Saturday, August 29, 2015



Part 1


              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.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Rainbow Gathering Part 4



              So, there I was, 30 miles away from the Rainbow Gathering. I hadn't brought any supplies, except for my camel pack which I filled with water at the McDonald's (good thing I wore that thing everywhere I went at the gathering), and my sketchbook. I was wearing my flip flops, which were still newish and stiff, not ideal for walking. I saw the sun was going down, so I decided I'd better set off, it wouldn't help to wait around. I didn't say goodbye to Choo Choo, maybe I should've. I didn't feel too bad about it, he seemed busy on his phone. I started walking east down 40 again, like I had a few days back. I remembered there being a lot of hippies at the Burger King and Walmart parking lots the first time I'd come through, when I met Priest. If I was lucky, maybe I could find someone there who was headed in the same direction. The walk began.

              There was no one in the Burger King parking lot who looked like they were part of the Rainbow Family, nor at Walmart for that matter. I did see a few RV's parked in the lot, with people sitting in fold-out chairs outside of them. They just seemed like travelers to me. I thought maybe I could ask them which way they were heading, and with luck, catch a ride. I walked towards them, then found myself walking past them, not uttering a word. I chickened out. I was too afraid to ask them. Why? Why was I afraid to ask them? I couldn't comprehend why I didn't just turn around and engage these people. They didn't seem threatening or unwelcoming, but I just couldn't bring myself to talk to them. "You're screwing yourself over..." There was a voice I hadn't heard in a while. The negative little voice that joined me at the start of my journey, that had kept quiet for a while, was back. "You're too chicken to ask for a ride, and you're going to regret it. What, are you going to walk 30 miles there in one night? You know you can't do that. Are you going to stop somewhere to sleep on the way with no tent or tart or blanket? You're going to be one of those idiots who ends up dead in the woods, found weeks later." I kept walking, past the Walmart, past the last road for Ocala, and past sunset. It got dark, and the temperature started dropping.

              I could've stuck out my thumb while the sun was still out, but the voice said, "you'll get arrested. You've heard it over and over again that it's illegal to hitchhike in Florida. Chances are, as soon as you stick out your thumb, a cop will see you and take you in, or they'll just fine you a bunch of money you won't be able to pay... or both." It was dark out, and no one was about to pick up some random bearded guy in the middle of the woods. I felt like I'd be the stereotypical creepy hitchhiker at night. I imagined how creepy it would be to answer the question, "so, where're you headed?" with, "the Rainbow Gathering." I remembered how creeped out I was when I first heard Ron mention it to me, thinking it was some sort of cult. I walked on as blinding headlights passed by me. Fortunately I kept a flashlight in my pocket, and a smaller one attached to my camel pack, so I could at least see where I was going. There were no street lights this far from town.

              I wondered how many people who were passing by me might have been going to the gathering, if any. It was close to the big day, so chances were pretty good that at least some of them were headed that way. If they knew I was headed there too, they'd probably pick me up. That's when I got a genius idea. I wasn't going to hitchhike, but I was going to let people know where I was going. If they know where I'm going, and their going there too, they're sure to pick me up. I tore out a page from my sketchbook, and used my sharpie to write "RAINBOW" on it. I stuck the paper to my back, using a clip from my camel pack, so that cars heading the same direction would see it in their headlights. If any cop asked questions, I wasn't technically hitchhiking. Genius. I walked confidently forward, ignoring the blisters forming on my feet from my stiff flip flops. Every time I heard a car approaching behind me, and saw the lights from their headlights, I thought, "ah yes, this is it. They should be reading my sign by now, and slowing down... slowing down... slowing..." and they'd pass right by. "Surely this one is the one. They must be. No more walking for me." Zoom. "Okay, this one, for sure." Vroom. So it went for a couple of hours, maybe more. The blisters on my feet were getting worse, and the temperature was dropping even more. I took my flip flops off and began to walk barefoot in the grass. The cool damp grass and mud was helping sooth the pain. I marched on. I started getting hungry.

              I saw a cafe across the street, so I decided to stop in and eat something. I put my shoes back on, which hurt, and crossed the street. They were closed for dinner. Damn. I took off the "RAINBOW" sign, and crumpled it up, putting it in my pocket, and marched on. I walked until I saw a barbeque restaurant. I remembered it from the last time I walked through here. I'd decided not to go in because I hadn't been walking long enough, which had led to me getting picked up by the two ladies and Clue. I remembered how unfortunate it was that I had met Clue. I stopped in this time. It was warm inside. I hadn't realized how cold it had been outside since my body was staying hot from the workout. I had realized the temperature was dropping, but not that it was by that much. Dinner was delicious. It'd felt like months since I'd had any meat.

              The restaurant was bare, save for the couple of waitresses working, so there was no one there chicken out on asking for a ride. As I stepped out of the restaurant, I realized just how much colder it had gotten. Being indoors allowed my body to rest and acclimate to the nice warm temperature, so it hit me even harder. My feet were aching from the blisters, so I took my shoes off again. I walked for a while, feeling colder and colder, so I broke into a jog to get my body heat rolling. I'd kept my gloves in my back pockets since the first couple of nights at the gathering, so I put them on. I kept switching hands to hold the sketchbook with, so one didn't get colder than the other. I took off my hat, and let my hair go. It kept my ears slightly warmer to have my hair around them. Slightly. I realized no one was stopping, I was either walking the whole way there that night, or stopping somewhere in the woods to sleep. Luckily I was keeping my lighter in my pocket, so I'd be able to start a fire to curl up next to. I started to feel like I was better prepared for this than I'd originally thought. I stopped jogging once my feet felt like they were on fire from the friction with the ground. I had to put my shoes back on to try and alleviate them. On the plus side, I couldn't feel the blisters anymore. At least I hoped that was a good thing...

              I eventually started humming as I power walked down the road. I hummed loudly, no matter what song came to mind. My spirits were high after that hearty meal, and once I'd accepted I wasn't getting picked up, I felt at ease. I was no longer getting my hopes up as cars approached, just to have them crushed. I started singing the few songs I know the lyrics to. I sang "The Gasman Cometh," which tells about a gasman fixing a gas tap on a Monday, leading to needing a different worker for each day of the week to repair something else that'd gone awry, ending with the gasman having to come back to fix the tap again. I sang a song about a girl who killed her whole family in various ways, only to confess once the cops had arrived because she knew lying was a sin. I sang what little I remembered from the Decemberists' "Mariner's Revenge," a ten minute song about two sailors being swallowed by a whale, one seeking revenge on the other. I recited Shakespeare's "Hamlet" speech, "to be or not to be," which happens to be the only Shakespeare I've actually retained. I repeated these over and over and over. I started them all at regular speed, then slowed them down, then repeated them, then did them one syllable at a time for each step I took. I didn't stop. I kept going. My body was warm, my feet were hot, and I kept walking for three or four more hours. Then, the last thing I'd expected to happen, happened.

              A car pulled over ahead of me. I almost didn't notice it, since it looked like it was about to turn down a side road. I slowed down to let it make its turn, thinking it wouldn't see me walking by, and I'd probably get run over, but it stayed stationary, not moving forward, and not making its turn. I thought something might be wrong with the driver, so I looked in the side window. The passenger window was cracked open, so I asked the man if he was okay. "Yea, I'm fine. You need a ride, don't you?" Damn, that's right, I did need a ride. I'd lost hope entirely, and didn't even consider that's why he was pulling over. I'd accepted so deeply that I was walking the whole way that it didn't even occur to me that it was even a possibility anymore. I got in the car. I thanked the driver, and was astonished when I got a better look at him. It was Baloo from the Bare Necessities Kitchen! No, it wasn't him. It just looked like him, sounded like him. I must've been more tired than I realized. I looked at the clock on his dash, which read 2:10 AM. I'd started walking around 6 PM, and only stopped for dinner for about an hour. I asked him where he was headed, and he said, "the gatherin', 'course! Aren't you?" I admitted I was, but that I hadn't realized that's where he'd been headed. "Yea, I jus' don' know where it's at. Gonn' have a hard time findin' it is all." I assured him I knew where it was, and how to get there. He seemed relieved.

              The conversation for the car ride was heavily one-sided. He was a talker, and very opinionated. I could barely keep up with his subject matter, which bounced around like a pinball machine, from the bible, to Sadam Husein, to "those damn niggers," back to Jesus, then to Buddha, then over to Tutankhamen. The government was a conspiracy, corporations were terrorists, and the educational system was a scam. Then at one point, he mentioned Baloo was his brother. Aha! There it is! That was why I thought it was him. I was glad I wasn't that crazy after all. He spoke a little about when they were younger, getting into drugs like LSD. Finally, we made it back to the gathering. He gave Front Gate some cigarettes, and cursed at the fact that he was almost out of tobacco. I directed him over to Bare Necessities. Ironically, there were many more cars parked along the dirt road than when I'd left. As soon as we arrived at Back Gate, he dropped me off, and immediately left to restock on cigarettes.

              I went back to my tent, amazed that I was back in my camp. Amazed that someone stopped to give me a ride, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere,  well after I'd completely given up any hope of it. Amazed that it was who was going to the same place I was, but didn't know how to get there. Amazed that it was someone related to the head of the kitchen I'd been working with for the past few days. Just amazed.

DAY 16

              My sketchbook had taken a beating from the previous night. The cover was no longer in the pristine condition it once was. My sweaty, dirty hands left imprints on the outside, and the edges of the pages were fading from white to brown to black. I was disappointed at first, but then saw it as a liberation. This should've been its state long ago, when I first came out to the Rainbow. I'd been so worried about keeping it clean and in good condition that I hadn't taken it anywhere. Now it'd been weathered, it'd seen the roughness of travel, and had now become an adventure sketchbook. I decided it was time to take it with me as I walked around, unafraid of the consequences. This may sound silly, but it was a big step for me, a leap even. I decided I wanted to draw in public, and it was a huge thing for me. I'd been inspired after meeting Randsford, painting in public, and this was just the slight nudge I needed. I'd been hearing for a couple of days that someone had set up a hookah lounge somewhere in the woods, so I decided to check it out. The blisters on my feet from the trek the previous night needed some time to heal, so some lounging sounded like a good idea. I grabbed my sketchbook, and went on my way.

              They'd set up just behind Bear Necessities, so it was a conveniently short walk. It was a loosely tarped area, which fit about ten people tightly sitting together. There were rubber-like mats on the ground, and leather pillows strewn about. They had one pole in the center holding the tarps up high, and three tarps and blankets acting as walls. The fourth wall was created by their 4-man tent. They had one hookah circling around the six people hanging out inside. It was the picture of relaxation. They'd set up a little low table out of a garden wagon, and were using it for their coffee pot. I do love the smell of coffee, hate the taste, but love the smell. This was ideal. I greeted everyone as I sat on one of the mats. The guy sitting behind the wagon, operating the coffee maker, turned to me and said, "hey man, this ass-pillow needs some lovin'. You wanna give it some lovin'?" He grabbed an unoccupied pillow, and passed it to me. I thanked him, sat on it, and started drawing, listening to the people around me chatting. The atmosphere was great, soothing, relaxing, a very chill environment. There were a couple of drums and sound boxes laying about that someone would randomly start playing. Every so often they'd pass around a cup of what they called "sex-presso," everyone would take a sip and pass it around. The hookah was making its rounds lazily as well.

              "Hey you, with the credit card, you draw?" It was the same guy who had given me the "ass-pillow." His name was Jesser. He and his buddy, Cass, whom I'd recognized as the guy who was recruiting people to help clear the trail to Main Circle a couple of days prior, were the ones who set up the hookah lounge. Apparently they'd been at a gathering a few years back, and had decided to bring a hookah along, and ended up having swarms of hippies join them daily. Ever since then, they started calling themselves the hookah lounge, and people look for them when they arrive, knowing there's a cool place to hang out in the woods. Jesser told me about a project he was working on. He was writing a story based around a mythical creature of his invention, the "unicorniphant." He'd been asking artists he'd met along the way to draw or paint or make some representation of what they thought a unicorniphant would be, without giving them a description of it. He said he wanted to have a collection of various artists' perception of what this animal could be, and asked me if I'd be willing to draw him one. I immediately turned to a new page, and got to work. About an hour later, I gave him the result, and he was thrilled.

CREDIT CARD - a sharpie or black marker one could to create things for monetary gain

              I took my sketchbook to Main Circle that night, and started drawing the musicians. I caught some of the drummers from the drum circle around the fire. It was tough because it was dark out and the only light I had was from the fire, and I wasn't about to use hippie-mace just so I could see better.. I could barely make out what I was drawing, and people were moving. It was an interesting challenge I hadn't undertaken before. I stopped in at Stock Pot on the way back, and caught a couple of guitarists around the fire. The walk to and from Main Circle was no fun with the blisters, but the experience of drawing people was worth it.

HIPPIE-MACE - Bright lights in the dark, especially when shone in someone's eyes.

DAYS 17-22

              The next few days were uneventful, but exhilarating all the same. I met new people, like Bubbles and Princess, Ro, Mama Chime, and Guy with a Flag. Guy with a Flag walked around with a flag, which had the image of a guy carrying a flag on it. Fascinating. I wondered if Happy had something going on with Mama Chime, because I saw them walking together at one point, in a flirty fashion. I took my sketchbook with my just about everywhere I went. While I was in the hookah lounge one of the days, Randsford was painting a part of a banner for the lounge. He invited me to participate on it, so I painted their pink hookah on one of the corners of the banner. I even got to see Annie, the girl who had driven Choo Choo and myself to Ocala, who had supposedly gone to Tampa. She'd apparently made up with her boyfriend, and had decided to come back for the last few days of the gathering.

               I visited Trade Circle for the first time, and sat down to draw it. It was an interested "market." The fact that they called it a circle was a bit misleading, since it seemed like a type of blob, but the idea was there. People would set out a blanket or a coat or a tarp, sometimes even just a handkercheif, and they'd put out items they have for trade, while others walk around perusing their wares. The haggling was intriguing to listen to, as some people would impose so much value onto something that wasn't regarded as much by others. There were all kinds of objects for trade, from shiny rocks, to camping equipment, to trading cards, to patches that people could sew onto their clothes, to tools, and so much more.

               Carrying a sketchbook around intrigued some people to who asked to look through it, and others even wanted to draw in it. One time at Stock Pot some kid named Guess Who asked to draw in it. I lent it to him for a while before he had to leave. Eventually even Randsford asked to leave his mark in there. It was great to have this tool for interaction with people around me. One little girl saw the cover on which I'd drawn dragons and castles, and was wide eyed when she asked if I'd drawn that. I think she was a little disappointed when she saw that there weren't many of the same style drawings on the inside, but a couple of them caught her eye.

              I hung out in the Bare Necessities Kitchen with my sketchbook a few times while they served food to random hippies who showed up. I tried to capture some of the coliseum while I was hanging around, seeing people who had spent the night by the fire. I'd been getting to know some of the kitchen staff pretty well by then, like Bo, Awesome Sauce, Joy, Ryan, Denny, Shawn, Zac and Stunt Double (who seemed to be referred to as "Cunt Stubble" anytime before midday). Happy had completely integrated himself into the staff, and seemed to be the second in command under Baloo. The people working the kitchen respected him, looked to him for guidance, and enjoyed his company. They loved his breakfasts which consisted of eggs and potatoes, probably because it was anything other than pancakes, which they got way too much of. Plus, it was really good. Happy would sneak me a plate every morning, even though I wasn't technically part of the kitchen staff. No one seemed to mind since they'd known me to have helped them out since they set up.

              One night I managed to join one of the drum circle when one of the drummers took a break and offered his drum to anyone who wanted to try. It was an excellent experience, doing my best to follow along with some very experienced drummers. Someone would start with a slow beat, another would join in with their own, I'd follow suit, and eventually all of us were playing. The beat would build up, louder, and faster, and would intensify as people began to whoop and shout and scream. It would eventually slow down, and drummers would fade out until only one beat was left playing. Either they'd fade out to silence, or they'd change the tempo and flow into the next movement. It was amazing.

              Then the breakdown began. Tents began disappearing, kitchen started to pack up, cars were leaving. One morning I went into the hookah lounge for a couple of hours, having to walk through Bare Necessities to get there, but when I came out, the coliseum was completely down. I was glad I'd decided to sketch it when I did, otherwise I would've missed the opportunity. The gathering had taken on a bit of a depressing mood, as structures were taken down when you weren't looking. The trash kids disassembled their tree house, HHK broke down their bliss rails, Bangerang  had completely disappeared, and Stock Pot had filled in their fire pit. The kitchens that left earlier would kick down leftover supplies and food to the kitchens that were staying later, so there seemed to be a convergence of kitchens into Bare Necessities. They were recieving crates of canned sauces, boxes of pasta, bags of rice, and went into a mad frenzy to get as much of it cooked as they could in the last couple of days, while still breaking down the kitchen.

              It finally came down to the last day. The police were warning people to be out by midnight the next day, lest they be fined for trespassing. People in the kitchen were dashing around trying to get supplies back on the trailer. Happy had offered space in his RV to help Baloo. He'd apparently broken things off with Tim the Cosmic Wonder, and was instead taking on some of the kitchen staff from Bear Necessities. His plan was to take on a skeleton crew to the next gathering, which was in some place called A-cola, and set up the kitchen early as soon as the site was declared. I helped out where I could, and by midday had broken off to take down my own camp. I packed up the DragonWagon and was ready to head out. I went to say my farewells to Happy. He was insistent that I go with him. I explained that, with my wagon, it'd be difficult, if not impossible, to get my load into his RV. He dismissed my excuses, assuring me that there was a way. He told me he'd love it if I came along with him and the Bear Necessities kids. Tim wouldn't be around anymore, so the kids were going to "spange" their way along. I had no idea what he meant. To be honest, I was scared. I was afraid of going in an RV with a bunch of people I barely knew, with what little I had to live with. I was convinced I'd be walking out of there, but Happy convinced me otherwise. I set aside my fears and apprehension, and gave way to my sense of adventure. Who knew what would be waiting for me on an RV full of hippies from the woods? This wasn't an experience that would readily come my way again anytime soon. It would be an adventure, and that's exactly what I'd set out to have.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Rainbow Gathering Part 3


DAY 12

              I finally decided it was time to head out to the river for a swim. I took my bag of toiletries with me so I could wash up a bit, considering it'd been almost two weeks since I'd come out to the woods and had no chances to bathe. I walked a good portion of the way down the road Clue and I had taken on our first day, remembering how odd that whole experience was with him. A truck eventually rolled up and stopped next to me, asking me if I needed a ride. I thanked them as I hopped in the bed of the truck. There was someone else already in there catching a ride of his own. It was a big guy. I realized after a few seconds that it was 6-8 whom I'd met the previous day while riding with Happy. He was clearly a lot more sober this morning than he had been the previous night. His speech was much more comprehensible and he was acting a lot calmer and nicer than he had. He seemed belligerent when asking Happy for more beer, but now sounded more humble. He seemed like a nice guy once I got to know him a little bit. The guys in the truck were scouting a new place to camp, well away from the rest of the gathering, and figured they'd check towards the river. They stopped in a parking area a few yards away from the river, and I thanked them for the ride as I walked the rest of the way.

              Once I got to the place Clue and I had camped, I saw there were no tents around. I'd imagined hordes of people would have chosen this area for their camp ground, but it seemed it was too far from everything else to deemed a good place. There were, however, a few people sitting on the concrete steps that led to the water. They were sitting around a small fire on the concrete, chatting. I walked up to the group and asked if the water was nice. I wasn't sure if they hadn't heard me or if they were not interested or if something else was at play, but I got no response, and had one or two of them give me a blank look before going back to their conversation. Well, okay then...

              I walked around to the concrete boat ramp that was on the other side of a couple of trees from the group and looked around. The water was a bright copper color, almost red, and clearly see-through. I stripped down to my underwear and stepped in. The water was freezing cold. I swam out towards the middle of the river and dipped under a few times, keeping in motion to try and stay somewhat warm. The morning sun hadn't quite broken over the tree line, so it was hard to get any sunlight to help the situation. It was a magnificent feeling being in the water again. I scrubbed off layers of dirt from my legs as I floated there, taking in the beauty of my surroundings. I swam back towards the ramp and sat on it with my feet in the water. The sunlight was just making it over the trees to hit the ramp, so I was warming up nicely. As I started pulling out the soap and shampoo, a couple of families walked up with two dogs. The dogs bolted straight for the water, chasing each other. They were enjoying the water so much, I rethought my intention to spread shampoo and soap into it. I figured it was good enough to scrub myself down with just water. I packed up, got dressed, and headed back. I walked part of the way down before catching a ride with another pickup truck heading my way.

              Back at Bear Necessities, I saw a guy painting a banner for the kitchen. His name was Randsford. He was a tall guy with a shaved head and a trimmed beard. He had a few spots under his eyes, which I couldn't tell were birthmarks or not. They seemed too symmetrical to be natural, but I didn't bother asking. He was a good painter. He was taking reference from what seemed like a Native American textbook, copying the essential elements from one of the pictures. I've forgotten what he explained it all meant, but it had something to do with a people that once lived underground, and were brought out from the darkness, and into the sun. Something spiritual like that, well beyond me. It was a cool looking image, and his depiction was very stylistic. I was positively impacted by meeting him, and partly inspired and ashamed at the same time. There he was, using his gifts and abilities to enhance the kitchen he was attaching himself to, unashamedly putting forth his artistic efforts. The only one at the gathering who knew I even drew was Happy, and that was because I let it slip that I was drawing in my tent one time. Truth was I was scared of drawing in public. Putting forth the finished image is one thing, but progressing in public is somewhat crippling to me, and seeing him do it made me feel silly about it.

              Just then, there were people looking for help to blaze a trail. Main Circle had been moved to a new location, but it was on the other side of the forest. We'd have to follow the trail about a mile out to the road, go up just under a mile on the road, and then another mile into another trail, unless we cut this new trail connecting the two sites.

              I buried my thoughts of inadequacies from meeting Randsford, and offered to help. I'd done enough trail blazing of my own for my two camps, why not help with one others could use as well? I grabbed my hatchet from my camp, and met up with them by the trash kids' camp. The trash kids had set up a tree house by their hammock, and were working on a tent behind it. It seemed their numbers were growing. They had bags of collected pocket trash, poles with trash bags, and a sign or two saying things like "Give us your Pocket Trash!!" One of them offered to come along with us to help clear the trail. As we walked, I listened to a skinny young kid walking ahead of me talking about looking for a machete he could trade for. He couldn't have been older than 16. I thought how strange his attire was for the forest, with his skin tight black jeans, and his thick black leather vest, with his pointy black leather boots. It seemed awfully hot and uncomfortable for the muggy heat we were getting. Every time we stopped somewhere he'd ask if anyone knew of someone with a machete to trade, and what they'd be looking for in exchange. We followed the main trail, recruiting as many as we could along the way, and reached an area just outside of the Main Council, where the Main Circle had been held the previous few nights. We followed a trail in the opposite direction until it just sort of faded into the growth a few yards up. It seemed to zigzag, and it seemed to me it was essentially going the wrong direction. We were supposed to meet someone there who was in charge of guiding the project along, but they were nowhere to be found. The person recruiting workers went off to find him, and the black leather kid went with him. It was just me and two others, so we started clearing the trail in the direction we thought it should be going.

              I started talking to the kid from the Trash Camp. His name was Oliver. He was wearing one of those brown winter caps with the flaps over the ears, a checkered button-up shirt, brown overalls with one broken strap, and well-worn brown boots. Another set of clothes I questioned for the current weather. I asked him about the trash kids, and how all that came about. He explained that he and a couple of the others had been here a few days before anyone else showed up, and it was a beautiful site for the gathering. As soon as people showed up, they started dropping trash everywhere along the trails and paths they'd helped to make. He told me it wasn't like the other gatherings they'd been at, where people regularly pick up after themselves. People here seemed to be more apathetic about it, so he and his friends started doing something about it. Simple as that. Something that seemed to me to be such an established thing, something I thought was just done at these gatherings, was in fact something only just started, by someone who saw it needed to be done. I realized how often I found myself picking up trash from the ground and putting it in my pocket, just so I'd have something to give the trash kids when they said, "Hey, you, with the pockets! Got pocket trash?" and how good it felt to reach in and hand over a handful of papers and plastic and other assorted trash, which was met with "yea, I knew you were a good hippie, keep it up!" It hit me what a difference they were making. People knew and recognized them along the trails, people listened to what they said, and people respected them. All of this just because they picked up the trash, and encouraged people, in an amusing and fun way, to pick up after themselves.

              We cut the trail for a couple of hours, hoping we were heading in the right direction, but we didn't get very far with only three of us. Neither the recruiter nor the black leather kid had shown back up, much less whomever was supposed to be in charge of it all. We decided it was time to stop when the sun started getting low. It was almost time for Main Circle, and I still didn't know where it was, only that it was far away. I went back to camp for warmer clothes, then asked around for directions. It was a far walk, somewhere around 3 miles. I was used to it, sure, but I wasn't sure I wanted to walk 3 miles for dinner, and then 3 miles for bed. Might as well check it out anyways. It was in an area I hadn't really explored, down the "Welcome Home" trail at Mid Gate. As I passed through Mid Gate I began to see signs that read, "Main Circle this way. BRING WOOD!" When I thought I was almost there, I broke off from the trail and searched for dry wood in the bushes. I found a large, thick branch, threw it over my shoulder, and continued on the trail. I definitely wasn't as close as I thought, and it didn't help that I took a couple of wrong turns due to the signs being a little misleading. I did, however, mistakenly find out where Green & Purple Kitchen was. Hoorayyyy... I eventually made it to a clearing with about 7 people sitting around with a small pile of sticks and branches. They were in the middle of a large field of dry tall grass, with no fire pit to be seen. If we had a fire anywhere near the size of the previous Main Circles, then this wouldn't do.

              A couple of people were complaining about the new location, criticizing its lack of fire pit, lack of fire wood, how annoying the tall grass was, and about a swampy area off in the distance. That's when an old timer started explaining that the reason this was the state of the place, was because no one had yet done anything about it. One guy stood up and said he was going to look for more fire wood, another one followed him. I thought back to my conversation with Oliver, about seeing something that needed to be done, and doing it. I saw that a fire pit was needed, so I did something about it. I started tearing out the grass, forming a circle. Two or three others jumped in with me. More people started showing up with wood, and stepping in to help. We made a pile of all the tall dry grass, next to the pile of wood. We cleared the grass down to the mud, using our hands, our feet, sticks and branches, or whatever else we could use. As it began to get dark, while kitchens were still showing up, we began to build the fire. I laid down the first batch of dry grass, and people began bringing wood over, asking me where I wanted them. It came as a bit of a surprise that I was endowed with the responsibility of building the fire. I knew it wasn't a big deal at all, but the fact that complete strangers were doing any kind of work, and turning to me for leadership was something I hadn't expected at all out in the woods full of hippies. I had sudden flash backs to my time as a warehouse manager, directing laborers twice my age. It's a strange feeling when you're not expecting it at all. I asked for the smaller twigs first, then the medium sized branches. I asked one of them to help me prop up the initial teepee above the batch of dry grass. The rest were easy to add on once the initial ones were balanced. I took out my lighter, and lit the dry grass before too many branches made it unreachable. I called for more dry grass as the flames grew, and instructed people to insert it through the openings, making sure to spread it lightly so as not to suffocate the flame. We put on more and more branches, so we needed more grass. The pile we'd stocked up ran out, and I was fascinated to see people scour out to tear more grass out of the surrounding area. It was a magnificent display of collaboration which I was in the middle of, and there it was, a bon fire. Where there once was just a field and complaints of lacking, we came together and made an effective fire to warm the masses that were rolling in. It felt silly to be so proud of something so trivial, but I was. By the time the fire was done, the team had dispersed as quickly as it had formed. I heard someone yell, "ho for the fire!" and chimed in as we all shouted, "HOOOOO!!!!"

              Main Circle was exceptionally delicious that night. The mixture of flavors in the dark was intriguing and fun, distinguishing between salads, pastas, rice, and desserts. The small drum circle that formed after dinner was energetic. They fed of each other and produced wonderful beats. Once I was satisfied with the whole event, I started my way back. I almost lost the trail a couple of times in the dark, since it was so fresh. It seemed plenty of people didn't know where they were going, so the trampled grass in a couple of areas branched out in several directions. I eventually made it to Stock Pot Kitchen, so I stepped in to take a look. This seemed to be the place for the after-party. They had dug out an actual pit for their fire, with enough room for people to sit near the flames, and had set up thick logs as seating around the pit, which worked as tiered seating. There were people in the pit, on the logs, and all around the bliss pit. I found a group of people playing Magic: The Gathering behind one of the logs. I was amazed there were trading card games in the forest, and even more impressed that enough people had thought to bring them to have a 6 person game. There were a couple of guitarists in the pit taking turns with a ukulele player, and the kitchen was cooking zuzus, which were some sort of deep fried dessert. After a couple of rounds of zuzus, a few songs from the strings section, and watching a couple of games of Magic, I decided to continue the walk back to camp. It was cold out, and being next to the fire for so long was only making the sudden change worse.

              It was a bit of a miserable walk back down the road. Once I'd stepped out of the tree line, the wind was moving much more freely, and made the temperature drop considerably. I eventually made it back onto the main trail, and thought I'd check the next couple of kitchens. Mama Rocket's was completely shut down, but Bangarang was up and active. I sat down at the bliss pit with a few others. It was a much more mellow crowd here, and nowhere near as packed. There was some idle chatter happening around the fire, then one of the guys across from the flames looked at me and exclaimed that I had an epic beard. I didn't manage to get an entire "thank you" out before the guy next to me scolded him for his compliment. "What about MY beard?? You've been seeing me for days, and you've never told ME I've got an epic beard!" He did indeed have a beard, and was clearly quite drunk, but they seemed to be friends, since the other guy started laughing. "Fuck you," he retorted while laughing, "his beard is much more epic than yours!" The guy next to me turned to me and was clearly getting a closer look at my beard, saying, "fuck. He's got a point." I laughed and thanked them both for the compliments just as one of the Bangarang guys came out with a pot of fried chicken and rice. There were so few people around, that we each filled our bliss with rice and a full leg and thigh of chicken. The pot even made a second round. There was so much food. It was about that time I realized I'd lost my spoon at Main Circle. I'd had it for dinner, but by the time I made it to the rice, it was gone. I hadn't used it at Stock Pot since the zuzus were finger food, so my deductive skilled told me Main Circle was the culprit. I'd already lost my fork a few days prior, so I was utensilless by this point. Finger food it was. I scooped the rice with two fingers and my thumb, making a mess of it all, trying to catch as much food as I could back in my bliss. I didn't care. I tried to wipe my face often with my handkerchief, but I was sure I looked like a savage from how greasy the chicken was. Again, didn't care. It was delicious.

DAY 13

              The sky was gray, the day was dreary. It rained on and off all day. I felt like crap. I didn't want to get out of bed. I slept on and off for half the day. The times I wasn't sleeping, I was running to my "bathroom," and was even caught by the rain a couple of times. I read the same paragraph in my book about a hundred times, and still have no idea what I read. I couldn't focus. Eventually, sometime in the afternoon I think, I decided to go for a walk. I made it as far as HHK, which isn't far at all, and had to turn around from how dizzy I was. I was afraid I might throw up before I got back to the tent. I didn't, though, to little relief. I cracked open the few Granola bars I still had from Anonymous Artist, hoping they would help make me feel a little better. After some time laying in my tent whistling, I realized I must be feeling better, because I felt hungry. I didn't dare take the trek to a decent kitchen, so I cracked open a can of Chef Boy R Dee I had in the DragonWagon. That's when I remembered I didn't have a spoon anymore. Crap. I looked around for a substitute, and the best I had was cutting the plastic lid of a peanut can I'd gotten when I rode to town with Happy. It was messy, and awkward, and sharp. Not the ideal utensil to eat with. By the time I was done, I'd practically cut the inside corners of my mouth, and felt pretty silly about it all. I'd used the plastic "spoon" to keep myself from cutting my mouth on the ravioli can. Awesome.

              I spent a good part of the rest of the day drawing. I was inspired from my encounter with Randsford, and started allowing something different to flow on the paper. I didn't know what it was when I began it, but it eventually transformed into something. It began as a ball and a cup. Fluid rays began to emanate from it, and soon dots and circles surrounded it. From there, swirls began to flow outward, then fiery beams. It was starting to look like a rising sun. Sharp rays shot out from the beams, which were then filled it with some unstable matter. It all ended with fading circles and dots. I was pleased with it, it looked interesting, and was indirectly reminiscent of Randsford's style. I added a comet flying above the sun, then added stars of different shapes exploding all around the page, like unique snowflakes. I felt like I'd filled the page, but it didn't feel done. I wanted it to flow better. I wanted it all to show more unity, rhythm, movement. It suddenly occurred to me that I wanted it to have gravity. It was a weird thing to want on a picture of "space," but in my sickly daze, I felt I needed it. I used my pencil to draw spirals going out from each star, representing their radiating gravitaional pulls, out until they'd met another, except for the sun. The sun was the largest one there, so it would set the flow of the whole thing. Okay, so how was I going to show the pull of gravity? Light? Dark? Darkness. I wanted darkness to flow like dark matter. It would flow like a whirlpool around the sun until it got too close to a star, in which case it would get sucked in. The sun would have a farther reach and stronger pull, so darkness would be squeezed tightly when getting close to it. The final product made me seem like I was on drugs while producing it. Maybe my whole conception of it made it seem that way. I wondered how sick I'd actually been out there all alone...

              Spending the day in my tent gave me plenty of time to think about things. I wondered if I should stay at the gathering, or head out early. I figured I should at least stay for the 14th of February, since that's when everyone said was the "big day." That was only 5 days away. It wasn't terrible out there, at least not anymore. Granted I'd gotten there early, much earlier than I'd intended. I should've been there just under a week instead of just under two weeks. Things were getting better every day, and I was experiencing new things, meeting new people. I was definitely interacting with a lot more people, and on a much more personal level, than I was on my walks on the road. It was definitely a cheap way of life. Labor for food? Seemed to be working out pretty well. Cut some logs here, clear some trails there. Even getting fed on days I didn't quite feel up to doing work. Granted there was no internet, and I wasn't indoors at all, but that didn't bother me much. Everyone out there was living under similar conditions, so I didn't stand out. The people who smelled like soap seemed to be the ones who stood out, the ones with clean clothes. It was, however, difficult to keep up with drawing out there. Outdoor conditions aren't the greatest when white paper is involved. Keeping a sketchbook clean and crisp was hard work. My hands were leaving black smudges on more and more pages as I even just flipped through the book, not to mention working on a page. It was, on the other hand, good source material. Some of my costume design friends would have loved some of the people's clothes out there. It was like some post apocalyptic setting in the woods. It was inspirational. Granted, not all the people out there were the greatest to be around all the time, but how was that different from anywhere else? Every place has its own dark alleys we tend to avoid. Plus, I'd heard it time and time again that Ocala had a bad reputation as far as gatherings go, so I couldn't necessarily base my opinions on this sole experience. I wondered if the next gathering at A-cola would be any better if I did take Happy's offer to travel with him and Tim. Traveling with Tim would be rough. Really rough. Happy would be okay, but I didn't know about Tim. The Cosmic Wonder...

              As it got dark, and I settled in to try and get some more sleep, I realized it was February 9th, and it was Mum's birthday. I'd have to get to wifi or a phone soon.

DAY 14

              It was gray out again, and the rain was come and go. I was feeling better than the previous day, but still not 100%. It was officially the fifth day into the gathering, and, as I was walking around, I had to admit to myself that it was losing its appeal. Maybe the weather was getting to me, or maybe it was my sickness from the day prior. Maybe the repetition of things that were new were getting to me. We had four days to go before the big day. The food was definitely a very good quality of the gathering, and a very appealing one, but there seemed to be a lot of aggression around. It may have had something to do with all the cops that were constantly patrolling up and down the dirt roads, "6 up!" was heard constantly up and down the trails. People seemed aggravated by their presence, likely because so many of them were involved in illegal activities. I didn't mind them patrolling, but, then again, I wasn't doing anything illegal.

              I made it over to Bare Necessities Kitchen. The coliseum was coming together. They had set up tall posts in a large semicircle around the bliss pit, in front of the kitchen. A couple of those posts already had tarps backing them, with a couple of benches under them. There was still lots of work to do. I busied myself helping to build some of the benches around the bliss pit for a good portion of the day. We would bury four medium logs about knee high at the corners of the bench, put two long logs connecting the two front corners and the two back corners, then spanned the distance with short medium branches for seating. It was a lot of cutting and a lot of lashing. It was slow tedious work, but it was getting done.

              As the sun began getting low, I went back to camp to get warmer clothes on. I remembered the temperature drop on the road from the last time I was walking back from Main Circle, so I prepared accordingly. I was thankful I would get some decent food, since the previous day was pretty much just a can of ravioli. I thought about it for a second, and realized that I really was thankful for the food. I'd thought it several times already. The meals were something that kept their appeal the whole way through, while other experiences kept getting monotonous. I wanted to let the people serving the food know that I was thankful. I wanted to say thank you to each and every one of them, so I wrote it on my bliss. It was see through plastic, so rather than have sharpie ink on the inside of the container, I wrote it underneath, backwards, so it read from the inside. This made me happy.

              At Main Circle, I helped build the fire again. I didn't lead it like I had the previous time, but that was just fine with me. I was just happy to do my part. By the time we circled up, it was dark out. Several kitchens were serving, but not all of them had flashlights. The ones that did have them were the few that were able to see the "Thank You" on my bliss. Some laughed, some thanked me back, some said "you're welcome," and generally everyone had a positive reaction to it. I couldn't stop smiling, even though no one could see it in the dark. After dinner, I stopped by Stock Pot again. There were plenty of people there who had spilled over from Main Circle. There was one guitarist who would play sporadically. I sat and stared at the fire as some girl in front of me spoke to some other guy about what bullshit college was, and education in general. They discussed the conspiracies of student debt, the futileness of joining the workforce, and how corporations run the government. They were well spoken, and sounded well educated. I believed the girl to be a college dropout, likely due to the reasons she had been expressing to him.

              I started to hear rumors of a rave happening down at the river, and it peaked my interest. There was something new. There were a few people getting together to head over in a van, so I went over and asked if they had room for one more. They counted bodies, and told me it'd be a tight squeeze. I told them that if they were okay with it, so was I. So, the quest to the rave began. I was suddenly amongst a group of nerds, and it was delightful. We joked about our little quest being in league with Lord of the Rings. We must get to the rave! They were naming each other as characters from the movie, and I was dubbed Gimli the dwarf, apparently for the beard. The girl whose van we were taking was Frodo, and one guy who was lagging behind was dubbed Smeagol. We stuffed ourselves into the van. Smeagol and I opened the hatchback, and rode with our legs dangling out the back. It was our mission to not allow any of the copious amounts of gear and random items in the back to fall out, and it was quite a task. Between the bumps, and the sudden stops and accelerations, our containment skills were tested well. We finally arrived at the river, and made it to the rave. It might have been the creepiest thing I'd ever seen. There was a van with a turntable set up in front of it, with a couple of laser lights aimed at the crowd. The crowd was dispersed along the loop that lead to the steps and boat ramp. The lights were just enough to make everyone look uniform. A few people were slowly walking around like panthers stalking their prey, while most of them stood as still as statues, not moving a muscle except for their bobbing heads. That's what made it the creepiest thing. The bobbing heads on statuesque bodies made it seem as if the crowd was possessed, in some kind of trance. No one was dancing. No one was moving. I could count the amount of girls out there on one hand, and that was being generous to some. This rave was clearly not for me. I caught the next ride out back to camp.

DAY 15

              I woke up in a sweat. It was a sunny hot day. Sunny? I pulled the tarp back from my tent and saw the bright blue sky which I hadn't seen in a few days, and it was glorious. In the distance I heard the echoes of people shouting, "DAYBALLL!!!" and, "DAYYYYYYBALL!!" and, "DAY-BAAAAALL!!!" It was great not to have a dreary, gray, rainy day for a change. Okay, it had only been two days of gray skies, but it'd felt like a week. I spent part of the morning drawing the second version of Happy's chariot. I decided that at some point in the day I'd have to go into town and connect to some wifi so I could wish Mum a happy belated birthday. Two days was too late. I finished the drawing, and tracked down Happy to see what he thought.

              I looked for him in his camp, but he wasn't there. I tried his RV, but he was out. Finally I tried Bear Necessities, and there he was, talking to a kid named Jake about his guitar. Happy was now carrying a walking stick with a bell on it, which he explained kept the bad spirits away. I showed him the drawing for his RV, and he loved it. It had the names of the towns for the gatherings, the coliseum that Bear Necessities was building, the kitchen, palm fronds to commemorate Ocala, the names of people involved in the kitchen, his friends, and even a dragon to mark my signature. He showed it off to Baloo and the rest of the kitchen staff, who seemed thrilled to see their kitchen depicted in a drawing. There were still a couple of changes Happy wanted to make, but overall he was pleased. Once the excitement died down, I asked if he was planning on heading in to town, and he said he was, but he was waiting for Tim. Crap, here it goes again, waiting for Tim, knowing he'll never show. I decided to wait it out again. Happy went back to talking to Jake, and asked if he could tune his guitar back at the RV. Jake obliged, so off they went, and I followed. Happy had apparently recently acquired a digital tuning device which he was unfamiliar with, and Jake happened to know how to use it. I've forgotten what the name of the device was, but it was supposedly the most accurate device to tune by these days.

              When Jake done tuning the guitar, Happy changed the conversation to "shiny rocks." Jake's eyes widened, "you have shiny rocks?" Happy threw his arms up, exclaiming, "oh boy, do I?!" Then it got a little strange in my opinion. I've never been exposed to any rock hobbyists, but the gathering seemed to be teeming with them. Shiny rocks seemed to be some sort of currency out there, since so many people held them in such high regard. Some believed them to have healing properties, others stated they were good for "grounding" you, while others just seemed to like their shininess. Happy was showing off his peacock feathers. He'd pull out a heavy bag, filled with big gray rocks, and Jake would marvel over each one. Sometimes Jake would classify them, categorize them by types, or even call them by their "street names," and other times he'd just marvel at their mysterious natures. Happy would watch him with delight, then rush back into his RV, saying something like, "oh but wait..." He'd come out with a fishing tackle box, filled with an assortment of stones in each little compartment and Jake would be astounded by each little pebble. Happy went back in and pulled out a cardboard box filled with black stones, then a small sack of see-through rocks, then another cardboard box of beige stones. It seemed orgasmic to them. Jake would "ooh" and "aah" while Happy giggled and whooped, clapping his hands in delight. Happy had seemingly saved the best for last, because he came out of the RV one final time with a tiny decorative box which seemed like it would hold a jewel inside. He opened it and exposed a milky white smoothly rounded pebble which was somewhat see-through. Jake gently pulled it out of the padded box and held it up, looking at the sunlight going through it. Happy wanted to go to the trade circle and trade these stones for better stones so he could then take them to the National Rainbow Gathering and get even better trades. Seemed kind of cyclical to me, but I guess if that's what you like... Happy seemed to respect Jake's knowledge of stones and rocks, so he was hoping for guidance in the trade circles. Jake said he'd be more than happy to help, so they got ready to head out. I could see my ride into town fluttering away, so I decided to head out on my own.

HEADY TRADE - a trade where something of value was acquired, or something of value for trade.
SHINY - nice, cool, interesting, valuable, or just shiny...

              I got ready to head out to Front Gate to hopefully get a ride into Ocala which was about 30 or 40 miles away. As I was reaching Mid Gate, I came across Miguel whom I'd met a few days earlier. I remembered he was the guy who had read my blog and told me lots of people knew about me. He introduced me to the girl he was walking with, Katie. She was his girlfriend, and had just arrived at the gathering. She told me she was also keeping up with my blog, and I was flattered. I thanked them both for reading it, and was glad they seemed to be enjoying it. I told them I hoped to see them at Main Circle that night, but for the time being I was headed into town. They wished me luck as we parted ways. They headed down to the main trail, and I kept going towards Front Gate. Part of the way down, I managed to get a ride to the end of the road from a guy driving a van. He didn't have room inside, but he offered up his bumper to stand on. I grabbed on to the railing on the roof of the van and off we went. A little ways past Front Gate we saw another guy on his way to the road, so he stood on the bumper next to me. The driver stopped at the last curve before the hardtop road, and warned us that there was usually a cop stationed at that intersection, so this was as far as he would take us. We thanked him for the ride, and walked to the intersection.

              The other guy's name was Choo-Choo, and he was also looking for a ride in to Ocala. He apparently had to show up for some court date for some alteration that had occurred before coming into the gathering. We waited there for a while, and a couple of cars came in and out, but one had no room, and the other was headed in another direction. We didn't wait too much longer before a girl drove up alone in her car. She seemed to know Choo-Choo. She was apparently headed to Tampa, but didn't mind going through Ocala to drop us off. We got in the car. Her name was Annie, and she'd just broken up with her boyfriend at the gathering, or he had broken up with her, I wasn't sure. She decided to leave and go back to Tampa to get some work. She and Choo-Choo engaged in some idle chatter for the 30 minute ride. We passed over the bridge where I'd met Bonnie from Above the Rail Magazine and the side of the road where I'd met the first Ron who asked me if I was here for the gathering. We passed the spot where my second tire had popped and I met the second Ron who had asked me about the Rainbow Family. We passed the Burger King where I'd met the third Ron who'd asked me if I was one of the Rainbow people. We eventually got to a McDonald's in Ocala where she dropped us off. I gave her directions to the interstate from there, and off she went.

              The very moment I stepped into the McDonald's, I realized just how dirty I'd become out in the woods. Stepping from outdoors to indoors suddenly allowed me catch my own aroma, and realize just how much dirt I'd accrued. I went into the bathroom, and stepped into the handicap stall. I was amused by the sudden difference from being outside to inside. The AC felt strange, dry. The lights felt strange, and the cleanliness of the floors and walls were too noticeable, they stood out to me. I enjoyed sitting on the toilet, rather than crouching over a hole in the ground. I took full advantage of that. Then, most surprising of all, was the mirror. I hadn't seen my own reflection in a pretty long while, and it caught me off guard at first. I had to stare for a second to register my facial features again. You'd think I hadn't been in a bathroom in five years, but these were the reactions I had in the moment of it all. I washed my hands, and the smell of the soap was extremely potent to me, almost repugnant. I finished in the bathroom, and went to the counter to order some food.

              I sat down in one of the booths, and got busy trying to get hold of Mum to wish her a happy birthday. She was just one her way to a doctor's appointment, and asked if I could Skype after it. It would take her about an hour or so, so I figured I'd wait. I had plenty of stuff to catch up on with Facebook. As I was going through way too many notifications, Choo-Choo sat down next to me. He started talking about his rock collection. He too had shiny rocks. He pulled out a rock, and told me it was a tiger's eye, and that he'd gotten it on a heady trade with someone at the Rainbow Gathering in Maine. He then pulled out a white rock, told me it was an opal, and had traded a less shiny opal for it. This went on until his collection was meticulously laid out on my table at McDonald's. He'd told me what each one was, how he'd gotten it, and why he liked it. He then told me which was his favorite, his second favorite, and why. He asked me which one of them was my favorite. I looked at them and told him I liked the way the black one with red veins looked. He explained again what it was and how he'd gotten it. He then asked me what shiny rocks I had. When I told him I had none, he seemed bewildered, so he gave me a kick down. He gifted me one of his white opals. I thanked him, but told him I had nothing to give, much less shiny rocks. He told me it was okay, but that I really needed to get some shiny rocks. I asked if I could take a photograph of his collection, just because it felt so strange to have someone do this in the middle of a fast food restaurant. He allowed me to take the photo, then put away his collection and got his own booth on the other side of a wall, assuring me that he'd be right around the corner if I wanted to chat.

              Once the hour passed I got on Skype and got into a conversation with Mum and Papi. It was great to finally talk to them, "face to face." I wished her a happy belated birthday again, and assured them both I was okay, alive and well. I did my best to describe what I could of the gathering without worrying them too much about the people out there. It was hard to put it all into a concise description. I explained how I'd been camping out there, and how I was hiding my wagon well. I described my interactions with Happy and the Bear Necessities Kitchen. I assured them I was eating well and not starving. I tried to explain what Main Circle was and how everyone called each other "family." I'm not sure that last one struck the right chord. Mum told me she was glad I'd found my new family, and that I was so happy there. I tried to explain that I didn't consider these people my family, but I'm not sure if I mended the situation. They asked me how I'd be getting back to the gathering. I hesitated for a second, not wanting to leave them worried that I had no way of getting back. I'd known that coming out, it was no surprise, but I tend to take on one problem at a time. I didn't want to lie to them and say I had some sort of ride when I didn't, so I told them, "therein lies the next adventure." When they realized I was putting off starting my way back so I could talk to them, they rushed to say good bye, and wished me luck on my way back. I hoped they wouldn't worry as much as I imagined they would. The sun was starting to set, it'd be getting dark soon, and I'd have 30 miles to go, somehow, before getting back to my tent and all of my supplies.