After such success in Bellingham at Western Washington University, I decided that it would be fun to serve tea at more college campuses. College age people are eager to learn, eager to see what lies beyond the bounds that older folks have laid out for them to operate within.
My buddy Owen has a good friend who attends the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM), and she suggested we head on down there during their finals week. Last Monday Owen, his brother Chris, and myself rolled on over to campus. We were invited by our host into the main parking lot, right in front of the main building to serve tea. We set up, brewed some tea, and set out a FREE TEA sign. Immediately we had guests… Even the security guard came over and said, “Sweet vehicle! Oh man, is that a solar panel on top? Wow!” It was an instant hit.
After a short bit, the security guard came back and said something along the lines of, “Sooo, the higher ups are a little curious about what is going on. Do you know anyone who goes to school here? What is the name of the student that invited you? Oh no, she wont get into trouble.” Reluctantly, we told him. He came back shortly and pulled me aside. “I am totally digging on what you’re doing. This is nothing personal, but you are going to have to move. The school has an exclusive contract with the food cart across the lot, and so legally we can’t let you serve tea here, or else we are breaking that contract. You can move onto the public street though, and that would be fine. I hope you don’t take this personally.” I didn’t. We actually got a great parking spot right where a lot of foot traffic passes by.
The security guard came and got some tea, as did many more students. The school’s president gave us a peace sign as he passed, and even a professor or two came by. One of the professors who came by, Dr. Glen Nagel, had visited the tea tent at Rootstalk Festival a year and a half ago. Evidently, he is known around campus as the “tea professor.” Intrigued by the bus, he went to the campus garden, picked a bunch of herbs, and brewed up a pot of tea. He even brought his own set of tiny teacups, into which he poured a delicious purple brew for all the guests. He had us guessing at what herbs were in the pot, but stumped us all with the one that gave it its distinct purple hue – Purple Shiso.
I was telling Glen about the garden I am about to build on my large side door, and low-and-behold, he came back later with over a dozen herb plants for my garden, including some Purple Shiso. Seriously, I think this is one of the best gifts I have ever received. Thank you, Glen!
I had served tea earlier in the week on Belmont St and had on the bus a fellow, Matteo, who I had given a 5-day rideshare with his girlfriend from Portland to Santa Rosa, CA a few years ago. He had brought some friends who were students at Reed College. We schemed a plan that night of the tea bus heading over to Reed College campus during finals week. That day came the day after we were at NCNM.
I headed over to the Reed campus with my friend Adrienne and several Reed students to scout a good spot to serve to all the students deep in paper writing and studying. Hmmm, should we set up in front of the library, meaning we would drive where we weren’t supposed to. The suggestion came up that we pull up near the dining hall for their Midnight Breakfast – which was to take place at 10 pm. It was decided!
I feel that part of the purpose of the tea bus is to promote peace – whether it’s providing a place for people to overcome differences, connect with strangers, or resolve conflict. So, when something I do, like pulling onto a college campus, has the inherent ability to cause conflict, it makes me nervous. Never do I want to cause problems! For this reason I was on edge rolling up to the center of campus with Enda Lu the teabus.
At 9:40 we arrived with Edna on campus with hot water and tea, ready to serve. I wanted to get serving as quickly as possible. We pulled up to the grass and set out chairs, cushions, and my large rug. Immediately we were inundated with thirsty students. The response was wonderful. Even a security guard (called Community Safety on campus) was interested in what was happening. Eventually an older fellow with a Reed shirt and name tag came and asked us who we had spoken to be there. Um, no one. He was the head of Community Safety. Although we should’ve gotten permission to be there, he let us stay, and said we’d be welcomed back if we let them know beforehand next time. I handed him a sticker and he went on his way.
The evening was short (only a few hours), but was packed the whole time. I wasn’t sure if my 40 teacups were going to be enough. We served up a Memory Zest, and a detox tea, figuring it would be good for everything these folks were going through with finals. We also had HUGE interest in Lightfoot Sustainable Post (alternative hand-delivery postal system). A dozen people took the Lightfoot vow – many of whom either wrote letter or took letters from my postal box to deliver to places they are traveling to after the end of the school year. One highlight of the evening was a security guard who couldn’t leave the bus because he liked it so much.
A couple days after serving at Reed, the head of Community Safety signed up for our email list, inviting us back (with notice ahead of time). A week later someone from Reed Orientation emailed us to see if we could come to Orientation in August to serve tea to new students.
I can’t help but think that our experimenting on college campuses – from Western in Bellingham to NCNM and Reed in Portland – has been a success. It has taught me that we can actually do what I do with permission. For much of what I do, I refuse to get permission (why would you need permission to make friends and invite them into your house for tea? Why would you need to get permission to live a life of giving?). I had a heck of a time working with festivals to get into their events to provide my service. They wanted health permits and were worried I’d be undercutting their vendors. Not all festivals are like this, but enough to push me into not wanting to work with bureaucracy, or get permission. These campus experiences, as well as my experience with the Fremont Market bring some hope for me. For this, I’d like to thank the individuals who saw the light of what Edna and I were doing, those who pulled strings, and those who came in for tea…
UPDATE (5/25): I forgot to mention that I spent last Saturday at the Portland State University’s Farmers’ Market. I arrived the night before to get a good parking spot because the market started so early in the morning. As I pulled up, stepped out of Edna, and went out for a walk around Portland, a fellow passed me by only to stop, turn around, and say, “Tea man!” Huh? Wow, someone recognized me in the dark in downtown Portland. It was a fellow and his friend who had come for tea at First Thursday Art Walk. They came aboard the bus and we had a great conversation. I was a little skeptical of sleeping on the street in downtown Portland, which also happened to be on PSU campus, but no police or security gave me any hassle.
I awoke early to make tea for anyone on the street. My two friends from the night before came first thing, and set a good tone for the day. It was a LONG day (over 12 hours of serving tea), but so good at the same time. There was some sweet guitar being played, and many many folks were stoked on the tea bus. Thanks folks, for the great conversations, fresh produce, and pizza!
Here’s a video from the PSU Farmers’ Market from thedahliatheory: