Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ocala National Forest - Rainbow Family day #3

(Article 3 of 7)

     Welcome back to Florida's Ocala National Forest.  If you are reading this journal entry and have not read the previous Rainbow Family journal entries, I suggest you read both Day 1 and Day 2  before reading this.

     Today I am going to try to clearly demonstrate  the different factions that are in attendance here.  As a disclaimer, please note that the following photos do not necessarily correspond to the group of people I am discussing.  Today I am going to try to clearly demonstrate what constitutes the "fringe groups" that are not Rainbow Family, and then begin to profile what it is that constitutes a "Rainbow" person to start with.

     One of the smallest fringe groups are the Renaissance Festival people.  They usually travel their own circuit throughout the year, but when they do not have festivals of their own going some of them attend Rainbow events.  They are polite and talented people who set up functional campsites and pitch in to help with the business of taking care of the gathering.  Hopefully, sometime in the future we can find one of these festivals setting up and investigate this group of people.  For the sake of sharing the size of each of these populations, I am going to estimate that at this point there are 2,000 people at this gathering.  Based on that assumption, I would estimate there are no more than 50 of this category.

     Our next group are the "wanna-be's" - my terminology.  Most of their cars are gone at night - perhaps they make the drive to the nearest hotels.

     They have the "yuppie" feel - sometimes they look like they have spent a thousand dollars in trying to get an outfit that looks as "hippie-ish" as possible.

     They come traveling light in newer cars, and show up one or two to a car, as opposed to four or more in the car.

      Some of them come from a number of miles away, and it isn't always easy to tell who fits this category.  But when they have not given anyone else a ride to the event it is a pretty good indication that they are not in the Rainbow loop.

     You can also tell who is relying on the kitchen's charity for their food - they always have a bowl, cup and spoon on them.  You can go to a kitchen to get food or you can just go to any gathering and they will bring it around to you.  More on the food later.  I would guess that there are 300 of these "wanna-be's" here when it is sunny, falling to 50 or so if it is raining.

     Now we are going to get into the groups of people that the Rainbows and folks like Pastor Chris spend their time trying to help.  Let me first clarify - anyone roughly over fifteen or under thirty or so is referred to as a "kid" of one type or another.  The basic classifications of kids are Dirty Kids, Snippy Kids, Street Kids and Rainbow Kids.  This is a loose classification - older folks can be referred to as kids of one type or another as well.

     Froto and Scarlett have befriended me, and were willing to take some time to talk to me about their culture.  Froto and Scarlett are "Dirty Kids."  Dirty kids are nomads - anyone who clings to an area has lost their classification as a Dirty Kid.

     Dirty Kids rely on pan-handling, holding up signs and other forms of begging to support themselves.   They often travel as a couple - for very good reasons.

     Dirty kids are constantly passing through new areas, and have to protect themselves as best they can.  They travel very light - usually nothing more than a sleeping bag, tarp, a bit of food and often a musical instrument.  Dumpsters are a common food source - most restaurants throw out their unsold wares at closing.  This is usually good fresh food - often still warm in containers. Most have a pet, and they say they have no problem "scoring" dog food out of dumpsters - you just have to know the right dumpsters to rummage through.

     Their mode of transport is hitch-hiking or jumping trains.  Jumping trains is incredibly dangerous though - many Dirty Kids and Snippy Kids are killed or maimed each year trying to jump on or off of trains.  Froto and Scarlett stick to hitch-hiking as much as they can.     

      Dirty Kids are usually very adept at panhandling.  They make cardboard signs and stand at high traffic junctions in hopes that folks will give them a few dollars.  The numbers I was given (assuming a good location:)  

Two guys together: $20 an hour
One guy alone: $30 an hour
Single guy with a dog:  $60 an hour
A male and a female together:  $100 an hour
A male and female together holding a dog:  $150 an hour
A female alone holding a dog:  $200 an hour

     So they often can get a hotel room for a night and shower, but they do not stay anywhere long.  Dirty kids will usually smoke pot or hash, but do not mess with alcohol or hard drugs.  I would say there are 500 dirty kids at this gathering.

     Next, we have the "Snippy Kids."  According to Pastor Chris and a few of the older Rainbows I have talked to, these kids are usually the product of foster homes and completely dysfunctional families.  They are anti-social and hostile to society - although at these gatherings most are polite and follow the rules.  These kids are usually drug addicts and alcoholics, caring little about what they do as long as they can "catch a buzz."

     Snippy Kids rarely have a blanket or adequate clothing, let alone camping gear or eating utensils.  They often travel in packs, and hop trains for transportation much more frequently than other groups.  They often frequent homeless shelters and soup kitchens.  There are a few female Snippy Kids, but I have not seen many.

     Some of them have pets, but not very many.  Many are barefoot.  They either have that vacant look in their eyes like they are stoned or they have an aggressive posture - I presume depending whether they have found a "fix" or not.  You rarely see one of them pitching in to help with any camp business or being of any help to anyone.

     According to Pastor Chris, these are good kids for the most part.  For the most part they have grown up in environments that gave them no coping skills for life, and they feel they have been rejected from society.  Given their youth they are pretty resilient and many seem to hang on to the lifestyle until their mid twenties.  

     I asked the question - "What do you call a Snippy Kid when they hit thirty years old?"  The answer:  They are corpses, they are prisoners or they are hobos.  I would say there are 300 Snippy Kids at this gathering - and probably another fifty or so that have been kicked out.

    A footnote on when someone is kicked out of the gathering - the Rainbows do not just throw them out of the camp.  They make sure they are transported to the closest major city so that the local community does not bear the brunt of the problem.

    There is another classification of person that was here - drug dealer.  Two days ago we moved our camp because this guy set his tent up close to us.  He brought all kinds of drugs and was actively selling them.  This is a problem on two fronts.

Anthony and his cat named "Lucifer"

    (I hesitated to publish this photo, but went ahead just because of the sheer obnoxiousness of the situation.)

     First of all, it is taboo for money to change hands at a Rainbow gathering.  You bring what you can and what you need will be provided for you.  Second, Alcohol and hard drugs are highly discouraged at this gathering.  I am told that at most other gatherings they are completely taboo - anyone drinking or stoned is evicted. 

     Now, my camp mates, all from the Alabama Rainbow Family, asked him numerous times to stop doing it.  They did not want to be in the position of kicking him out though.  Their turf is Alabama and we are at a Florida gathering.  I think if this took place in Alabama they would have handled the problem themselves.  Anyway, we put up with watching him take hundreds - perhaps thousands of dollars from folks and then turn around and demand that we give him some of our food.  He refused to kick in money for cigarettes, yet was always bumming them.  So, we moved camp - and we are in a much better location because of it.

     A sub-group that I am not providing a photo of - local drunks.  Many drunks from the area showed up the first couple of days thinking this is a big "party in the woods."  They quickly find out otherwise and are encouraged to return to their regular watering-hole.

    Well, the Rainbows caught on to him, and not only was he kicked out of the camp, his supply of drugs and his money both were confiscated.  And who is responsible for that?

     The police at the Rainbow gatherings are called "Nic at Night."  (I am clueless as to the origin of the name.)  As will all true Rainbow Family members, they come to gatherings with a specific job to do.  These guys have come up with a great cover that lets them get anywhere in the camp.  They give out free cigarettes - many thousands of them.

     At any given time, around the clock, there are numerous Nic at Nighters roaming the trails and the roads.  They know where every camp is and they know who is camped there.  They know who is sleeping in their vehicles and they know who is not pitching in to help with the camp.  They know who is causing trouble and they are not afraid of confrontation.  

     I don't know if I will be able to catch one of the free and willing to share their perspective with us - this one barely consented for me to take his photo.

     And now I want to show you some Rainbow Kids.  You have already seen some - Opie and Jonathon who I picked up hitch-hiking.    

     They tell you they love you, that they love your smile.  They thank you for being you - or they thank you for allowing them to be who they are.  (Notice the "Too Many Blessings To Count" inked on the backpack.)

     Many of them have skilled occupations, but take the time whenever they can to attend Rainbow events.  Many are very talented musicians - and most all seem very good at pitching camps.  (A more refined skill than you would think if you have not done it.)

     Many of them have cars, but choose to hitch-hike to events because "you get here with a lot more gratitude."  Many are married and bring their children - many were brought to these events by their parents as children.

     When they are not asking you what you need or if they can help you in any way, they tell you things like "Stay in the Moment," "Let it Go," Peace be with you brother" and the like.  You can tell who they are - not by their dress, hair, sex or the color of their skin - you can tell by the peace and serenity they exhibit.

     Rainbow Kids are always elbow-deep in the camp.  They have jobs to do, and they are far from being at their "first rodeo."  They are well mannered, well spoken and gentle with everyone.  I would estimate that there are 1,200 Rainbow Kids here - by far the largest percentage of the population.  Including a couple of other minor sub-groups, that leaves the older Rainbows.  I would say there are about 300 of them here.

     A continuation of yesterday's new neighbor to our camp - this is Jonathon from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  

     And that photo, which I shared yesterday, was taken last night.  I caught up to him at noon today, working feverishly in the woods.

     And here is what that same spot looks like at noon today.

     Jonathon has gotten himself over half way through engineering college, but is taking a break.  Jonathon is part of the clean up crew, and he arrived late because he was cleaning up from the last Rainbow event.

     Those white bags Jonathon has hanging?  Those are recycle bins.  He has recruited several other Rainbow Kids to move to this area with him.  

     This is the junction of two major paths, and now that they are set up you can plan to be harassed every time you are leaving this section of woods.  And what are you harassed about?  Trash.

     If you are walking out of the woods, everyone wants to know why you aren't carrying trash out with you.  And if you are walking into the woods, you are encouraged to at least carry some water or other goods back to the kitchens.

     Johnathon slowed down just a few minutes to allow me to photograph him in his hammock.  He says with the trash at his feet, he feels a lot better up in the air - it helps with scorpions, snakes and the like.   Clean up crews are usually referred to as "goats"- a loose name for those who work at cleanup over a long period of time.  Goats usually have their own main camp and several smaller satellite camps, like this one.

     Behind Jonathon's camp is the trail crossing - there is a kitchen about a half mile to the left and one about a half mile to the right.  Today we took a right to see what Bear Necessities is all about.      

     Meet Balou - a true Rainbow.

     Balou is fifty seven years old.  His wife is here with him - at fifty years old she has cancer that has spread through her glands and is not expected to live more than a few months.  She is helping as she can, but she rests in the bus a lot.

     Balou is a journeyman machinist.  He is the fourth generation of his family that has specialized in installing mammoth turbines for the likes of GE and SIEMENS.  He has property a few hours south of here in Florida and a farm in Maine.  He takes in kids - he has a dozen working for him now.  He bunks them at one or the other of his houses between Rainbow events.

      Balou has many stories about "God doing for him what he could not do for himself."  He fell thirty feet off of a scaffold back a while, which led to a chain of events that has him living this lifestyle.

     On four occasions in the past he has developed a full functioning kitchen and then given it all away to another Rainbow.  He then starts another kitchen from scratch.

     Here is the camp as you see it when you emerge into the clearing.

     The kitchen has been completed, including an earthen oven.  Bare Necessities makes pancakes - tens of thousands of them.  They are using about 120 lbs of flour a day at this gathering, plus all the milk, eggs and other ingredients they use.  While I was there they were making apple-cinnamon-pecan pancakes - they make a new recipe about every hour.  They serve from ten am to two am except on weekends when they serve until six am.

     Balou likes talented musicians - and he often builds an amphitheater at these events.  This one has to be ready for two big shows his kitchen is putting on this coming Friday and Saturday nights.  While I was here he was getting ready for a new run of pancakes - I forget the exact ingredients but I think it was chocolate chips, walnuts and something else.  The huge gator-aide container is full of maple syrup.

     Now, this kitchen is a good mile and a half back the trails, and everything has had to be hand carried back here.  That doesn't include all the water for cooking - I bet they use better than fifty gallons a day.  

     Tomorrow I am going to try to focus on some of the other kitchens and what other folks I can find.  I do want to share a story from this morning though.

     I ran across one of the Snippy Kids who was walking along the road.  His face was all swollen up because of a bad tooth.  He asked me for help, so I took him down to Peace Camp.  Well, Pastor Chris is still laid up, so I had the kid wait at Peace Camp while I drove out to get cell coverage.

     Pastor Chris asked me to get the kids name, date of birth and other information so he could call a local dentist.  He also told me to have the kid floss with hydrogen peroxide, both items of which I happened to have.

     When I returned, I found out that some other folks had decided that the best solution was to get the kid to guzzle some vodka.  He had swilled about half the bottle in no time.  I explained to him what was going on, and he sat down to start flossing is teeth.  Just then, someone drove by yelling they were heading to Orlando, and he jumped up, ran out to the street and climbed in the back of their truck.  I followed him and asked what he was doing.  "Oh, I am fine" he said, and off I saw him go, swollen face with vodka in hand.

Todays "Faces in The Crowd" photo:

     And our parting shot. The sign was on one of the back trails, and the second person wrote:  "PS - ponder this.  Should you listen to someone who left this?"

EMAIL me if you like, DONATE if you can, but whatever you do, be sure to have an awesome Wednesday !!

David Emch


  1. hello my name is Krystal im known as a dirty kid i love my rainbow family and the dead heads who arnt into them selfs but i would like to point out something you said. it was about fosterkids... how there the ones on drugs and all that i was a foster kid i was put on the streets at 18 i started traveling at 15 i was drinking real bad but because if rainbow family and all the traveling folk i have met im better now all im asking ios that you dont put foster kids down. this is our family this makes us better please note that i loved your article but please see where im coming from thank you for your time and effort you are putting into the family. loving you many many blessings and safe travels.

    sincerly LoNeR aka Krystal

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