Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Odd Job: Feeding a bunch of hungry hippies

You might think it strange to feel stress while wearing a tie-dye apron but that’s exactly how I felt. Bear, the owner of the pizzeria in Hope Idaho, had hired me to help him make pizza at the Barter Faire in Tonasket.

“Find your zen.” was the only piece of advice he gave me before turning me loose inside his retrofit van built for making pizzas. His tricked-out 80’s Econoline is fully equipped to crank out pies. Exactly what you would imagine if one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were selected for “Pimp my ride”.

Just as I started to find my groove, turning out pies as fast as I could Bear came to the back of the van, “don’t stress but we’re gettin’ busy so keep’em comin’.” Faster I thought.

The Greek pizza in the oven needed rotating. The “Village” was cooked and ready to cut. The pepperoni pizza needed be moved to the bottom rack. And the cheese pizza was ready for some heat. 

Shit. The cheese pizza wouldn’t slide off the peel. I forgot to dust it with semolina. Semolina flour, made from durum wheat, allows the pie to slide off the peel. I tried in vain to shake off the pizza but it became stuck in the oven.

Desperate to rescue it from the inferno I scooped it up only to drop it on the oven door. I felt like I was on an episode of I Love Lucy. I was in the middle of a culinary crime scene. I started to panic as the mangled cheese pie sizzled on the open oven door.

I dumped the disfigured cheese in the trash, built a new pizza and pulled myself together. After weathering the worst of the dinner rush I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floury floor of the van, tired from working a twelve hour day.

The next morning I awoke to Bear’s friend known as Africa John who mockingly shouted “Barter Faire! I’m popping the yellow one!” Fluent in French, Arabic and some Spanish, Africa is a weathered UN humanitarian worker turned hand-sculpted-stone-bead seller. The massive encampment was silent in the early morning as we sat with our cowboy coffee, taking a moment to watch the sunrise.

I spent the day working the till with Dora, Bear’s Mexican girlfriend, serving up hot tamales, puff pastries and pizza. True to its name many customers wanted to barter for food. Hats, chocolate, organic vegetables, pretty much anything imaginable as proven by a young man who offered to go get his “guitar and play a Jimi Hendrix song for a slice.”

Much of what I knew as normal was constantly challenged by these unique surroundings. After giving one guy his change he reached his hand over the tip jar and dropped some bud in my hand. “Here ya’ go man.” Another passed by the booth dressed in a loincloth “Yeah, I’m looking to start a land trust.” I heard him say.

This “fight the system” vibe seemed to radiate from everyone. At the Barter Faire “living off the land” wasn’t just a catch phrase dropped at farmer’s markets but a way of life.

Families sold yearn, old blue jeans, organic vegetables and other goods under E-Z up tents. Old vans, converted school buses and Winnebagos resurrected from the 80s were commonplace among the long rows of campers.

I felt like a foreigner far from home. My bald head seemed even more naked among so many dreadlocks. My “casual Friday” attire left over from an abandon desk job was in stark contrast to brightly colored natural fibers.

After four long days we loaded the van, strapped the hula-hoops to the roof and headed back to the land of electricity, running water, and cell phone reception. It was early morning as the dusty van rolled down a long stretch of road.

A faint morning fog covered the pastures along highway 21. Bear was at the wheel, I sat shotgun and Dora was seated on a plastic lawn chair lodged between the two front seats.

Sloping green forests were dotted with the yellow tips of tamaracks and the aspen leaves flickered in the sunlight. In that moment I couldn’t decide if I had found my zen or I was just dead tired.

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

What an awesome depiction, Brad. Its easy to feel inspired to give that lifestyle a go. What a cool experience. Thanks for sharing.

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