Can it be that long already? Oh how (tea)time flies. As I sat in the bus while prepping to serve tea in Arcata on New Years Eve, I reflected on the past five years while writing in the 2010 guest book. I had time to think real good.
I also perused the pages of the book and read each entry word for word. I read an entry from the Mayor of Eureka, CA, from a homeless man, from a good friend, from a drug addict. Some people wrote just their name, others wrote whole pages. Obviously signing the guest book is optional, which makes me excited to see hundreds of entries – some sloppy, some neat, some drawings, some scribbles. Each entry was unique. Most of them say nice things about the tea and the bus, but what really stuck out to me were the general themes behind the entries. People were inspired to share what they have to offer in their lives in their own unique way. They were eager to be a part of the tea bus community by writing their phone numbers and emails, asking us to come to their towns, communities and houses. While some people are obviously blown away when they step into the bus for tea, others are more reserved and I only realized the impact the experience had on them once I read the guest book.
Once I decided to make serving free tea my life’s mission, I was overcome by an intense feeling that I was on the right path, a certain sense of peace. Yet, as I continue on this journey, I do have doubts. A few weeks ago I was serving tea at Lake Merritt in Oakland. No one was stopping for tea, and I tried to be glad to have time to read and play my tenor guitar, but deep down I was sad that no one stopped. I figured it was because most people were jogging and didn’t want to stop for a hot beverage, or it was because people often shut off to unknown things/people/happenings in the city because there is always too much going on and you can’t be open to everything. The feelings in me peaked when three college-aged girls jogged by. I heard one say under her breath, “Free tea?… sketchy!” I thought oh no, I AM that sketchy guy in a school bus. Fortunately several friends came before the day was over and they comforted me.This brings me back to the guest book. When I go back to reading it, it re-infuses me with the strength, confidence, and love that I need to keep serving tea. It helps me remember that I am on the right path.
This year I am blessed with a hand-made guest book, already imbued with the hard work, dedication, and love from a person who is very very dear to me. Each year I usually shop around at thrift stores for a blank book with which to make a guest book, but I am happy to have one especially made for the tea bus. It features a stylish cover, made from re-purposed leather, complete with pockets (from a purse?), and a leather strip to tie it closed. I can’t tell you how much I love it (and everyone who has signed it so far). Thank you, Sara.
We welcomed the New Year in Arcata on a random city street and cruised the next evening to a only half-happening Arts Alive in Eureka. This is where we celebrated the five years of free tea. For some reason the brick work plaza reminded me of Hollywood Blvd. I reflected on the first time I decided to go down to Hollywood Blvd. to cook dinner on my tailgate in January of 2006. The interactions I had that night inspired me to do it again… and again. And each night after dinner I would put on a kettle for tea. The strangers I met were just as eager as I to talk and share. Things just started to work out. The more I gave, the more beautifully people responded, and the more I received. Strangers became friends. I started having ‘regulars.’ Some have become nothing but an apparition in my memory, while others have become like family. This is what has happened everywhere the tea bus has served.
While serving in Eureka, despite the extra crazy evening for all the teenagers running around, I found all these characteristics that I have loved ever since the days of Hollywood. Plenty of strangers enjoyed a cuppa or two. Some people who had been before brought newbies. Some GOOD people from the area that I have come to love came out to sip some tea. It was a good mix. People sang and played music. There were rhymes. Conversations about the nature of reality. Peppermint and Tulsi tea. The night just wouldn’t end…
In the grand scheme of things, five years isn’t all that long. Cultures have been serving free tea (and herbal infusions) all over the world for thousands of years, and for the same reasons a I do: health, community, peace, relaxation, reflection, etc. Mine and Edna’s journey is a reflection of those that tea masters, herbalists, activists, nomads, and spiritual seekers have been taking for a long time. Our adventures are undertaken in the spirit of these (many long-forgotten) ancestors. Aho!