Nowtopia in North Knox

After driving Pricilla through low hanging trees and bushes, we finally park her just below the United Mountain Defense Volunteer House. Matt from UMD met up with us in Happy Hollow where we’d spent the last two nights. He showed up just as we were about to drive north to the Volunteer House, where we would assess the gravel drive up to the house. We had directions, but Matt got to hop on the bus and talk us up there during Knoxville’s rush hour traffic.

With the Julia crew in Atlanta, dealing with a gas shortage after a great gig at the Tupac Shakur Foundation, we’d spent the last few days promoting the UT event. I had a great day biking all over the city, dropping off print jobs, hanging with the UMD folks at their on-campus bake sale, picking up flyers and posters, and then wandering around hanging the posters. I got to meet great folks, hand out flyers, and talk about the Roadshow. Many of the people knew about it, or let me hang posters. I even found a few stencils along the way.

The day of biking and promoting ended, and now we were up on a wooded ridge just outside of the city with Matt. The UMD Volunteer House took advice from the Beehive Collective, BMIS, and the BFC and had things dialed (a term the Roadshow uses often) for new folks coming in to the house. We all took our shoes off, signed liability waivers, and then got a tour of the house. Their parrot-shaped poster gave us all the details via a list of twenty guidelines for all to follow. No. 1 is “do your dishes.” No. 9 is “don’t open the door to the FBI, TBI, or Police.” No. 19 is “everyone will work to the best of their ability.”

Matt showed us the compost toilet in the bathroom (“no pee”), and the sign that indicated that this was a sit-to-pee house (props to Flora Bora in SF, who has the same rule). On the front porch, Matt showed us the veggie plots and the rainwater catchment system. Beyond that were the compost piles and the humanure piles. That’s where you dump the compost toilets after they fill up.

I felt so grounded here with all the labeled cabinets and radical-hostel attributes. I instantly took a nap in the bunk room for about 30 minutes. We then hopped in the truck and drove back into Knoxville, ending up at Market Square. Tom and I attended a 3 Rivers Earth First! meeting and got to represent the Roadshow during our own agenda item. About ten folks were at the meeting, so we got to dial in Food Not Bombs, the Bike Collective, and UMD for our Saturday/Sunday event from all of the attendees.

Zach, Nick, and Stef drank $2 beers at the Preservation Pub during our meeting. After downing a quick Newcastle, we all went to Tomato Head and met up with Andre and Lila. Lila had hooked us up with free tickets for a Maceo Parker Tribute to Ray Charles event at the Bijou. So we ran over to the Grotto and ordered sandwiches to wolf down while walking to the theater. We handed out flyers and worked the show every chance we got, and many locals already knew about the Roadshow.

We caught the last 40 minutes of the tribute, getting to catch Maceo as he impersonated Ray Charles. He wore glasses, sang like him, and even moved his body like Charles. We caught the last few songs, which were all funk. The 21 piece Knoxville Jazz Orchestra kept it tight for Mr. Parker. I have to mention that all the members, save one, were white. The audience had a healthy mix of color, with a few hippies in the back dancing to the funk.

After another visit to the Grotto, meeting more people who knew about our UT gig, we headed back to the Volunteer House and crashed hard and early. I got to feel a bed for the first time in over a month: a real mattress in a house instead of a bunk on a bus. I slept hard and late. Woke up the next morning after 10 AM. No real plans for breakfast so I grabbed some granola that was just donated to us. We have a box full and just picked up another box full.

Stef and Nick had gone into Knoxville to pick up food from the Beardsley Farm. I wanted to go and photograph the urban farm, another example of Nowtopia, but snoozed late. They actually harvest their food to feed the homeless. I have seen many homeless in this small, Southern city. The Beardsley folks were nice enough to hook us up with good food.

The rest of us spent the day at the Volunteer House, doing various things. Tom, Marty, and Zach hooked into the interweb zombie thing, continuing to work on this weekend and the rest of the tour. I spent some time talking to the Julia folks, who were heading back to Knoxville after the Atlanta gig. They were going to LSU and Old Miss with Jennifer Johns, but she decided to fly to LA and pick up a band there. So she bailed on the Roadshow, allowing them to come home and add the extra labor needed to set up the carnival and dome.

After Matt cut the tall grass in front of the house, we dove in on one of the veggie patches they’d planted a while back. I harvested what I could of the chard and kale while he dug up unwanted poke plants. UMD has a huge supply of happy poke plants, and they’ve enjoyed eating some of them. But they were not wanted in the veggie patches. We then dug up the clipped veggie plants so that a late planting will happen soon. Matt thinks that there’s another month of growing before winter sets in.

While weeding beans and pulling up surrounding tall grass in the second veggie patch, Tom left to go to a nearby Wal-Mart to pick up the Julia folks. Stef had in-season egg plants from Beardsley, which meant that she had to make her famous egg plant parmesan. She also got amazing heirloom tomatoes for the farm, and at the farmers market, so had all the fixings to bake some parm for us. Bonnie picked the few beans that were edible (many had dried up) and I finished pulling out the crazy creeper grass that was slowly taking over the veggie patch. Working with a shovel meant blisters, which means doing service for the community.

The Julia crew finally arrived, to hugs, laughter, and clear well water (Knoxville has nasty Tennessee River water that tastes like it comes from a pool). They got the tour, read the parrot, and began to settle down at this comfy place. Stef kept baking, so Matt took a few of us up to the top of the ridge. UMD’s getting the house for free as the landlord is trying to sell the property. He doesn’t care who buys it. Up on the ridge, as the sun set behind us, we stared out towards the Smokey Mountains. I’ll be on the southern side of that ridge soon enough, after hopping off the bus on Monday. We mostly discussed Big Coal, but we also discussed puppeteering (Matt and Bonnie do shadow puppets).

The meal was delicious. The greens I harvested were steamed up along with the egg plant parm. I put some vinegar on them and they tasted like the soil I pulled them out of. Felt good to have the whole crew gather together after a few days of separation and make our bellies happy. We finished the meal off with Stef’s baked cookies. Yum! We had an informal meeting about set up tomorrow. We’ll leave this sweet country home and move to our new home near the frat houses at UT.

The word is out about the Roadshow in Knoxville. Yesterday, while biking to a business to pick up their vendors fee, the owners told me that Knoxville began to activate around sustainability over a year ago. I think the Roadshow has hit Knoxville at the right time, a moment when all the groups here in the area are looking for fresh ideas and ways to ramp up their efforts to save the planet. Tonight, during our parm dinner, we felt the momentum building. Can’t wait to see what happens this weekend!