Monday, January 19, 2009

Yes, I Cran.

A couple of summer's ago, I wanted to road trip. I wanted to see some sights. I wanted to get away. I wanted to visit a girl.

I heard one of my friends was looking to split gas with someone so he could get to his summer job in Utah. He worked as a guide/counselor at a camp that takes troubled kids out in the desert for a coming to god experience (not God, in this case, just god). That's probably another post, but basically they take city kids out of civilization for a month or more. No TV, no cars, no running water. Just tents, sand, and the inescapable voice of your own thoughts. He tells me the program is quite successful, but I digress.

We stopped in Dinosaur, Colorado to get Monster Energy drinks (since I don't drink much caffeine, we knew this would get us to Salt Lake City). We had been on the road 15 hours or so and decided to take a stretch break. Once our eyes remembered they could look around instead of focusing on the upcoming road. We noticed an old school bus parked across the street with a gaggle (20 or so :-) people milling about it. In short, they were migrant workers. In slightly longer than short, they were hippies who traveled where work was, making money off the land, and possessing, little but living much. They all happened to be white (although some were well tanned), and many were the children of doctors, lawyers, et al. Others, like the friend we were about to make, had been living in a bus their whole life.

We discovered the bus had a major break-down. The group was short the money to get it fixed. Once my friend discovered I was ok with it, we offered a ride to SLC. We knew we only had room for one person and one pack, or perhaps a woman and a small child (and there were several toddlers or infants). After some debate among the group, our riding mate was chosen. Cranberry Juice (as reads his birth certificate) was the group's "Teacher" or unofficial leader. He decided it was best for him to leave the bus and go onto Montana, where he knew he'd be the most capable of raising the necessary funds by picking mushrooms (legal mushrooms, although hallucinogenic would be pocketed for personal use).

Cranberry Juice was born in the back of a bus following the Grateful Dead. He had no formal education, but was clearly intelligent (probably why the group had trusted him as Teacher). We discussed during the couple hour drive to SLC the culture of his group. Why did young adults leave trust funds to come with them? Did they pay taxes (yes)? Did they vote (yes, but they did not align themselves with a party)? Did he think he would ever settle down? Were they unique?

The answer the last question was a resounding, "NO." These groups number in the tens of thousands in the US. Cranberry Juice estimated over 50,000 Americans follow this life. He knew it was at least that anyway, because once a year most everybody convenes. Usually based between two places of work, everybody stops and spends a week. Some relax, the higher Teachers and elders meet to discuss important matters that might affect everyone (be it new laws, the forecasted cost of gasoline, etc.). After a few days people move on and continue about their migrating business. It's basically a mobile city's annual town hall meeting.

Prior to this, I had no idea groups like this existed in such numbers and was surprised to find they all broke the minority stereotype that is associated with migrant workers. I was glad for the experience. These groups provide cheap labor that travels where the work is this is surely a valuable asset to those communities who they visit. I know there are exceptions that give these groups a bad name... but if you ever meet a guy named Cranberry Juice, you're in good company.

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