Off the Bus and Over the Mountains

Why so tired? My last night on Julia ended early with the alarm to get up and go visit my friend Mark. I woke up before then, stuck to my sleeping bag due to Knoxville humidity. Last night, Zach insisted on taking me out for beers. I was into it, so seven of us piled into the Road Dog truck and drove to a few spots before we found a late night bar that served food down in Old Town. Stef also turned 23 at midnight Monday morning, so we bellied up to the bar, sucked down car bombs (shots of Jameson in stout beer), and played songs on the juke during a few pool games. Time flew as usual so I crashed after 2 AM, with Zach playing a mellow song on his iPhone to sooth me into my last night on the road with the Sustainable Living Roadshow. This weekend flew by, a blur of Tennessee memories.

Friday night, I biked away from the Roadshow set up to attend Knoxville’s Critical Mass bike ride. It meets up at the Sunsphere around 5:30, so I showed up a bit early. I saw Sam, our UT contact for the SLR event, and his girlfriend head over to the Sunsphere. I asked a rider if it was free to go up and he said it was. So I ran and caught up with Sam. He turned 21 on Friday and was already a bit drunk. He and his girlfriend were headed to the bar up the tower, so I went up and checked out the view. Not to impressive, but fun to do. Back down, I handed out flyers to the Massers. Everyone seemed to know about the UT SLR event and was excited that we were here. No one knew that it was San Francisco’s Critical Mass 16th birthday, so I spread the SF history and cheer to all the Knoxville folks.

Knoxville is a small city, so the ride didn’t last long. We rode over a few bridges at the beginning and then out a bit to circle back to drive through UT’s frat row. “We’ve never ridden here before,” I heard a local say. SLR was glad to see the 40 or 50 riders roll through and cheers were shared on both ends. David hopped on Zach’s cruiser and kept up with the ride all the way to Market Square. He dropped out to check in with the Grotto folks and make sure we were in to table at the Dub Conscious gig later that night. Critical Mass moved on and went through Old Town, out to Hall of Fame Blvd. (where the only Knoxville bike lane exists), and then back through downtown again. At one point right across from the Women’s NBA Hall of Fame, we biked into an empty parking garage (many empty garages and buildings in this city), up the circular ped walk, and then back down again. Fun!

After biking down Gay St. at least three times, and hitting most of the funs spots in town, the ride finally ended for beers back at Market Square. David was still there, so we bid farewell to CM and headed back to SLR. Knoxville’s CM had the spirit of the big rides in the big cities. The boombox bike didn’t make the ride this month, but we cheered, called on folks to join us, and drank to the freedom of the ride. No police bothered to follow the ride, and we stopped at some lights while running others. I think we could’ve hit the Interstate if we wanted too, but we felt too small to do so. This was my fourth Critical Mass in four cities these past five months (missed August in Minnesota), and I had a great time and met great people. I wish these riders all the luck in making future rides bigger and more fun.

The good vibe continued at the Grotto’s Dub Conscious show. Folks here got the SLR message. David sat in with the band and played an Afropop tune with them before plugging the event. We handed out flyers and product samples to the crowd. They all seemed excited about the band line up and the fact that we were in small-city Knoxville. Several people thanked me for being there, and others seemed awed at our call to service the needs of the earth. We left the gig happy and ready for a great turn out.

Our set up for the weekend looked great once again. No Moroccan tent this time since we couldn’t stake in Fiji Island, the field in front of UT’s frat row. But the dome looked marvelous, and was nicely lit for a Saturday evening DJ/yerba mate party, thanks to Moe’s hooking up with lights from the theater department. For the Health and Healing area, we set up two easy-ups and rolled out a carpet. But with the whole crew there for set up, we dialed the games, the merchandise, and eco-info. The stage and PA system rocked and was powered by Big Frog Solar from Chattanooga. Marty busted his ass to get things together here and his hard work got things together. Tom, Tyler, and David also worked hard to put other parts of the show together.

Saturday ended up with rain and very little people traffic. Where the hell were all the folks who seemed so jazzed about the event? The band line-up was great, and the rain only postponed the music for about an hour at the most. But the people just didn’t come out. One local thought it was the Volunteers SEC football game that kept folks in their dry rooms with the TV on. Though the Vols suck this year, I guess fans blindly follow their team into oblivion. Another local suggested that our promo wasn’t done early enough. Sure, folks knew about our event this week, but there was no promo before then. People had plans and were just being polite about our effort.

The dome party had no turn out either. Bonnie and Matt threw shadows on the dome as the SLR crew danced away under the disco ball and strobe light. We had gallons of mate ready to consume, but only three or four frat boys came over to check us out. A few locals turned out too, but the frat house we got the juice from to power the dome was done with us. They kept unplugging the extension cord until we ended the empty party around 10 PM. I went to sleep as part of the crew ventured off in the truck to find food.

Sunday morning, I began to pack my things and coordinate with my Mom and Beth. They got lost coming into Knoxville due to the I-40 construction, and eventually found the hotel. Nick and I picked them up and brought them to the event. I then walked them around to see all the things I’d been working on these past 2 years. Beth actually hit a flippy on the Toss Out Fossil Fuels game. Mom bought a few things at the merch booth. They got to learn a bit about mushroom remediation, mountaintop removal, meal worms, solar power, and rainwater catchment. And they enjoyed the music and got to tour Julia (I cleaned it up that morning).

But turnout was once again low for the Roadshow! Was it the Tennessee Titans NFL game that kept folks from coming out? Doubt it. We did have better numbers than Saturday, but nothing beyond a small handful of active people. I was glad to see one person that I’d connected with at the Grotto on Friday, and she brought a friend. That made my day. After closing the carnival, I spent a bit of time taking the dome down before Mom took me, Jonathan, and Moe out to dinner. Then I went out one last time to have beers with the crew in Old Town.

After visiting Mark Monday morning, I drove Mom and Beth home over the Great Smoke Mountains. Before we left, I stopped by the buses to pack my things and say bye to the crew. Hugs and future plans were had by all. Warm wishes and “make sure you have a map reader for the rest of the tour” were shared. And, like a puff of smoke, I was off of the bus and back in South Carolina, plugging in all my tech to charge the dry batteries.

Back to the Stencil Nation tour(s) and the support for my family here in SC. Odd being out of the tour after 2300 miles of bus life as an eco-carny. Decompressing while driving the small cars and eating more processed food. Odd that a working fridge and easy laundry access are taken for granted in our culture. Doubly odd that the economy took a nose dive as I drove through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains Monday afternoon. 777, the historical drop in the DOW looked like an Ayn Rand novel come to pass. Atlas dropped a quarter in the slot and Shrugged as he hit the jackpot to the toilet.

Time moves on and the SLR crew heads to New Orleans to volunteer in the Ninth Ward. Time ends for some, like Kirsten Brydum (RIP), a San Francisco activist who was needlessly shot and killed in New Orleans this Saturday. Time begins for me as I finally have a grounded place to deal with the Aug. 2 death of my father. Time flies as the wheels of the bus turn over 2300 miles and 14 of the United States of America. Many truck stops, crash pads, instant friends, supporters, doubters, artists, activists, smiles, hugs, tears, screams, boogies, stories happened as the wheels hit the pavement over and over. Circles that met and will meet again. Deep grooves wound together.

Off the bus so that I can get back on again at some point. But now, plugged into the zombie machine, I catch up and connect with other circles. And time runs late tonight here in SC. Must sleep in my bed and dream of the moving road, the big rigs, and the amazing moments that I experienced with an amazing group of people.