Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back in Richmond

We are settling back into Richmond after our trip and trying to catch up with day-to-day fun while working on booking what is looking like a really busy spring and summer for Books on Wheels. I am in the process of moving, and thankfully Joel the Intern is still around to help me move boxes. Don't worry, Oregon Hill, the buses will still be in the neighborhood. I am only moving a block away. You can find us in the cul-de-sac on Albermarle if you need anything.

Ward and Joel went to a thrift store the other day and were taking a look at the cork board of flyers when Ward notices a flyer about a book and bicycle donation drive. His immediate reaction was, "What the %#*?. Who is biting our style?", before he reads down a little and realizes the donation drive is for us, he just hadn't seen the poster before then. Yeah, I am to blame for not showing him the poster in advance. Good thing he didn't rip it down before realizing what it was.

I was asked to talk about Books on Wheels to a really great group of VCU students the other day who are taking a class regarding sustainability. They asked great questions and were really fun to have, and some of the first people to see the big bus, especially from the inside. My favorite question was "Where did you get the couch?". Yeah, that's right. Love for my couch. The same couch that Evan sawed in half that belong to Rob, the same couch in the Hive in Greensboro, and the same couch that my roommate Chris couldn't wait to see leave the house, after I told him I loved it and he informed me that he knew because I have bad taste. I love that couch.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stories from the road...

So we love to blog now. It's pretty cool. But one thing we did realize is that it is really difficult to try to keep up with our blog while traveling. Between the massive amount of driving that we fit into 10 days, covering 3200 miles of the U.S. and having an impressive 35-hour-straight drive back to Richmond from Texas, we missed a few important stories along the way. But, here are some highlights....

We arrive at an elementary school in New Orleans to deliver some books and while we were waiting in the bus for approval to enter the building a guy named Tony approached us and asked us what we were all about. We told him, and he got really excited about the fact that we fixed bikes, and said he wanted to show us his bike. We waiting in the bus, thinking that he was going to hop around the corner and come back with his ride, but instead he returns with a small photo album, proudly handing it to Joel to see his photos. As Ward asks Tony if he can pull out the video camera and interview him, Joel opens the album and sees that the photos are not of a bike, but of a dude pushing a shopping cart. Not sure what to say, Joel continues to stare at the photo, mumbling to himself, "Aww, cool man, yeah, uh..." After Tony and Ward talk for a minute or two, Tony looks over at Joel and sees him staring intensely at the shopping cart photo, and yells, " Naw man, that ain't no bike! That's a shopping cart! Turn the page." To our relief, the next few pages of photos were of Tony, the self-proclaimed Candy Apple Cart Man of New Orleans, who sometimes sells ice cream as well, and managed to leave NOLA after the hurricane and return to save his bike and restore it months later. I think it is awesome that Tony still thinks Joel the intern bike mechanic thought a shopping cart was a bike.

Austin, TX

We arrived in Austin on Wednesday night to the sweet surprise of Sam, Starr, Stella, and Stevie (seriously) meeting us at the bus parked on 6th St. outside of the house that Books on Wheels was to set up at the next day. A lovely surprise after a 10 hour drive to Austin. We relaxed in the bus for a bit before everyone parted ways and we got some sleep. Realized that parking on a slope and trying to sleep on the loft doesn't work that well.
The next morning we woke up to a crowd beginning to form for the all-day show in Brian's back yard. He has a really cool goat that chills in the backyard. Our friends Shell and Jen made sure we had a good parking spot for the event, and we got to meet Stan at the Auto Body shop who told us all about Brad Pitt filming a movie in his neighborhood and brought us a bike to fix for his niece who was coming into town to stay with him.
Friday was our day off in Texas before returning home. We left the bus again parked outside of Stan’s Auto body shop, had some coffee and relaxed with Shell and Jen before heading into the chaos of SXSW. The group split up after a while of wandering around, and I heading to meet up with Starr and Stella to help with another form of providing something free to the public- Ice Cream Man. Ice Cream Man had two carts giving away pistachio, mango, kiwi, pina colada, and strawberry flavors. I asked Ward and Joel how much they thought I could eat in one afternoon- Ward said 11 and Joel said 9 Popsicles. I was impressed with their confidence in my ability to taking in food substance, but after only 4 delicious treats, the sugar was not settling well in my stomach and I gave up on my personal eating contest.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Israelite Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA

Once again Rev. Larry has us back for an amazing event outside of Israelite Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Blvd. in New Orleans. We arrive and began setting up a little before the kids arrive for the after school tutoring program, and had a steady flow of kids and adults that came by that had hung out with us almost exactly a year ago the first time we went to NOLA. Ward was fortunate enough to meet and talk to an elementary school teacher who invited us to her school the following day to bring books to her students and relieve them of some of the stress of the week-long testing that they were doing while we were in town . At the end of the day, we received a generous donation of incense for fixing a bicycle, which we never burned in the bus, but opening the packaging alone took away some of the smell, of well, just being four people in a bus for a week.

Monday, March 10, 2008

R.U.B.A.R.B,: New Orleans, LA

It's always great for us to visit non-profit bike collectives in other cities. We not only get to share ideas and stories, but sometimes just seeing what people are doing in their free time to make their communities better is a renewal to the spirit of what we are doing.

R.U.B.A.R.B. is a perfect example. Housed in a garage on the grounds of St. Mary of the Cross in the Upper 9th Ward, R.U.B.A.R.B. has been around for the past 2 years. We were excited to work with them just because of the name, an acronym for Rusted Up Beyond All Recognition Bikes.

Pensacola to New Orleans, LA

Civil Rights hits the Pecan Market.

We woke up early to head to New Orleans, being sure to give ourselves plenty of traveling time considering that the drive down to Pensacola from Greensboro sometimes felt like we were moving backwards because it took so long and we were moving so slow. It was another beautiful day, and Ward was amped to do the entire drive to the Crescent City, so I sat shotgun (the cooler next to the driver’s seat) and played music while keeping Ward company. At one point in the trip, I saw a photo opportunity and quickly demanded that Ward hand me my camera located on the other side of the drivers seat. He grabbed it, stuck it in my hand, and said, “Don’t talk to me like I’m Joel!”. Fortunately, at the moment, the intern was sleeping (as he tends to do) and missed the comment, but the phrase was coined for the rest of the trip as a means for Ward and me to keep on another in check when it comes to respect.

We arrived in New Orleans and decided to take the day off and bike around and relax since we did'nt officially have an event planned. The afternoon consisted of eating poboy’s in the park while explaining to Joel the detail the story, line by line, behind Rubert Holmes “Escape”, visiting the casino for free bottles of water, and a short but taxing trip to Bourbon St. that ensured we would never return for another visit.


Sluggo's Vegetarian Parking Lot: Pensacola, FL

Saturday improved drastically once we drove into Florida. The sun came out, we started to warm up a little, and we all knew that Ryan Salisbury's great mustache and stoked attitude was only miles away.

Ryan took care of us from the moment we drove into town, setting us up with showers at his house while he ran off to grab a hot lunch for us. We had a moment to collect ourselves, and then it was off to Sluggo's. This was our second time at Sluggo's, so we knew it was going to be interesting to see how this event differed from last year's. Our event in 2007 was only Books On Wheels' second official event ever, so we were still trying to figure out how to market ourselves. I realize that this sounds funny, but there really is a science to figuring out how to give away things for free. We were lucky enough to have a small article in the Pensacola daily newspaper, but our only other means of publicity was MySpace. Still, we ended up having a steady stream of people come through, and left having made some great friends.

This year, there was no larger media attention given to us, but Ryan had gone across the neighborhood with posters, and Sandy, one of our biggest fans anywhere, had been posting notices of our return on-line for the past few weeks. Their efforts paid off in full! When we drove up to the parking lot, a man named D was waiting for us with his bike next to us. He had seen a poster just the day before, which was great for him since his tires had just gone flat. While Erin serviced the wheels and tuned up the rest of the book, he told Ward that he had been walking to work since his bike broke and was looking forward to saving some commute time. Then, as if we would challenge his claim, he pulled out his ID. "Today's my birthday. I thought it was too good to be true. This is a great present." He really said that! An unpaid endorsement! We have it on tape!

Meeting D and working on his bike was a great omen for the day. For the next 3 hours, we had a constant stream of visitors, both people coming to avail themselves of our services and those coming to make donations of bikes and books. Sandy came through with friends, but her son was in camp for the weekend. A local landlord brought us a great box of bike parts he had accumulated from past tenants. Ryan's roommate Steven, an as-of-this-morning unemployed bike mechanic, came with tools and worked on bikes throughout the afternoon. The sun was out, the company couldn't have been better, and the event was a total success.

And the night just got better once we packed up and headed into Sluggo's for dinner and a show. Sluggo's is the kind of place that just makes you happy the minute you see it. They are a combination vegan restaurant/show space and is always full of great people. We were happy to see that they had expanded their space and had since gotten a liquor license. The food was, of course, superb, and the show was great. Really, there is no reason to be in the Panhandle if it's not to hang out at Sluggo's!

Day 2: Greensboro to Pensacola, FL

Snow Break '08!

Most people are familiar with the excitement of drivers feel when they cross state lines and the speed limit is increased 5 or 10 MPH. Well, our excitement when crossing from Georgia into Alabama was comparable, but was inspired by the fact that the minimum speed limit was dropped from 45 to 40 MPH. There were a few times that night that we were pushing our luck, but the new minimum gave us a little more room to play with.

That pretty much sums up our night, having left Greensboro at 8 pm, stopping outside of Atlanta 7 hours later for a 3 hour nap, and then waking at 6 to drive through a sleet and snow storm for the next few hours. When we refueled in southern Georgia, a young guy ran up to the bus and waited for us to get out. "This is great!" he said, "I passed you guys like 4 times last night and kept wondering what Books On Wheels was." While Shelley gave him a quick run down of our organization, Ward, Joel, and Erin hung their heads and walked away. He did leave us with this encouragement before hitting the road again: "Oh yeah, that drive from Greensboro is brutal. We left at 1 AM and have only gotten this far."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Day One: Richmond to Greensboro, NC

We made it out of town by 10 am after loading the bus with our bikes and bags, and stopping for coffee. It starting raining not too long after that, and come to find out the windshield leaks badly, so Joel the intern spent 3 hours changing out rags and wiping water off everything in the front of the bus. So far he is doing his job well; probably won't last long when he realizes that this is not a paid internship.

We arrived in Greensboro at 2 pm and went straight to the Hive, a community space that is really rad. We had to set up inside because the rain was so bad, but we still had people coming through and got a bunch of neat bicycle donations (Thanks Phyllis!).

Even though the weather made for a pretty slow event, we were excited to realize that over the past 14 months of Books On Wheels, this is the only event we've had that it rained. Still, I worked the door at the Hive to make sure the too many people didn't crowd into our space. Scott was really crowding the doorway; looks like we're going to need a velvet rope if anyone is going to take us seriously.

Friday was double "booked" for us, so at 4 Shelley,Scott, and I drove the bus over to Glenwood Public Library. We had visited this library last year, and Brandon, Greensboro's most enthusiastic librarian, had been a great host, so we knew we had to return this year. Unfortunately, Brandon was out of town for the week, but before she had left she made posters advertising our return. Still, the rain was pretty bad at this point, so the library was almost empty. I used the time to catch up on the blog while Ward asked if we could leave a few boxes of free kids books. "Are you kidding," the librarian wondered, "with budget cutbacks, we can use anything we can get." Perfect.

So we left 2 boxes of great kids books inside the front door with a "Free Books" sign and prepared to drive back to The Hive. That's when Larkin and baby Henry came in to catch up with us. She had 2 other kids in tow, brothers she had met in the parking lot checking out the bus. Turns out that she had been busy outside talking us up, and brought the kids to us because they had a bike at home that they needed fixed. We gave them directions to The Hive and headed back, not really sure if they would walk the 8 blocks in the rain.

Back at The Hive, Erin and Joel were busy working on some great bikes that Phyllis and friends had donated to us. Some people had come by while we were gone and were busy looking through the books, but no bikes had come through. We waited until about 5:30 until we decided that nobody else was going to come by and that we needed to creatively pack the bus to fit all of our recent donations. Well, planning on leaving early only draws customers: Right as we packed up the bike tools, a family of 4 came through with their bikes, and the kids from the library finally showed up!

The family had a set of very nice Giant hybrids, bikes they had bought a year ago but hadn't ridden since. The father said that they really wanted to start riding, and had been inspired to get them out of the basement when they saw the we were in town working on bikes. Though the bikes were new (the tires still had that bike store glow), they needed to be dusted off and to get some air. Shelley went over the basics with them (seat post adjustment, quick release tips, tire inflation), and we packed them up.

The kid's bike needed a little more attention, but Joel put his intern enthusiasm into quickly switching out wheels that would fit the bike.

Meanwhile, I nursed his cold and watched with embarrassment as a Hispanic woman going through the books picked up a copy of The Minutemen, a right wing diatribe about "securing our borders." We get all kinds of donations, and while we try to streamline the books we put out, some really horrible ones sneak past our borders. I mean, we are all about Freedom of Speech, but some voices just don't need to be speaking through Books On Wheels.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Leaving tomorrow...

Worked on the bus yesterday to get it hooked up for the road. Scott came over and put in a power inverter so we can charge our electronic things while driving. Thanks Scott! Also, he helped me replace the cracked antifreeze line-fun! Todd built up a loft so we can store our wheels and have another place to lay our heads. Thanks Todd! Joel got in town off the Chinatown bus around 11; our crew is all here. Stoked.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

New York Deli Benefit

Yeah! Thanks to everyone for coming out to the New York Deli benefit for Books on Wheels! Matt won bike raffle after Ashley so wonderfully rode it around the bar in fine fashion. Sunday nights are rough for making an appearance, but the crowd was amazing and we had a blast hanging out with all of you! Cheers!

Saturday, March 1, 2008


by bart. Adorable. Thanks Bart!

My top half

Ward and I put out these boxes along broad street a few months back which we fill up with free books every couple days or so. A kid did this in Chicago and its a really great way to distribute books, especially adult literature we don't get rid of as easily as children's books (not like porn adult, like grown-up no pictures books).

I went to go fill up one of the boxes this morning at a the bus stop on 9th and main, and as I'm loading in books, a city bus stops next to me and the driver opens the door. I figured she was going to make a comment about how I had stopped in the bus lane and I should move my car so she could pick up her passengers, but instead she says, "You're top half is hanging out", and she's laughing at me. Confused and distracted by my task at hand, I keep shoveling books in while asking her, "What? What?".

The bus driver repeats herself and tells me I need to fix my shit before I cause an accident. It finally registered--shes' talking about my butt crack. I stood up and adjusted my pants, laughing my top half off as she drives away.
Ward: "That's weird. I'm always worried about my bottom half hanging out".

The bus is painted...

and it looks crucial. Thanks Matt!!!