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“Ayup, this is North Carolina.” I said resignedly as I stepped off the bus and surveyed a barren state highway landscape of gas/convenience stations with large, truck parking lots, the requisite corporate fast food stations, and a heavily scarred and littered peripheral. We had stopped here to fiddle with the veggie-oil system because we have been experiencing minor problems. The problems were getting worse, so we needed to assess the situation. The bus had begun sputtering at times, losing power and even shutting down. As a consequence we had been running in diesal more than we want. Diesal is expensive. We do not have the money for corporate fuel. Finding used veggie-oil is more difficult and more complex, and requires many more diverse skills, than simply stopping for a freshening up at any of the millions of corporate fuel stations. However, it is a more fulfilling task that builds bonds by strengthening commonalities among the gatherers, and in particular, this group of diverse people. It also makes us more aware of our energy needs. Getting from Florida to New York is not so simple any more as deciding who will drive, and when. Now a primary concern is the veggie-oil levels in our tanks, and where we will stop to search for more. This takes time. But the Tick-Tock Man ain’t got nothin’ on us. We punch no clock, we answer to no boss, we are always working toward living the change we seek.

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Durty with our new handpump for transfering used veggie oil from hard to reach containers to our 5-gallon containers.

Dr. Dave and Durty collaborated over the phone and diagnosed the problem, and came up with three likely repairs and or modifications, as necessary, to fix the problem. We would start at the most likely problem spot, leaky hoses, advance to installing a bypass tube around a secondary heater to increase veggie-oil fuel flow, and by the end of the daylight we are at the third possible solution — installing a secondary pump along the veggie-oil fuel line to further improve flow. This last option was made possible by the kindness of a stranger who stopped to talk with us as we sat in a parking lot figuring things out.

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Back to the story . . .

When I stepped off the bus I intended to document the trash along the perimeter of ‘civilized’ lands and the ‘wild’ scrub that surrounded it. I thought I could do this in a number of places and then write a post about it. After all, shit is fucked up and bullshit no matter where you look. Any topic is ripe for a rant from this Occupier.

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So I worked my way across the line of trash, that was also, of course, the prickly boundary of a scrub woodlot, taking pictures in a sad, disheartened manner.

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“What a plague on this Earth we are,” I thought, “refuse of all sorts just thrown aside.”

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There was a path that parted the pricker bushes and led deeper into the woodlot. Trash marked both sides of the trail and highlighted landmarks along the way. A log had been placed across the entrance where the thorns of the scrub had once attempted to keep people out. I stepped over the log . . . and from behind me came the stern shout that brooked no disuasion, “What y’all doing goin’ in there?” The “boy” at the end was implied, but not said — maybe due to my age, the shawl across my shoulders, or the camera in my hands. Maybe all three. But the “boy” was still there, hanging unsaid in the air, as I turned, hands up, to face a peppery oldtimer and a strong, healthy pit bull on a thick, heavy chain fast coming my way.

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His clothes were uniformly gray and ragged, though they obviously were of different colors once. His face was tanned, dirty and scarred, with an unkempt and overgrown gray, fu manchu hanging down, far below a toothless scowl. The dog was every inch a muscle, and his eyes were alert and ready for anything.

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“I’m not doing anything,” I explained hastily, “I’m just looking around. I’m from that white bus over there.”

“Yeah,” He assented angrily, giving a cursory glance to the bus, “that there is my spot,” he jabbed a gnarly finger with proud determination at the path leading into the scrub, “I been living there three years.”

“I hear ya,” I said, relaxing a bit, “we live on that bus. That’s the only home we have.”

I could see those words rapidly sink through that harsh, wary exterior and bring forth a beaming smile of a man who knows he is with his own kind — a homeless person — and has no reason to fear violence or be wary of state authorities. My being homeless made everything else I said fall neatly into place . . . except the camera.

“My name’s Ed,” I said, offering my hand for a handshake.

He hesitated a second, then smiled and took my hand, “My name’s Billy. Everybody ’round here knows me. This here,” indicating his dog, “is Buddy. My good buddy.”

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Billy and Buddy, two of the 99%

In a new, friendlier demeanor he again aserted that the path over the log led to his place, and when he saw me heading out that way taking pictures he wondered what I was up to.

“We’re with Occupy Wall Street,” I explained, holding up the camera, “with the Occupy Bus Tour, and we document every place we stop as we go across the country. That’s what I’m doing with the camera. We have a bit of mechanical trouble, and so have stopped to fix it.”

“Oh!’ his eyes lighting up, and his affect immediately became more relaxed as he began telling me a bit about his life, including serving 28 years of a 29 year sentence in North Dakota. When he got to the part of his age, he’ll be 60 this year, I told him I will be 58 this year. At that point relations between us were totally relaxed — we had found many things in common. I told him about getting solar panels on the bus and blockading the KXL Pipeline. He told me about his dog, Buddy.

Buddy had been abandoned two parking lots down by someone driving through the area. Buddy walked past 12 or 15 people before settling against Billy’s leg. Buddy had chosen Billy, and they have been together ever since. Billy proudly showed me Buddy’s dog tags that proved Buddy had his shots and was licensed. Billy told of being able to see every bone in Billy’s body when they first met. Buddy’s stomach was “no bigger than a 12 ounce soup can.” Buddy had been abused, mistreated and starved.

You would never have guessed that now! Buddy was strong, full-bodied, muscled, alert, friendly, protective, responsive and his coat shined through with health. Time and time again I have seen dogs, and cats, owned by homeless people be in superb health. Of course, there are exceptions to that.

Billy took the time to speak with all of us, and when we left in the bus he warned us of the storm up north, and wished each of us a heartfelt blessing on our journey.

Billy and Buddy, two of the 99% here in North Carolina.

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