them tea. “What kind of tea, mon?” said one of them in a Jamaican accent. I told him anything and they ordered two chais. They were great men, especially the Jamaican, named Sire (Siah, in his accent). They shared their abundance of bagels with us and we spread them with jam. Great stories were told and my faith in humanity was restored. I was reminded that most people, even street people, are good. If you treat someone as a human, they will do the same back.
As we packed up for the morning, I realized that one thing of value was missing from the bus – the Gift and Take Jar. This is a hidden jar that people can put money into if they feel like they want to contribute to the tea bus, or I tell people about if they are in need of money, whether it be for food, art projects, etc. I take from it for parking meters, tolls, honey, etc. And that is precisely what had happened. Lily and I had taken the jar from it’s hidden place to pay the toll on the Golden Gate Bridge (and paid for the next person behind us as a surprise). The jar hadn’t made it back to it’s all-so-hidden place of normal rest. The thief had seen the jar (which probably contained $100-$150 in cash and change) and broken in to get at it. The ironic part of the story is that if this person and I had had a real human interaction and they showed me their need I would have offered the contents of the jar to them (although I probably would have kept the jar itself).
When we were in Seattle a week prior, a fellow came on the bus looking for some money to help him get into a $5/night shelter. We offered him tea, cinnamon rolls, and conversation. Ally hugged him. People asked his name and listened to his story. He was blown away at our generosity and told us that no one treats him like a human being anymore. Ally got his information to try and get him a job during the holiday rush with people she knew. At the end we offered him the Gift and Take Jar to pull out of. He couldn’t do it because he felt like he had already received so much, but with enough prodding he closed his eyes and took the first bill he put his hands on. After he left, the people on the bus all decided that it was a beautiful interaction not because he got free tea, pastries and money, but because it restored some of his lost faith – faith that he is a real human being, and faith that other people can and will treat him like it.
Back to the jar being stolen. I began to feel like the person who took the jar probably was lacking real human interactions with people and that is why they felt the need to steel. If they were treated like a human, then they would treat other people like humans. There would be no need to steal because if people saw them like a human, their needs would be met and people would go about trying to help them get their needs met. They would also see that stealing from someone is not treating them like a human.
I want to say that I care a lot about the person who broke into the bus. I wish I could tell them that. I feel so bad that they are so disconnected from people that they must resort to stealing. I want to tell them that if they act real to people that people will act real to them. Unfortunately the disconnection with people can be a downward spiral. When people treat you like less of a human, you begin to treat them as less of a human, and then they treat you even less like a human, and so on. So sad.
Another side of this story is this: I always tell people that there are three types of people in this world: (1) Ones who wont mess with you, which is most people; (2) Ones who might mess with you, which is a very small percentage; (3) and ones who will mess with you, and that’s a very very minute number of people. For the people that might and will mess with you, I always say that there are ways to deter them: be confident, don’t look like a victim, you must feel and look strong, and learn how to read people by their body language and eyes. I realize now that Edna did not appear strong. The money in plain view made her look like a victim. The doors ever-so-slightly ajar made her look weak. Just as a person must remain strong, so much the possessions we want to protect. I know now what steps I need to take to do this.
Regardless of the break-in, we spend the next day creating a beautiful Lightfoot Box, and bicycled around the city delivering Lightfoot letters. It was the first sunny day in a while, and it felt SO good. I can’t tell you how much people appreciate getting a letter in hand. Some of them from as long and far as a year and a half and two continents and an ocean away. Lily was pedaling Juno, the bike she rode across the US and had been apart from from a while. I smiled as we climbed steep hills. All I want is a bus and a bike, and this journey around the city confirmed that. Lily has helped me realize the importance of the bicycle.
I now ride alone in the bus after dropping Lily off at the train station two mornings ago. She is off to winter in Madison, WI and I am here in the Bay Area finding the right place to put a Lightfoot Box, as well as delivering some Lightfoot letters in the area. I guess this adventure showed me many things. As Mark Twain said, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” With this in mind, I realize that I kinda like Lily :-). Although I am usually hesitant to take people with me on longer journeys, she reminded me that there are good travel partners, and she is one of them.
I was also reminded by this trip to remember that we are all humans, and we all deserve to be treated like one. Ask the person who is asking you for money what his/her name is. Befriend them. Make friendly eye contact with strangers, whether it be a homeless man or a beautiful woman. Share your abundance with those that are in need. But most importantly, actually see people as human beings, and the rest will follow.