We’re in Houston Texas, and today we are participating in the Art Car parade, something we could not foresee a few weeks ago when we had one of our many discussions about the direction we should take Transit Antenna: on to Houston, across the country to California, or north to escape the impending heatwave. Because we don’t know what these places hold for us before we arrive, discussing the benefits and drawbacks is probably moot.
Our last major stop before Houston was New Orleans. Almost painting a mural there, and being forgotten by the person who promised to set it up, left us feeling simply like tourists sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots and buying far too much coffee at the internet cafe we frequented. We weren’t doing what we set out to do. But when we roll into town spontaneously, we can only expect that our experiences will be hit or miss. Though we enjoyed our visit to New Orleans–we came in time for French Quarter Festival–we left disappointed at having spent so much time there without landing any projects or paying jobs.
When it came time to head toward Houston, we did what we always do: made phone calls, sent emails, tried to find projects and/or paid work and a place that could accommodate the bus and RV. But no dreadful endless wait ensued. Less than thirty minutes after I sent out about ten emails to Houston newspapers and radio stations, I received a phone call from Eddie at KPFT radio, which lead us to the Emile Community Farm in the Fifth Ward, hanging out with Urban Farmer Extraordinaire Joe Icet.
We’ve been on the farm for two weeks now and have since become urban farmers, painted a mural that can be seen from I-10, spent time getting to know visitors to the farm, and landed a spot in the Art Car parade.
The farm at night is usually peaceful, but living in the Fifth Ward down the street from a crack house has its disadvantages. We have heard gunshots almost every night we’ve been here. At first we heard single shots in the distance, but then we heard several shots right outside the farm. The following night we heard them again, and the night after, we heard more, except this time, we saw a guy run down the street firing his hand cannon into the air. The bus has always felt like home to me, but at that moment, it felt like a Ford Pinto.
For the past few days, we’ve moved the bus to the rice mill next door to escape the gunshots and to paint the bus for the parade. Ken, the property owner, flies in around eight in the morning and buzzes until dusk. Sometimes he’ll emerge from the warehouse, sweaty but having changed into his dress slacks and shirt. As he tucks in his shirt and zips his fly, he hollers at us, “I’ve gotta go to a meeting now! I’ll be back in an hour.” And a little while later, he’ll be back in his T-shirt and shorts and sweaty again. This is a play land for him, filled with what some would call junk. Ken would disagree. He might call it salvaged materials whose potential is just waiting to be realized.
Ken hosted the Art Car Ball this year and put his junkyard skills to the test. What commenced was not unlike the rave that took place in the silo last weekend, except instead of teenagers dancing and enjoying the party favors, here many more people had gray hairs. I have to say, the elders had much, much more fun than the ravers. Pyrotechnics, partial nudity, barbeque, a torch organ, and plenty of booze. The movie theater didn’t draw many viewers, but the Bar of Good Intentions, complete with junk food and dusty exercise equipment, was a hit.
Overall, we’ve felt at home on the farm and in the rice mill despite all of the sometimes intoxicated strangers roaming the premises. Joe says we brought community to the farm. What seems like a one, sometimes two or three-man operation came to life the days we spent there. It takes so much time just to keep the garden watered when not using automatic sprinklers. Many people come out to cheer Joe’s efforts, but Joe wants people to take ownership and share in the responsibility. I hope they will.
When we leave Houston in a few days, I’ll miss waking up in the morning to water the garden. But more, I will miss Joe and how he never tells you what to do, and never gives authoritative advice on how to do it. Instead he’ll say, “You have to think like a squash” to plant the seeds far enough apart. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who inspires generosity toward others. The farm is what he offers others.
And I will miss everyone on Emile St., especially little Raven and Verszenea to whom I didn’t get to say goodbye.
In the coming weeks, look for more writings and videos as we process our time in Houston.