There’s a new tea party in Texas this year. It’s called the Free Tea Party, and it’s a party of one man, with a lot of fans.
Thirty-one-year-old Guisepi Spadafora has been driving his converted minibus around the country for six years, serving free tea to people at events, farmers markets, and more. “Wherever there’s people, the tea bus will go,” Spadafora says.
He’s not a trust-funder, or independently wealthy. He’s just a guy who believes that money is too important in our lives today, and wants to create a different paradigm. Spadafora converted his bus – named Edna Lu – to biodiesel and built its benches, bed and shelving himself. He often forages his food from dumpsters and discarded groceries, and picks up odd jobs as a handyman or video producer when he can. But the tea is always free. Spadafora won’t accept money, though many offer.
There’s only one catch: no to-go cups. For a cup of free tea, Spadafora wants you to linger a moment. He won’t force you into conversation, but Spadafora’s easy-going manner means that a lot of unexpected interactions happen anyway. And this, he says, is the whole point: to create a space for genuine human interactions, without the burden of money or material transactions.
“That’s a big part of the tea bus is meeting all kinds of people from all different walks of life,” he says. “The really obscure random people you find around the country are what make this journey awesome and fun.”
Spadafora had been to Austin for South by Southwest a few times, but never spent any significant time in Texas. Now he’s been in the Big Bend since November.
“Texas is great so far,” says Spadafora, who grew up in Washington state. “I think a lot of the country gives Texas a bad rap. Because Texans are wildly independent, a lot of people associate that with ignorance. But I haven’t found that in Texas.”
Spadafora estimates that 10,000 people have come through the bus in the six years he’s spent on the road. “That’s why I put my bed on a pulley system that raises up to the ceiling,” he says. “It used to be the bench back here. But I realized maybe I didn’t want all those hundreds of butts on my bed in a day.”
Spadafora is currently in Terlingua, Texas, working on some green building projects, but plans to spend the rest of winter in Austin and perhaps New Orleans. He’s excited to see an Austin without the SXSW crowds – and see how Austinites respond to Edna Lu.
“The tea bus is so many different things for different people,” he says. “In Austin, I don’t know. Maybe people who’ve been drinking will wanna flush out their system. Maybe it’ll be inspiration for people who want to live a lifestyle with a smaller footprint.”
“Right off the bat, there’s a quick judgment people can make,” Spadafora says. “School bus, free tea…it’s some weird hippie or someone trying to drug me and kidnap me; never take candy from strangers in a van. You’re supposed to be really scared of something like this.”
But after 10,000 guests, Spadafora enjoys dispelling those illusions. Inevitably there are people who come aboard that are scared, but for some reason something begs them to do it. Those are the most beautiful interactions, because that person, maybe they’re not gonna walk away and do this every day now, but it’s planted a seed.”
Spadafora posts news, photos, and updates about the tea bus’ next location on his website, wwww.freeteaparty.org.