And You Are Part of What?

It was Jen’s idea to make it and bring it to Burning Man.

We wanted it to collapse down and fit into a bike cart so we could transport it to far flung parts of Black Rock City.  We would spring up like a mushroom and just appear on a corner somewhere and people would stagger out all blurry-eyed after an all-nighter on their way to the porta-loo and there we’d be: Their friendly neighborhood coffee cart, enablers for their daily habit, pushers of just the right thing to pour free hot strong black coffee into their face.

It was so worthwhile, we weren’t content to run our coffee cart one week a year in September. We wanted to bring it home.


In the context of Burning Man, coffee as part of the Gift Economy is perfectly natural.  Here in Santa Cruz, it was even more satisfyingly incongruous.

We set up at the corner of Pacific and Cooper, our would be town square.  We had a handsome coffee bar, a bright green market umbrella, stools, and fancy cafe aprons.


People were cautious, confused, incredulous, inquisitive, excited, and grateful in pretty much that order.

Here’s a conversation we had a lot:

“The coffee is free?”

“Yes, and hot.  And strong.”

“Wow, what is this… what is this part of?”

“It’s part of the community.”

“No, I mean, what… what is this for?”

“So you can have hot coffee!  And we get to chat.”

“I mean, is this for something?”

“Well, definitely for good conversation, and a chance to meet people.”

We understood what they were asking. What they meant was this: Who is sponsoring you?  What are you selling? In a world ruled by commerce, a society in which every interaction is mediated by the exchange economy, they wanted to know how we could exist in the context of capitalism.

It was confusing them that we didn’t appear to be selling anything. To paraphrase Burroughs, never trust those who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. What they mean is that they want more money. Much more.

Except we didn’t. We wanted to offer a gift to our community, good conversation, and to challenge people’s expectations.  It worked all around.


We did it several times in 2007 and 2008. We kinda forgot for a while, but have lately been thinking of picking it back up.

(Thanks to espressobuzz for the photos, some in 3D even!)

5 thoughts on “And You Are Part of What?

  1. nice. I like the “free hug” movement for the same reason. no pamphlet or propoganda or sales pitch for a religion or a cause. Just a hug. Just take one. Take two. They’re free.

  2. I think its great.. while I want to see you do this again and more and I want to help.. I mostly am inspired.. as usual.

  3. I wonder if instead of exchanging money for coffee, passers-by could exchange insight, emotional expression, a memory…

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