About 5 years ago Mother Earth News wrote an online article about the Free Tea Bus entitled “Free Tea Parties Build Strong Communities.” It was well received and I was happy to have caught the eyes of such a publication. When I realized that we were going to be near one of their regional Mother Earth News Fairs, I couldn’t resist the urge to attend and serve tea.
I wrote to an organizer to see if this was possible. After experiences with events where I felt mostly un-reciprocated, such as the Texas Tea Festival and the International Herb Symposium, I had all but given up on working with larger events, festivals, and fairs. But to my surprise, the barriers I had come up against previously weren’t there this time around. Although I wasn’t offered all I was hoping (food), every other element was a breeze (water, location, kitchen sink, general support/receptivity, event passes, etc.).
With all that, Ally, Edna and I left Efland, NC and journeyed up here to Asheville. We arrived in time to spend a couple days preparing for the event (getting 50 more cups, a bunch of cushions, honey, and more). On Friday, we showed up and got busy setting up. Our biggest obstacle was that there was major wind and cold weather in the forecast for Saturday. Before the fair even started, we had to take down our shade structure. On Saturday morning, there were canopies and vendors’ products strewn about from the wind the night before. Even though things were off to a bad start, it could only go uphill from there.
Our first day was semi-slow, partially due to a low volume of fair-goers in the cold weather, and partially because we didn’t have our warm, welcoming canopy and cushions out. Regardless, we got quite a few folks stopping in for tea. It was especially welcomed due to the cold and windy weather.
The weekend picked up, and the tea bus became a little hub amongst the madness. We made many new friends, went to workshops and talks, and had some great conversations. I finally got to meet John VanDeusan Edwards of the Food is Free Project. Our meeting was awesome, and I told him how he’d inspired me to make the hash-tag #teaisfree.
At an event like this, I talk A LOT. People come to Mother Earth News Fair because they are interested in sustainability, off-grid living, tiny-living, health, alternative energy, farming and food, etc. For this reason, I talked and talked and talked because people had so many questions. I talked about solar, running biofuels, having real skills and knowledge, alternative economics and sharing, and so much more. I think I may have driven my helpers crazy. At many smaller events, people get to know about the tea bus on the first day or two, then deeper, more personal, less-tea-bus-centric conversations get to come out. But at an event with tens of thousands of people, less of this happens in my presence.
The Mother Earth News Fair was a reminder that there are some events that are easier to work with. It also helped bring some closure to my experience with the International Herb Symposium last year, as organizer/herbalist Rosemary Gladstar was around this Fair and offered many kinds words and apologies in person that she had already written in email form. She also took the time to sit in the bus with some of my volunteers and guests and tell stories about her own bus adventures in life. I appreciate the genuineness that I feel with Rosemary, as well as with the organizers of Mother Earth New Fair.
After the Fair, we were able to get out, explore, and serve tea around Asheville a little. One mid-week evening, we parked on a downtown street where a few people were wandering and set out our FREE TEA signs. A recently engaged couple was walking down the street. The man of the couple stared down at the sidewalk, feeling dismayed about a fellow he had helped overcome drug addiction, brought into his business, and then ended up getting ripped off by. He was asking the Universe to show him a sign that people don’t always act out of self-interest. When he looked up, he saw the FREE TEA sign. They jumped aboard, and we had an amazing in depth conversation about human nature, helping people, sharing, and all sorts of deep things. It was the perfect interaction for that couple at that moment. I could tell they left feeling a little lighter.
Later that evening, Ally’s high-school friend Rachael showed up and we took down the FREE TEA signs and made dinner. After dinner, with the side door open, a fellow walked up and started trying to chat us up. The only problem was that he has extremely inebriated. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk, on drugs, if he had some sort of mental imbalance, or any combination of the three. At first it seemed harmless, as it was hard to make out everything he was saying, but then he tried to pocket a huge stack of my stickers. My hand followed his into his jacket pocket, and he put them back. Starting to realize that he was a potential threat, I jumped out of the bus to draw him away from Ally and Rachael. We chatted for half an hour on the sidewalk. The things I could understand began to get scarier and scarier, until he starting saying things like, “I’ll do anything I can to get mine. I will kill a mother f*cker if I have to.”
It had been years since I’ve dealt with someone like this, so I was trying to figure out how best to get him to leave. Reasoning was out of the picture, as his logic wasn’t sound. And in fact, I’ve found that with people like this, saying much more than simple, neutral statements can trigger outbursts of instability, and potentially violence. I stayed firm in my posture and body language, but remained calm. I worked slowly, but steadily to make him feel like he was choosing to leave. When I had the chance, I closed the bus door. When he mentioned getting a couple drinks before bed, I told him to be safe on this walk home and to take a cuppa tea to go. I felt like I was using the Force. When he would make a remark, I would reflect my purposeful interpretation of it back at him to make him feel like it was his idea and meaning behind his own words. And eventually, he left.
And this dichotomy, of beautiful enlightening conversation that could go on forever, and incoherent, threatening conversation that one might hope would end soon, was interesting and spectacular. It reminded me of the early days on Hollywood Blvd.
Later in the week on Friday, we ended up parked across the street from Pritchard Park, where the weekly drum circle was happening. The whole town was abuzz. It felt more like an artwalk than just an average Friday evening. I couldn’t believe how many people were walking around. We had an awesome collection of tea guests that evening, from a friend I had made in Austin, to a counselor/metaphysician that Ally really clicked with, to street folks. It truly was a solid tea party.
Shout out to Allison of Mother Earth News Fair; The Bee Charmer in Asheville for donating honey; Ally, Claire, Kelvin, Ari, and my sister Kelan for helping out all weekend; Mason, Erin, and all the other Mountain Rose Herbs folks there for their tea and support; Kelan, Link, Donna, Oliver, and Aether for hosting us; Rachael for hosting us; and so many more!