Winter Update – Writing Retreat! – Blythe, CA

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

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

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

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

Banner in Worner Center at Colorad College.

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

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

P. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvaged cedar fence paneling in Gwen’s bus.

Gwen’s shower I finished.

The skylight in Gwen’s shower.


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

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

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

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

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

Sunset on the road in Colorado. (no filter)

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

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

Serving tea at Meow Wolf.

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

New Mexico sunrise.

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

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

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

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

Edna’s new starter!

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

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

City of Rocks, NM.

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

Accidentally driving through Saguaro National Park.

The welcome sign at Renee’s in Phoenix.

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

Two vans meet just before the Phoenix First Friday Artwalk.

Selfie at the Phoenix First Friday Artwalk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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