Ah the perils of fundraising with a mule….
Mule Polly and I are in Ft Collins raising funds to complete the Lost Sea Expedition, the TV series about our 14 month wagon voyage across America. I filmed the entire series myself without a film crew, support vehicle, sponsor or smart phone. The good news is the series has been selected to air on Rocky Mountain PBS. The bummer news is Rocky Mountain PBS doesn’t pay me any thing for the program. That means I still have to raise a lot of money to pay for things like close captioning ($2,500), color and audio correction and on and on it goes.
I figured, unconventional as it sounds, it would be a good idea to load Polly on a trailer and haul her from North Carolina, where we live, to Colorado. I would do the final fundraising push with mule Polly. Just so folks could get a real sense of the TV series they will see in a few months.
A few days after I arrived I drove mule Polly in to Ft Collins. When I told folks I was fundraising to bring the series to Rocky Mountain PBS, a bunch of them said, “Hey, you need to go see Pat Stryker.”
“Cool,” I thought, and jotted her name down in my notebook and made it a point to see her. I thought maybe she owned the feed store.
Wrong. Turns out Pat’s a billionaire. A philanthropic billionaire who runs the Bohemian Foundation.
Perfect. This would be easy.
I would hook Polly to my wagon, drive her 5 miles from where I’m staying at Cache La Poudre feeds in to uptown Ft Collins, where Pat’s Bohemian Foundation is headquartered.
Before I set off, I signed a coffee mug to her, one of the premiums we offer donors. Lacking a printer on my wagon, I wrote her a letter on a sheet of notebook paper asking for her support.
I hitched Polly to the wagon, loaded up the mug and letter and off we went in to Ft Collins.
The 5 mile trip took 3 hours. Mule wagon travel is slow. It’s all about that Bohemian spirit of not quite fitting in. About going off in your own direction instead following everyone else. Even if it means a lifetime of self imposed struggle and discomfort, the independence is worth the discomfort.
I pondered this clip-clopping up Vine Street and then Wood Street and I thought of Pat. I figured she’d be up on the third floor of her Bohemian Foundation. Sitting in the kitchen. Drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette and having progressive Bohemian thoughts and I’d waltz in with my hand-etched-to-her coffee cup and letter and she’d offer me a fill up and we’d swap mugs and I’d read her the letter like a grand proclamation.
Then I arrived at the Bohemena Fondation Building. Brick. Glass. Four stories tall, towering sky high over my mule and wagon. Mule Polly, who had looked so big on the Great Plains expanse we’d walked across for months, looked like a figurine donkey parked under a toy tree. I felt lost like you do when you swap prairie grass for bricks because that’s where you have to go to ask for money to finance your Public TV series.
I looked for a place to tie Polly. A heavy iron rail lead to the Foundation’s front door. On either side, heavy planters, each crowned with a palm tree with far-away-origins. Each expensive palm was ringed by a ring of supplicant annuals. A man in a work suit was cleaning the sidewalk.
I tied Polly to the rail as it was the only mule proof hitching post I could find. I climbed back in to the wagon to retrieve my mug and letter to Pat. Pat who was surely peering down from the Bohemian Foundation kitchen by now. In my mind, I pictured her pouring another cup of sensibly caffeinated coffee and smiling that here was a real Bohemian visiting the glass and brick Bohemian Foundation. Cool!
This would be a shoe in.
That’s when I heard the munching sounds. “Odd” I thought, “there’s no grass for Polly to eat here.”
That’s when I heard the man in the work suit say, “Sir, that’s a very expensive plant your animal is eating!” And so it was as there was Polly, content and misty eyed, chewing on one of Pat’s expensive, from-very-far-away palm trees. I dashed to Polly’s head but the damage was done. Polly had bitten the top out of Pat’s palm.
I snatched Polly from the expensive snack, the bristly green, very expensive, palm fronds sprigging from her mouth. Damn! She chewed and chewed and chewed and the man in the uniform hovered. I though of fleeing the scene. Just running the hell away and saying the whole thing was stupid. That a Bohemian with a little mule should come to the Bohemian Foundation to ask for funds to complete a film, was, well, just crazy and I should leave.
But I didn’t.
I stood firm. By the time my thoughts had calmed, the evidence was in Polly’s belly so I looked for a better place to tie her. I was lashing myself in. I was not running away. I was going through with this.
I tied Polly to the only other sturdy post I could find – the “Motorcycle Parking Only” sign. I figured a $20 parking ticket was cheaper than a $100 palm and called it good enough.
Before anything else could happen, I grabbed the mug and hand written letter to Pat and marched up the stairs of the Bohmemian Foundation.
I strode through the lobby, boarded the wood paneled elevator and calmed myself down. The ride was smooth and as I rose heavenward, I calmed my mind with how I’d find Pat. When the elevator doors opened, there she’d be. Drinking her coffee and smoking her clove cigarette. She was counting seed packs for her garden as the moon seemed ripe for planting escarole. And the door would open and, just as I’d imagined when I first heard of her, she’d pour me a cup of coffee.
The elavator stopped. The door opened in to a glass lined foyer overlooking Ft Collins.
I stepped in to the foyer. At the end, a glass receptionist’s area. No Pat. I approached the glass. There was a slot in the glass and behind that sat a receptionist.
I explained I’d traveled all the way from North Carolina with my mule and I’d come to see Pat. The receptionist said I couldn’t just meet Pat. I’d have to make an appointment with one of Pat’s representatives. No face to face.
My nomadic, hands-clasping-hands, faces-talking-to-faces, well, Bohemian, approach had come hard up against the world of agendas, schedules and gatekeepers.
I understand the a-woman’s-gotta’do-what-woman’s-gotta-do part of life.
I gave the mug and hand written letter to the receptionist who said she’d put it in Pat’s box.
I spied Polly from the third story Foundation window. A crowd had gathered. Their heads looked tiny from above. There were caps and dreadlocks and short hair and long. They were coming and going and there was god-knows-what being passed to Polly’s lips and pats being given. Below on the sidewalk life was going full tilt Bohemian, right in front of the Bohemian Foundation where,upstairs, it had all come grinding to a halt.
I looked back out the window at mule Polly, way below me on the sidewalk with all her supporters. These were the folks that had helped me for years. The folks who had ushered Polly and me across America with a vital push of apples and shelter and five dollar bills. It was a beautiful sight. A sight I really wish Pat could have seen. To see how a little man and his small, old mule parked in front of her Foundation brought so much whimsical joy to the folks passing by. I stared to soak it all in.
Then I turned and rode the elevator home. Home to my tiny wagon and old mule and the people of Fort Collins. Polly knickered when she saw me and a girl named Tuesday asked if she could feed her a carrot.
I didn’t get to meet Pat that day. I still hope she was watching from one of the Foundation windows, way high up the brick building. Looking down and sipping her coffee and smiling at the Bohemian spirit.
Pat, when you read this, come visit Polly and me. I’ll cook you a cup of coffee on the wagon stove and I’ll smoke my pipe and we’ll negotiate a settlement over your decapitated palm tree. It’s the Bohemian way don’t you know.
For everyone else, if stories like this make you smile, hit that yellow Donate button. That would really help move the fundraiser along and you’d become part of the Lost Sea Expedition series on Rocky Mountain PBS.
Have a great day.