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Monday, June 26, 2017

The Eye of the Storm.

Saturday my wife and I had the honor of volunteering at the Street Speech / Columbus Coalition for the Homeless water sales booth, at ComFest, a music festival held every year in Columbus, OH. For two dollars you could get an frosty, cold bottle of water and help those less fortunate. It was in a prime location, right at the corner of the two major streets that define the most prominent boundaries of the park. ComFest, short for community festival, is built around the idea of inclusion and unity, the driving force behind Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, and Street Speech. Not long ago I was fortunate enough to meet the editor of Street Speech, (and she is kind enough to have published a few articles of mine) which put me in prime position for the gig of volunteer.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, warm but not hot, and the crowd was vibrant. We arrived early and
walked around a little before our shift began. ComFest is the very definition of diversity. Goodale Park is crowded with vendors, stages, people, topless people, tattooed people, mothers and fathers pushing strollers, children, grandchildren, adorable young people on dates, old people in wheel chairs married couples walking happily through the narrow paths lined on both sides with tents. Tents filled with arts, crafts, henna tattoos, t-shirts, political activism. There is enough tie die and woven clothing to have outfitted the Monterey Pop Festival.

And the music echoes from one stage to the next. Reggae, hip hop, occasionally some country and
western, some classic rock, though to a man my age classic rock has a different definition, all manner of music. People who are willing to get on stage and leave themselves open to praise and criticism. It takes a special bravery, a certain amount of self belief to put yourself out there, and I salute every single one of them.

Food lines the streets. Barbecue in all its glory, calling your name, beckoning with the sweet smoky smell of wood chips and dripping with heavy sauce. Buns piled high, and looking absolutely wonderful. Steaming hot cauldrons of spicy hot curry, pita bread stuffed with meat popping and sizzling over an open flame, buried under onion, lettuce, and creamy white sauce.   Pizza, fish sandwiches, lemonade, people will wait in long lines or the lemonade. And beer trucks with masses of humanity crushed in front, a mob of beer customers, thick, thirsty and surprisingly patient. It has to be the national debt in beer sales. Beer, the cornerstone of Americana. The lines were so long I wouldn’t wait, and I like beer. And after my time at the water booth I could have used a beer.

The water booth was like a scene from The Walking Dead. Moments of silent introspection and careful planning, followed by wave after swarm after full frontal assault of people. It could have been the desert and the water would not have sold any better. Some people buying 3 or 4 bottles at a time. A brief lull in the demand, grab a case and try to ice it down, but the motion and the noise and the sight of bottled water was more than the swarm could resist. They would line up, “water please.”

The water came in cases of 36 and we went through at least 4, and possibly 5. It was exhausting, it was terrifying, and it was exhilarating. We worked as a team, fighting the good fight, against the encroaching madness. Supply and demand meet heat and hydration. A tempest in front of the Jazz stage. The sound and the fury, and we were the calm in the center of the storm. Dispensing smiles, cold water and sage wisdom to the yearning masses.

“Where is the Gazebo Stage?” Over that way, I think. You have to remember I have only been to ComFest a couple of times, have a lousy sense of direction, and don’t handle pressure well, and demanding mobs of thirsty festival attendees, and a polite request for a location qualifies as pressure.

It was an experience and we are both grateful for the opportunity. There are a lot of good charities, you should pick one and give as much as you can. You could help make the world a better place.