Austin Tea Parties – Austin, TX

Serving tea near downtown Austin at the Hope Outdoor Gallery
Serving tea near downtown Austin at the Hope Outdoor Gallery (photo: Nathan Rice)

Ahhhh, a great little break for the tea bus. Edna (the tea bus) and I had been on the road, serving tea, and working pretty hard for the previous five month, and Austin offered us a place to decompress, do some bus projects, and serve a little tea.

After an interesting first tea serving experience at the first annual Texas Tea Festival, I found myself during the depths of the winter exploring depths of my own being. I’m not one to place too much faith in astrology, but a reading from a woman in Madrid, NM last fall told me that I would find myself in a hard spot come late winter and early spring – and she was right. I was a little saddened by how difficult it was to be of service at the Texas Tea Festival, as well as feeling like I had a lot of bus projects that needed to be done, whereas I had been hoping to spend the winter writing. I was feeling like I put so much effort into being of service, helping people, offering advice and hands for other people’s projects, but also feeling over-extended, under-supported, and basically that I work super hard to be of service, but live in a world where we often don’t support people who share, probably because we don’t trust that the giving is altruistic. We are trained that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that people act out of self-interest – so, why would anyone think to share freely back with the tea bus? Sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself and the tea bus everywhere that we go, just to get a basic level of respect. Of course, there are many people who just get it, and love the tea bus from the beginning, but being in new places and having lots of bus projects to accomplish made it a little overwhelming.

Edna meets the Shady Shack.
Edna meets the Shady Shack.

I settled in to both the Stick Farm in deep south Austin as well as Shady Acres up in Round Rock. Both places offered a great place to park, gardens, chickens, and a good community of people to be around. I needed this. I was grateful to have such places, but moving from one to the other, with time in central Austin in between was a little too much movement, so I dug in up at Shady Acres.

Shady Acres is a small homestead run by a fellow named Shade, who is in the process of building a tiny house out of salvaged materials (The Shady Shack). Having WOOFers and HelpXers around meant he was open to work-trade, so I ended up sticking around for a couple months. When the lawn mower needed fixing, or some leaky pipes repaired, or a hand needed for pulling wood through the table saw, I was there to help. And in return, I was offered food, cement to park on to work on Edna, and most importantly, good people to be around.

Shady Acres and all the salvaged wood therein.
Shady Acres and all the salvaged wood therein.
Shade in the Shady Shack.
Shade in the Shady Shack.

Early on at Shade’s place, I was in my bus one morning, only to look out and see a familiar face. I realized this was a face that I had never seen in person, but the face of a fellow I had seen on a video from Texas Tiny Houses (an epic salvaged material tiny house business). As it turns out, Mackey was helping Shade on his tiny house. He, along with Shade, became the friends that I could geek out on tools, materials, methods, and more with. I love those guys.

The deconstruction crew in Taylor, TX.
The deconstruction crew in Taylor, TX.

Shade runs a house deconstruction operation, so partway through our stay in Austin, we drove out to Taylor, TX to take down an early 1900s farmhouse in order to salvage the materials. We spent a long weekend out there, with half a dozen of us camping out, sharing food, cooking on the campfire, and going to the bathroom in a bucket out on a dock in the middle of a reservoir. During the day, we were pulling out hardware, wood, and anything else of value. It was beautiful to see the way a house comes down and the materials saved for later use. This experience was crucial for me gaining a deeper understanding of salvaged materials. In the end, we used Edna to pull down the skeleton of the house. See video below:

Transmission wiring harnesses - old and new.
Transmission wiring harnesses – old and new.

Projects (skip if uninterested):
Edna needed some love, with so much travel and not much down time this fall and winter. Her transmission (e4od) was acting funny and throwing codes, which led me to replace the VSS sensor, MLPS, and some wiring harnesses/plugs, as well as drop the pan and replace the fluid and filter. I was still having trouble with my 2-3 gear shift, so I went ahead and ordered a new solenoid pack, as we all a shift kit (Transgo Tugger), which I will install somewhere down the road. After I disconnected my batteries to reset my tranny codes, I haven’t had it throw any more codes, so we’ll see (it needs to have problem shifting from 2-3 gear ten times in a row before it will throw codes). While I was under the bus, I did an oil change and drained and refilled my rear differential as well, as it has had a small leak since the last time I drained it a year and a half ago.

The old filter/pump/transfer/centrifuge setup.
The old filter/pump/transfer/centrifuge setup.
Hose-in-Hose (HIH) for new dirty WVO system.
Hose-in-Hose (HIH) for new dirty WVO system.

I knew in spending time working on the bus this winter that I was going to rebuild my dirty waste vegetable oil (WVO) system. It was working fine, except for a couple components/methods. The main issue I was having was that I was using just a single 2 micron filter for transferring vegetable oil from dirty to the clean tank. Even though this oil had already been centrifuged, there was still enough junk in it to clog the filter rather quickly (every 15-30 gallons or so). I decided to plumb in another filter (10 micron) before this one, so that I could potentially use less filters. The new system also included putting the feed line for both the centrifuge and the filter/transfer system in a Hose-in-Hose (HIH) setup. This is basically a 1” coolant hose with the ½” OD vegetable oil line inside of it. This helps blast the WVO with heat prior to being centrifuged or transferred/filtered. The oil also gets heated by a flat plate heat exchanger, as well as an optional 12v or 110v heater inline on the way to the high-pressure centrifuge pump.

The new graduated filter setup for transferring WVO to the clean tank.
The new graduated filter setup for transferring WVO to the clean tank.

The new double/graduated filter setup for transferring oil is great. Both filter heads are coolant heated (1/2” copper tubing wrapped). I also installed a separate pump for transferring oil, as the high-pressure pump I was using previously only transferred at less than 1 GPM, so it took almost 40 minutes to fill my 30 gallon clean WVO tank. The new pump is rated at 2 GPM, but it seems to transfer closer to 1.5 GPM, which is the rated flow for my filters. This means that it fills my clean tank in about 20 minutes. Ah, way better!

New access panel for dirty WVO centrifuge system.
New access panel for dirty WVO centrifuge system.

As part of this dirty WVO replumb, I installed a new little plastic door on the side of the bus, which acts as a control panel for the centrifuge system. In this door is the high-pressure inlet and outlet (from dirty WVO tank to centrifuge and back into the other end of the tank), a temperature sender (gauge in bus), a pressure gauge, a pressure relief valve, and a bleed-off valve for adjusting pressure to the centrifuge. This last component was super crucial. The centrifuge setup that I bought used a ball valve here, but it eventually got so easy to turn the handle that it would turn on its own from any vibration. This was no good because it would adjust the pressure being sent to the centrifuge. If it raised the pressure, then I would have WVO coming out of the pressure relief valve. After doing some research, I realized that ball valves are not supposed to be used to control pressure/flow (simply on/off), and that the proper valve to use here was a globe valve, which is what I installed instead.

Dropping the dirty WVO tank to clean.
Dropping the dirty WVO tank to clean.
The small amount of gunk in my dirty WVO tank.
The small amount of gunk in my dirty WVO tank.

During this whole operation I decided that it would be a good idea to drop the dirty WVO tank to give it a clean out. I’ve been running WVO for over two years, so I was expecting it to be pretty dirty – but alas, it was not. I only pulled out a large fistful of gunk, and scraped out a little chicken skin (polymerization), but for the most part, it was pretty clean. This is because I pre-filter all my WVO to 150-200 microns, and as all the oil gets centrifuged it is cycling through the tank.

Part of this process was also making it easier on my alternator to power the load required to centrifuge (the high pressure pump, occasional air pump, and optional inline 12v heater). I found a mod online for adding in a switch that would allow me to turn on the high idle solenoid at any point. Usually the solenoid is only on while the engine is cold. Once it gets up to 130 degrees F, it shuts off. This is accompanied along with a timing advance on the injection pump as well. In doing this mod, I had to install a diode (which allows electricity to flow only one way) so that I wouldn’t be turning the timing advance when I turned on the high idle solenoid. When the high idle solenoid is on, the engine’s RPMs increase from about 700 to 1100, so that I can get more juice from the alternator. It also help prevent “wet stacking” when idling for long periods of time. See the mod, and definition of wet stacking here.

Sheri works on the floor of her bus.
Sheri works on the floor of her bus.

One of the fun non-Edna projects that I got to work on was helping to install salvaged long leaf pine flooring in my friend Sheri’s bus. The flooring was taken out of the house we deconstructed in Taylor. We planed it down to give it new life, and spent a good amount of time making sure it was installed nicely. It turned out beautiful!

Helping Trey with his van in a library parking lot.
Helping Trey with his van in a library parking lot.

Other projects include: Sheri helping sew mosquito nets for a couple of Edna’s windows and skylight (thank the lord, now that we’re in bug country); getting hired to help reinstall some doors in a couple shipping container cabins; helping my new friend Trey get adjusted to van living with some curtain wires, a 12v plug/inverter setup with a voltmeter, and other advice, in exchange for some help with my new Tea Map (coming soon!); a bunch of bus maintenance like an air filter change, fuel filter change, WVO filter change, brake check, etc.

Serving tea at Music on Main in Round Rock, TX.
Serving tea at Music on Main in Round Rock, TX.

Even though much of our time was taken by bus and other projects, we still found time to serve tea in the Austin area. Some of these tea parties included a medicinal plant walk, a Butch Hancock show at Strange Brew, a First Thursday Art Walk on South Congress, the Katherine Anne Porter School in Wimberley, Music on Main in Round Rock, sunrise with beautiful friends in Blanco, a monthly potluck at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and with So Han at The Tea Spot at Spider House. These, of course, are along side all the small tea parties at people’s houses, on the street, and other more intimate tea sipping moments. On Edna’s 7th (re)Birthday, which was the 7 year anniversary of buying her, as well the 2 year mark of our 2+ Year North American Tour, we hosted a wonderful tea party in east Austin (read about it here).

Making tea at GayBiGayGay
Making tea at GayBiGayGay

We also served tea at a few events. One of them was GayBiGayGay, a queer response to SouthBySouthWest. Ever since coming to Texas, I’ve found myself around more gay and queer folks than any other part of the country I have been to. I’m not sure why that is. Regardless, I was told I would fit in at GayBiGayGay because I was “queer” – not in the gay sense, but the “different” sense. Okay, whatever you say 🙂 … The event was one of those super simple ones where I just pull up, explain what I do, and they say “come on in!” as they direct me to a place I can park. I ended up in the “Sexy & Sober Zone,” which worked out pretty good since I don’t usually allow drugs and alcohol on the bus while serving tea. The tea bus was a hit, and I got more good hugs than I could imagine. There was a topless woman making friendship bracelets for hours in the bus. There were people geeking out on the tea bus’ build-out. There were kids and adults, costumes and picnics, music and fun.

Honk!TX
Honk!TX

At Honk!TX, a multi-location free community festival of marching/brass bands, we set up right at one of the parks they were having their event. The day was incredible, with iced tea being served left and right. My Australian friend, Dan, took it upon himself to make and serve free Vegemite sandwiches at the tea bus for much of the afternoon and evening. They were a hit! We had many, many friends – new and old – stopping in for tea.

Serving tea at the Texas Wild Rice Festival in San Marcos, TX.
Serving tea at the Texas Wild Rice Festival in San Marcos, TX.

In San Marcos, TX we setup the tea bus at the Texas Wild Rice Festival, along with fellow free tea servers Fritz and Sheri. Fritz just likes to make tea for people, as does Sheri. They both do it in their own way, but for the same beautiful reasons: to connect people, and share a beautiful experience. I couldn’t say no to collaborating with these folks. Sheri brought her short bus, Grace, and we set up the wagon circle right there next to the San Marcos River in the park. It was fun to have some double tea bus action happening. Inside each tea bus was their respective tea hosts, and outside Edna was her shade structure with Fritz’s tea zone. Everyone had three options for who to get tea from, and what experience to have. It was a blast! We also had a filmmaker there named Jackie who came out from New York to shoot a video about the tea bus. It was a long day, starting with an interview at 9 am and ending after 11 pm with breakdown. Whew!

Sheri serves tea in her bus, Grace, at the Texas Wild Rice Festival.
Sheri serves tea in her bus, Grace, at the Texas Wild Rice Festival.

PS – I highly recommend swimming the San Marcos River, which stays around 72 degrees F year round. It was the best part of my day there!

Serving tea at the Hope Outdoor Gallery.
Serving tea at the Hope Outdoor Gallery.

One event that went wrong was Eeyore’s Birthday. This yearly event has been notorious for 52 years as an event that keeps the “weird” in Keep Austin Weird. I figured that if I arrived at 5:30 am when the parking restrictions opened up, I could serve some tea. But boy was I wrong. At 6:30, I heard a rapping on my driver’s window. I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, as I had been awake for a couple hours. I think this caught the fellow off guard (I think he was waiting for some ragged hippy to come to the window). “You’re in the wrong place, boy!” he said in a Texas accent. This was the last thing I was expecting from this hippie-looking fellow in a tie-dye shirt. I tried explaining what I was hoping to do there. He was just about the least respectful, worst listener I have ever come across. “I’ve been running this event for X amount of years, and it’s a fundraiser for non-profits, and if you’re even thinking of selling anything…” No words would appease him, or get him to calm down. Basically, I was an imbecile, and he was going to have me towed. He couldn’t hear, or grasp that this was a free tea house, nor that I didn’t need a health permit according to the health department since we were in a residential neighborhood (see info on this in this blog entry). I couldn’t imagine how such a fellow was in charge of anything. He was a jerk and a terrible listener.

Two guests do watercolors of the tea bus in action at the Hope Outdoor Gallery.
Two guests do watercolors of the tea bus in action at the Hope Outdoor Gallery.

Despite feeling a little upset and defeated, I moved my bus just a few blocks down the street to the Hope Outdoor Gallery – an awesome graffiti/mural park where lots of people gather every day to paint or just enjoy the art. And I can say that the day actually turned out great! Many people came, as they often do. When the tea bus opens up, it’s hard for a lot of people to pass by without at least popping their head in. My cousins popped in to say hello, local artists offered me beautiful pieces of art, and such beautiful interactions transpired that I could no longer be affected by the jerk earlier that morning.

UT film crew.
UT film crew.

Our time in Texas happened to one of much media attention. In the course of our time here, we were the subject of five documentary film pieces, three radio/podcast pieces, and numerous written pieces. As always, the completed ones of these can be found on our In The News page. One great evening was spent in a UT professor’s backyard watching a bunch of student films, one of which was about the tea bus and myself. What fun!

Backyard film screening for some UT film students' film about the tea bus.
Backyard film screening for some UT film students’ film about the tea bus.
Ally arrives in Austin.
Ally arrives in Austin.

A couple weeks prior to leaving, Ally (remember her?) showed up to spend the summer traveling with Edna and myself. With her help, we reorganized many of the spaces in the tea bus, getting rid of a huge box at the thrift store. She was also there to help me as I spent nearly a week under the bus trying to put the final touches on the dirty WVO system. I am so grateful to have her with me now. She brings so much to the tea bus (and everywhere we visit) in the realms of nurture, collaboration, and companionship. Thank you, Ally!

My nephew Denzel comes for a visit and blows on the train whistle.
My nephew Denzel comes for a visit and blows on the train whistle.

On a side note, it was great to get to see my brother and his family, including my little nephew, who I adore so much. I am so glad that you came to Austin for a visit!!!

Huge thanks to:
Frank (and Brian, Emma, Laurie, Will, and Karen) at the Stick Farm; Shade of Shady nAcres, Neal, Rhonda, Bob Sokol, George, Katie, Jackie and her house, Jackie the filmmaker, the whole UT film crew (and professor Ellen Spiro), Travels with Benji, the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, Thora, Mackey, Jeremy for 60 gallons of clean WVO, Paul and his food trailer Flats for the dirty WVO, So Han Fan, Sheri, Fritz, Virginia, Butch and Adrienne, Tara, Cara, Nathan, Amelia, Adam, Eco-Wise for selling us so much biodiesel, Trey for help on our new tea map, and many, many more!