DEPARTURE FROM THE RAINBOW
Leaving the Rainbow Gathering was chaotic. The disassembly of the Bear Necessities Kitchen was unorganized and poorly executed. We did the best we could, shuttling supplies from the woods to Baloo's trailer and other various vehicles, but no one really knew what went where. Happy had volunteered his RV to carry extra food and cooking supplies, but his space was limited. Other people were bringing out trash bags full of garbage and random camping equipment left behind. The dirt road alongside the woods was lined with trash on either side. There were piles of junk ranging from food to camping equipment, plus a variety of indistinguishable trash. Some people weren't even helping to bring things out, but rather rummaging through the garbage for edible food or usable items. Baloo's trailer was past what I might have considered its capacity, yet more stuff kept being brought out. It seemed like we were never getting out of there.
Happy eventually made the decision that it was time to leave. We loaded the last of the kitchen supplies he was willing to take, then it was time to pack in our own gear. I emptied out my wagon, and we strapped it to the back of the RV, resting on the trailer hitch, tying it to the spare tire. It wasn't ideal, but it would work well enough. There were going to be seven of us riding in Happy's RV, which was ideally meant for a maximum of four to six people. We stashed rucksacks and supplies where ever we could fit them, filling up the sleeping area above the driver's cab, stuffing the bathroom up, and cramming the rest into the shower. The RV was bursting at the seams and just about scraping the ground. We loaded up our crew. It was Happy driving, myself as the copilot, and in the back we had the skeleton crew for Bear Necessities, Bo, Ryan, Cody, Denny, and Sean. We were ready to roll out. We were on the move, and Happy stopped by Baloo's trailer to say goodbye. Bad move. They were still struggling to get the last of the gear out of the woods and into the trailer, and Baloo gave Happy a guilt trip about "leaving early." When it seemed we weren't getting out of it, we jumped out, and helped bring the last few things out. We jammed what we could into nooks and crannies of the trailer, and then loaded back into the RV. Before Happy managed to get the RV out of park, he was given a guilt trip by Baloo's daughter, Tessa, for a ride into town. Happy insisted that we were well past capacity, but they persisted, assuring him that there was no one else who could take them, that they'd be stranded, and that it was just into the nearest town. Happy broke down and let them join us. So, with the addition of Tessa and her boyfriend, Pirate, we were riding with a total of nine people and two cats as we hit the road.
As we were pulling out of the woods, the plan was to go to Gainesville. We would hit SR 40, head west to Ocala, then hit I-75 and go north until Gainesville, but we seemed to be pulling out in the wrong direction. I let Happy know that if we wanted to get to 40 that we should have to turned right out of the woods, but Tessa and Pirate argued that we were going the right way. I assured them I had just been through there a few days prior, when I rode with Annie and Choo Choo, so if we were intending to go to Gainesville, we were going the wrong direction. Their insistence was unwavering and edging on aggressive, so I let it go, and off we went, the wrong way. What an interesting way to start this little chapter of the adventure. We rode along for a while, stopping a couple of times at gas stations for bathroom breaks, once so Happy could buy some fruit, another time to fill up the tires, and eventually stopped to go "spanging."
SPANGE / SPANGING - (definition unclear) forms of making money on the road, including but not limited to: flying/signing, white boxing, gas jugging. (upon further research, I found the word derives from shortening the request for "spare change")
FLYING - Also referred to as "SIGNING" or FLYING A SIGN. To hold up a sign (usually made of cardboard or other found materials) on the corner of an intersection or the exit of a parking lot in hopes to collect money.
WHITE BOXING - The act of asking people who are leaving a restaurant for their left-overs, which are usually carried inside a white (or sometimes black) styrofoam container.
GAS JUGGING - The act of carrying an empty gas jug around a gas station and asking someone who is filling up their vehicle if they would be willing to fill up the jug.
It had become clear to Happy that we had indeed gone the wrong way, so he was no longer willing to go to Gainesville. We weren't sure where we were heading, but we were running low on gas, so we'd stopped to spange. This was the first time I'd been exposed to this form of "income," so I stayed in the passenger's seat and watched. The kids (I call them kids because they were all about 10 years younger than I was, but they were all at least 19 years old. Denny might have been older than me) were running the show since they'd had experience in spanging, so they instructed Happy to park the RV at the gas station, in such a way that they could stand next to it while being blocked from view of the attendants. Happy seemed just as ignorant to it all as I was, so we were both in the same boat. The kids made up a cardboard sign that read "TRAVELERS OUT OF GAS" and all sat outside the RV. It was a group of rag tag "dirty kids" standing and sitting around an RV on the corner of a gas station parking lot. Most people paid little attention, some just glanced over, while others stared as they pumped their own gas. Eventually there was a person who gave a handful of coins on their way to their car. Another person gave them a $10 bill. Someone else gave $20 along with a bag of chips and a soda, and another person gave $5. So, for 40 minutes of spanging the kids gathered $35 and snacks. We filled up a quarter of the tank, and moved on.
The quarter tank didn't last too long with such an overloaded vehicle, so it wasn't too far down the road that we stopped at another gas station. This time, the kids decided to split up. Denny went somewhere down the road, Tessa and Pirate went off together, and Bo went with Cody, while Happy and Ryan stayed in the RV. I saw there was a Wendy's just across the way, so I left them to it, and went in to connect to their wifi. I ate some dinner and contacted my family to let them know we were out of the woods. I sat there, connected to the internet, with a hamburger in hand, wondering what the hell I was doing. I was conflicted between the feeling of adventure, and that of guilt. I had a little bit of money left, so it felt odd to be with a group that was begging for spare change. I wondered if I should contribute my own money to the group, or keep it a secret. I wondered if I should buy enough food for everyone, or not tell them that I'd bought any. I wondered where the boundaries should be. I wondered if I should stick with them, or go my own way. I was starting to feel the weight of the guilt of what I was allowing to happen around me. These were all kids able to work for a living if they chose to, but instead were on the street corners asking for money. Was that okay? Was it wrong? In a way I was repelled by it, but in another way I was fascinated by it. It was intriguing to get a glimpse at this side of it. It was their choice to beg, and the choice of those who gave money to give it. No one was forcing anyone else to do anything they didn't want to do. I decided to keep what little money I had to myself, as selfish as it felt, as a way out if the time came, but continue with the group for a while. I pushed the guilt down and returned to the group. When I got back to the RV, the kids shared some kick downs they'd received. They apparently had done pretty well. Happy was able to fill up the tank enough for a three hour ride.
We had made it to West Palm Beach, which was so far southeast from Gainesville that you would've thought we were never heading that way to begin with. Happy had apparently decided to go to the free camping spot he'd been at before the gathering. It was already dark by the time we'd arrived. They had free showers there, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get cleaned up after so much time in the woods. I spent well over an hour in the shower after getting clean, just enjoying the feeling of hot water. Once everyone else had taken out their packs, I managed to unbury my tent and sleeping bag from the mountain of gear jammed in the bathroom, and set up camp next to the RV. Bo, Ryan, Cody, and Sean had laid out some blankets next to my tent and set their sleeping bags all together on top. Denny was next to them, completely enveloped inside just his sleeping bag. Happy slept inside his RV, while Tessa and Pirate decided to sleep alone on the opposite side of the RV. As I got in my tent and tried to sleep, I realized I'd set up really close to some kind of body of water, and the noises of splashing seemed to be just on the other side of my tent wall.
I woke up just as the sun was coming up. Once the sunlight lit up our area, I got a decent look at our camp. We looked like a gypsy caravan had exploded all over the place. Sleeping bags, blankets, rucksacks, jackets and sweaters, hats, cats, bicycle, ladder, and bodies strewn all over. Happy was up and cooking breakfast for everyone. He seemed pretty tired from the stresses of the previous day and driving for so long. I let him know that if he ever wanted someone to take over some of the driving, that I'd had a few years of driving trucks in the army and at my previous job. I assured him that I'd have no trouble driving something as small as his RV. He thanked me for the offer, but I doubted he trusted anyone else to drive his vehicle.
Everyone else had gradually woken up and eaten breakfast, then decided it was time to go out spanging again. There was a certain anxiety to some in the group about getting out and to keep moving. We piled everyone back into the RV, and headed out to the nearest Walmart. Stopping anywhere was a bit of a hassle with gear. I would have to get out first and come around to open the back door from the outside, and remove the bike and rucksacks that were blocking it, before anyone could come out. Once the gear was out of the way, and the cats were tied to a tree, the kids broke into groups again, and went flying at different corners. Happy went in to get some groceries, and Ryan stayed with the RV, watching over the cats. I went in to Walmart to use the bathroom. I noticed once I was finished that they had a Subway, so I got myself some lunch. I finished up and went back to the RV. Cody and Bo had given up spanging, so it was just Tessa, Pirate, and Denny out there. Happy came back with a couple of bags of groceries, which he'd apparently gotten for free. He said he took out a large bag of pennies at the register, and had started counting them out to pay with, so the lady behind him was kind enough (or in enough of a hurry) to pay for them herself.
It wasn't too long before Denny came back to the RV, saying some cop had run him off from his corner. Soon after, Tessa and Pirate came back, as the cops followed, pulling up to the RV. They asked around for ID's and questioned us as to what we were doing there. Apparently flying signs was illegal in this county, and highly frowned upon. They told us that many people reported it when they saw it, so we might as well move on. They were nice enough about it, polite and friendly, despite Cody giving them a hard time about looking up his identity. He apparently had something on his record he didn't want them seeing. He had refused to give his ID a few times, but eventually did when Happy insisted on it. The cops found he had something pending from another state, but they didn't seem to mind it since it was out of their jurisdiction. They suggested that he didn't need to give them such a hard time about it, that it would've been much easier and faster if he'd just cooperated. They stuck around while we packed up, and headed out.
The kids hadn't had much luck with their spanging. It seemed the cops were right about locals frowning on it. Apparently the biggest concern at the moment was that we were running low on tobacco. They had been carrying their busket since the gathering, rolling all of their cigarettes, and were running low. This was a big issue for them. Happy and I were the only ones who didn't smoke, so the majority ruled that the little money that was just acquired should be used to replenish the supply of tobacco and rolling papers. We stopped at a tobacco shop, so, again, I had to go around to the door, open it, remove the bicycle and rucksacks so they could all go in to make the purchase. It seemed to be a group activity. Happy and I stayed in the RV. He expressed his concern of having so many people in his RV. He seemed more tired by that point. We talked about Tessa and Pirate being a problem. We had originally taken them in just to get them out of the woods, but they seemed to be wanting to stay with us. They were proving to be quite manipulative, and seemed to be taking advantage of the situation. It was always about taking them to the next spot, or the next town, or that we'd figure it out later. Denny was a bit of a loose cannon, too. He had a bit of a twisted sense of humor. Happy was also worried about the way Cody had reacted to the cops. Then there was Sean, who didn't seem to want to bathe. Everyone else had taken advantage of the facilities at the camping ground except for him, and it was noticeable. Happy said that even the seat Sean was sitting in was beginning to smell. He couldn't figure out why he wouldn't just take a shower. The kids were coming out of the store, so Happy stopped venting. Once they all got back in, I passed in all the rucksacks, loaded up the bicycle, and closed the door before heading out. It was quite a process to arrive or leave. We went back to the same camping ground to spend the night again.
BUSKET - Container holding loose leaf tobacco and papers for hand rolled cigarettes shared by a group (a cheaper alternative to buying packs of cigarettes)
It was another beautiful morning, but it was cold. We, again, had vomited a traveling caravan on the ground around the RV. It was a little windy outside, so I went into the RV with Happy. He had already cooked breakfast for everyone, and he looked more tired than the day before. It seemed he wasn't adjusting well to the sudden influx of people. He'd been used to traveling alone for months, and very suddenly he had taken on eight traveling companions plus two pets. Every decision was a hassle, every stop was a process, and gathering everyone to leave anywhere was like herding cats (almost literally since a percentage of the passengers were actually cats). Happy had been in contact with Baloo the previous night, who apparently wanted us to come to him out in Punta Gorda, which was a few hours away. Happy was quick to tell me that he did not have the energy to go anywhere any time soon. He wanted to take a few days to just rest, not do anything, not go anywhere, and maybe, just possibly, do some fishing. As everyone started getting up and filling the RV, I took the opportunity to start painting the side of the RV. It was a good opportunity to paint if we weren't going anywhere for a couple of days, and there was plenty to paint.
At some point in the day we got a complaint from a staff member about all of the camping gear strewn around the RV. They told us that we weren't allowed to camp there because it was an area designated for RV's only, and were directed to the appropriate camping zone. I was the first one to move my tent and gear, then went back to painting. Eventually Bo and Ryan moved their stuff, then Denny. Another staff member came around later to tell us that if the rest of our gear wasn't moved soon that they'd have to ask us to leave. The rest of the kids begrudgingly moved their stuff over. It seemed a larger portion of our group had issues with authority. I wondered how well this would bode for us in the future.
Toward the end of the day, we were all gathered in the RV. The kids were getting anxious because they were almost out of rolling papers already. They really liked to smoke. Denny was anxious about wanting to get more money, and Sean did not like staying around the camp ground. He wanted to be anywhere else, this was too boring for him. The discussion at one point had turned to my painting of the RV, and suddenly everyone had some sort of opinion as to what should be painted. It had somehow become a group planning project as to what got put on the other side of the RV to make us money. They were suggesting things to write out that would encourage people to donate. I had conflicting feelings about that, but it was Happy's RV, so whatever he wanted on it was okay with me.
By this point I was getting to know everyone a little bit at a time. I'd gotten to know Happy pretty well by then, since I interacted with him quite a bit at the gathering. He was a fairly recent divorcee, with grown kids, looking for a new adventure in his life. He had retired from teaching a few years back, and had wanted to experience the freedom of a hippie lifestyle. He was looking to follow the Rainbow Road as long as he could, and had been hoping to link up with the right group of hippies that could help him achieve that. He was pleased, because he believed this was that group (minus a few). Denny seemed to be a guy who had done a few too many drugs in his time (and most likely still did). He was not the brightest, but he had a good work ethic from what I could tell. I remembered at the gathering he was always doing some kind of work for the kitchen. Bo and Ryan were a couple, though you wouldn't guess it at first glance. Had I mentioned Ryan was a girl? She was one of those very serious looking girls who looked like she was displeased with everything and everyone all the time, even when she wasn't . I believe it is referred to as "resting bitch face." Once she got comfortable around us, she expressed a dry sense of humor, where you sometimes wouldn't know if she was serious or joking. Bo, on the other hand, was fun and outgoing. He seemed to have real potential to make something of himself, but chose the roaming lifestyle. Sean seemed to be good friends with Bo, though it didn't seem mutual. Sean was lazy and selfish, but very funny. He had a very sarcastic attitude to most things. Tessa and Pirate were usually on their own. Pirate always seemed to let Tessa take the reins, keeping quiet in the background. Tessa was, as I'd said, manipulative. She pulled guilt trips, took charge of situations that best suited her, and had an opinion for most things. Then there was Cody. I think Cody was my favorite and simultaneously least favorite person in the group. I liked him and was intrigued by his opinions, but at the same time was really frustrated by him. He was my absolute definition of a hippie. He spoke of astral projections, the influence and healing powers of stones and rocks, and insisted that everything in the world is a vibration. I really liked his free spirited outlook on life, but was frustrated beyond measure whenever he argued a point. Someone would say something, and he'd interject by saying it wasn't so, or wasn't accurate, then he'd state that it was actually a vibration, and that we couldn't possibly understand. I'd ask him to explain what he meant, but he always said there was no way to explain it. Now, I always enjoy different perspectives and meaningful debates, but to deny opinions, and sometimes facts, and say that the actuality is inexplicable, it becomes very frustrating. To him, life was a sacred geometry he couldn't describe, crystals had powers he couldn't explain, stones affected people in ways he couldn't express, and everything was a vibration in ways that we couldn't understand. What was most frustrating was that I wanted to understand at least just a little bit of what he believed.
Happy decided to go fishing in the morning. I helped him get his kayak off the roof of the RV, and off he went on the lake. The group slowly trickled into the RV for breakfast which Ryan prepared. Everyone, except for Bo and myself, seemed eager to leave. Sean seemed the most bothered by being out in the camp ground. He had still refused to shower, and it was becoming more and more noticeable. It seemed the group was itchy for a change of scenery. They started slowly packing their camps. Once Happy returned, they expressed their desire to go. Happy insisted that he didn't have any interest of leading the group, and whatever was decided by everyone was fine with him. He didn't want to be "the adult," even though he was at least 25 years older than any of us. He didn't want to make any decisions. So it was decided, we would leave as soon as everything was packed. So much for the two days of rest.
Spanging missions seemed to be the driving force for our group. Everywhere we stopped was determined by its "spangeability," or else we'd move on to the next spot. If there wasn't enough money gathered in a given amount of time, we'd move on. It seemed to be stressing Happy out to be moving so much, so sporadically. I let him know again that I was more than willing to drive so he could get a break from it, but again, he declined the offer. I wasn't sure how else I could help. I wasn't doing any of the spanging, partly because I wasn't familiar with it like the kids were, but mainly because I was personally and morally against it. I didn't feel like it was something I should be doing, it didn't feel okay. I wasn't about to tell them that they shouldn't do it, but I would be hard pressed to convince myself to start doing it myself. Their discussions on which signs worked better, or how you need to make eye contact with people to make them feel guilt so they would actually give more money, was off-putting. Should they use the "TRAVELERS OUT OF GAS" or "HUNGRY PLEASE HELP" sign? Which corners worked best? It felt as if we were taking advantage of people's good will. I wondered how many people on the streets were doing the same thing. I remembered giving money to people in the past because their situations seemed dire, and wondered if they actually had been. Was this morally wrong? Was it a way to make a living? Were they taking advantage of people? Should I leave the group due to moral discretion? My own funds were running dangerously low, having been in the woods for so long, unable to take on any commissions online. Our sporadic movement wasn't making it easy to promote any commissions either. I decided to ride it out for a while, see how things went.
As we were driving down the road between spange missions, we started hearing a strange thumping. Happy mentioned the steering was off, harder to handle, so we pulled over. Sure enough, one of the tires had gone flat. We all pitched in to help Happy replace the tire. We had to untie the DragonWagon which was lashed to the spare tire. The spare was on, the punctured one stowed in the rear, and the DragonWagon retied to it. We worked like a pit crew (at least Happy, Bo, Cody, Denny, and I did, while the others spectated), and knocked it out in no time. It was only a few miles later, though, that one of the other tires gave way as well. It wasn't surprising, with so much extra weight, that the tires were taking on more stress than normal. This time, however, we didn't have another spare to replace it with. We ended up rolling about 15 mph for 20 very slow miles, until we reached the nearest tire shop, which happened to be across the street from a Walmart.
The group went to work, manning the exits of the Walmart, trying to get enough money to pay for the repairs. Time was not on our side, since the tire shop was closing in less than an hour, and there was no feasible way of "spanging faster." When all was said and done, they came up $18 short. Happy was about to settle for just one tire, and ride without a spare, so I decided to pitch in my last $20. It wouldn't help anyone if one of the other tires gave out in the middle of nowhere, and I felt I hadn't contributed enough to the group. I'd figure something out eventually, but for that moment, that was the glaring problem. We got the two tires fixed, and went back to Walmart to gather the troops. Bo and Cody said that this Walmart was a "goldmine," and insisted that we stick around a while longer. So we stuck around. Happy went in for some groceries, while everyone went back out to their respective corners. Ryan and I were left guarding the RV. As we sat there, I noticed that just beside the parking lot was an orange grove. There was no fence, no signs saying "private property" or "no trespassing," and plenty of oranges on the ground. I walked over, picked up a couple of plastic shopping bags that had blown into the trees, and filled them with oranges that had already fallen but hadn't gone bad. I returned to the RV with two very heavy bags of oranges, much to the surprise of my companions.
While we waited for everyone to return to the RV, Denny and Sean had made their way back. Apparently Sean had gotten some free McDonald's nuggets and fries, and came back to share them with the group. Happy had returned with fruit and snacks, and was really pleased to see all the oranges I'd acquired. Denny, on the other hand, had used some of the money he'd gotten to buy beer. He'd gotten into a few of them pretty quickly. There was a man sitting in his truck a few yards away from us, minding his own business. Denny took one of the bananas that Happy had offered us, peeled it, and thought it would be funny to wave it towards the man while making monkey noises. The man seemed to be consciously ignoring Denny, but he wouldn't let up. Denny kept waving the banana at the man from across the parking lot until he eventually broke down screaming "Motherfucker I will whoop your ASS!!!" Denny quickly stopped, turned back to the RV and laughed. Bo looked at Denny with a look of surprised disapproval, asking him what the hell he'd been thinking. Denny just shrugged it off and went into the RV. Once we had everyone back, we hit the road again.
We drove for a while, but Happy was clearly too tired to drive any farther. He didn't have it in him to drive out to Baloo's just yet, so we pulled into another Walmart parking lot for the night. I went in to use the bathroom, and by the time I returned, Happy had apparently told the others about me contributing the last $20 we'd needed for the tires. Bo told me not to do that anymore, and that if I had any more money, to keep it for emergencies. It's almost as if he'd taken it personally, as if I'd said that he and his crew were unable to spange enough money to take care of the situation. I was taken aback. I hadn't expected this reaction at all. "Your stash is gold," he told me. Note taken, situation understood.
We were parked in the back corner of the parking lot, near a fenced retention pond. There were grassy areas with small bushes around the outside of the fence where we would camp for the night. Bo, Ryan, and Cody were setting up their regular tarps and blankets to sleep on, while Denny, Tessa, Pirate, and Sean went off to another area around the corner. As I went in the RV to pull out my own gear, Bo told me they had enough room on their tarp for me if I wanted to join them. As I looked over I noticed they'd already had it all set up, with an open space on the end for one more person. I believed they were inviting me into their group, perhaps as a thank you for the contribution I'd made. I believed I was being accepted in a more intimate way. I left my tent in the RV that night, and set up my sleeping bag next to theirs. I took this as a grand gesture on their part. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but at that point I felt like I was no longer a stranger to them. To them I was Dragon, their friend. This was the first night I spent under the naked stars, outside of a tent, amongst friends.