I Packed Up My Life Into A Camper To Be A Full-Time Executive Weirdo Do-Gooder And Give Away Pie All Over The Country
This time last year, I was getting polished for my first ever adult job. I was making the switch from volunteer at a homeless shelter to actual employee of a homeless shelter. I was making 12.50/hour, not bad for someone who's dropped out of 4 colleges.
Meanwhile, my lovely boyfriend got a job as a butcher at a big box club store that is pure evil, and I thought we were really doing the whole adult thing properly.
But around the time Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts, made her "factory speech" I got inspired to do more. What started as just a metaphor/rant on facebook about pie turned into a weekly event where I gave away free pie in Ann Arbor. We showed up every Wednesday at 6 pm to serve pie in a park right between Main street and University of Michigan main campus, mingling with fancy people, students, and the homeless and homefree population.
After 18 weeks, we had to shut down because winter was coming, but by then, I knew what the next step was going to be. We were going to quit our jobs, move into a custom camper, and go on the road, to bring free pie to the entire country. We told our families and packed almost everything we owned into storage. On March 3rd, we left Michigan, heading for San Francisco in our 10 mile per gallon house on wheels.
As of today, May 15th, we've been on the road for over 2 months. We've covered over 6,000 miles. We've given away free pie in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Boulder, Denver, Topeka, Omaha, and Minneapolis. Next week it's Madison, and after that, Chicago. From June through October, we'll be traveling though the southern and eastern half of the US, giving away pie twice per week. After that we'd like to return to Michigan and start our own donation-based cafe. We believe that everyone deserves a warm meal made from real food, served by caring hands, regardless of their financial status.
Every week, we find new hosts by posting on reddit or by getting leads from previous hosts. We usually arrive on Sunday or Monday and start looking for a good place to give away pie. By Monday night, we'll make a post on Facebook and on the blog with the time and location details. We also prep our pie crusts, making anywhere from 6 to 12 pie crusts, and let them chill overnight. Tuesday we'll prep all the apples by peeling, coring and slicing them and coating them liberally with sugar to pre-collapse them. We'll use 24 apples on average to make 6 pies, and the longer they soak in sugar, the softer and easier to cut the pies will be.
When we're ready to bake, I'll roll out the pie crust and Chris will shape them to each of our 6 tins. We form an assembly line, with me filling each pie with sliced apples and Chris sprinkling cinnamon seasoning over them. Then we bake in rounds, with pies going in for 30 minutes, getting covered with oatmeal crumb top, and going back in for another 30 minutes.
The funniest part of all this for me is that I have never been very proficient at baking prior to starting this trip. When I was growing up, I had this idea that baking was a lost art, suitable for special occasions but not very practical. Pie crust was especially intimidating, and I figured a modern girl like me, tainted as I was by modern conveniences like microwaves and birth control, would just fail automatically, so I never tried. That is, until a month into our road trip and we couldn't afford pre-made pie crust, so I was forced to learn. Turns out, it's easy and nearly fool-proof!
Living on the road has presented challenges for me and Chris. Our camper is about 35 square feet, and half of the stuff we brought is cooking equipment. I've been pining away for a nomadic life since I was 16, so it was fairly easy for me to condense my life into a duffel bag and a couple of milk crates, but Chris doesn't exactly feel the same way. Whereas I can't remember most of the stuff I packed into storage, Chris misses having more than 4 shirts and 4 pants at ready access.
However, we both agree – living without a bathroom or laundry facilities can become a real drag, and sleeping in big box store parking lots when we're between hosts is mad depressing.
One area where I really screwed up is with our custom camper. The structure is loosely based off the concept of a “Vardo” which is the vehicle/dwelling used by some Romani, Romanichal, and Irish Travellers, but they've become popular in the last few years thanks to sites like Pinterest and Tumblr.
You can find tons of images of “romantic g*psy wagons” with colorful paint jobs and scarves and bells hanging off of every surface, which is hugely problematic and culturally appropriative. I didn't do my homework until after we got on the road, but now that I've learned a little more, I realize it's inappropriate of me to call my structure a “Vardo” and it's SUPER inappropriate for people to call us “g*psies.” I'm really trying to discourage people from using the word “g*psy” as a synonym for free spirited, adventurous, or spontaneous.
The best part of this road trip so far has been the overwhelming positive reactions we've gotten. Across events in 9 different cities, we've gotten the seal of approval from junior varsity girls' track teams, musicians, soldiers, grandmothers, a carriage driver, beat cops, runaway teens, business owners and reporters.
People in San Francisco react to pie the exact same way as people in Topeka – hesitant and confused at first, then wildly enthusiastic. And it's been fun going out week after week to confirm what I've believed for a long time, that most people are good and kind.
It's so thrilling to be doing this, and to know without the shadow of a doubt that this is the right thing for us to be doing. I spent 9 years after graduating high school torturing myself by repeatedly enrolling in college, having no idea what I wanted to do but being convinced that somewhere in one of those colleges, I would stumble across a field of study that would lead to a traditional career path with health insurance.
And of course, not one of my 4 stints in college prepared me for the eventual reality of volunteering and working at a homeless shelter, or for packing up my life to become a full-time Executive Weirdo Do Gooder, living on donations.
I'm really excited for the rest of our tour. Neither Chris nor I have ever been to most of the places on our list, like Little Rock, Arkansas or Houston, Texas. I can't wait to give away pie in New Orleans and Orlando and Atlanta.
Also? The more fans and followers we gather, the more guest posts I write, the more confidence I feel that we will actually get famous for this, and we'll be able to raise enough money to start our donation-based cafe. And perhaps selfishly, I am feeling more confident that we'll one day be famous enough to get on The Daily Show. Getting famous for being nice and sharing pie is probably the best kind of fame.