Volunteering is much more fun than paying to attend a film festival or a beer festival or a street festival. I like being on the inside of an event even if my role is very minor, an entry level volunteer. Usually, there's a few free drinks involved, even better a tee shirt or two. I plan on making a quilt out of all the tee shirts I've collected this way, after I've worn holes in the fabric. I use my charm to pick up a second, being charming rather the conniving, I hope. Maybe every conniving volunteer tries the charming angle to cajole a second tee from the volunteer given the job of handing the swag out.
Writing that, I find myself flipping through an imaginary drawer of lost tee shirts, especially a tee shirt from Esalen, a retreat center on the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, an awkwardly orange tee with an embroidered Eagle motif inspired by a tribe that lived in Esalen's watershed. I can't believe that one ended up lost after last January's move. I'll definitely travel out to Esalen before the end of the decade and volunteer, maybe learning to bake in the extraordinary farm-to-table, sustainable kitchen featuring organic and locally grown food. I'll pick up another tee shirt just like it.
The duty is always light as a volunteer, even too light to be called work at all. Tonight made a good example. At the Tri-Cities Museum, I reported for Wine About Winter help at 4:30 PM to a fellow named Andy who wrote me an email with that appointment. So I shook Andy's hand. I skipped saying, "Reporting for Duty, Sir"! He thanked me for volunteering, and he sent me to Laurel, a tall woman in a white blouse and a houndstooth tweed skirt, a museum employee who hat set up a table for selling tickets and wine glasses. And she sent me upstairs to talk to Kevin, who might have needed help. As for the wine glass, a souvenir of this year's Wine About Winter, I bought one later as it wasn't volunteer swag and I'm getting as sentimental about wine glasses with etched logos as I have grown to be sentimental about tee shirts. I have a full shelf in one of my kitchen cupboards.
I probably could buy a boatload of sentimental tees by looking through bins at Goodwill and Salvation Army, tees from places I had visited before the days when I actually coveted tees. And I didn't start coveting tees until I started wearing tee shirts to bed. While shopping for shirts, I could glance through glassware shelves searching for engraved glass wear from wineries long ago visited, back before tasting rooms had them to sell.
Laurel sent me upstairs to the reception hall on the second floor, a place where I had enjoyed so many cool parties. The museum director and his education director were looking over all the long tables covered with starched white table cloths, one where a caterer had started laying out a feast of snacks from bruschetta to no-bake cookies. Winemakers had set out bottles of Michigan reds and whites at the corner tables. The director noticed me, and I went over to present myself, a volunteer duly recruited by Andy and sent upstairs by Laurel. His educational director said, "We weren't expecting any volunteers". He might have noticed my look of bemusement. "All right. See the door prize table. Set out the swag and make it nice to look at. And slide the crates under the table so the tablecloth conceals them". And I set to work.
I set all the gift certificates in a stack upon the podium. I propped all prints and photographs against the rail behind the table. Setting the big, tall gift basket from Sun Title in the center, I set the shorter yet wider gift bag from Blueberry Haven to the left. The silk screened hoodie from Michigan rag company I set to the right. I filled in the gaps with boxes of chocolates from Grimaldi and what remained. Maggie Clifford-Bandstra dropped by to add one of her incredibly expressive vases to the collection. Satisfied that I had arranged the table as well as any man could manage, I helped a woman open a case of Black Star Farms red wine stoppered with faux cork and realized I had nothing left to accomplish. The wine tasters had arrived, advancing toward the tasting tables with commemorative wine glasses as the ready. I took a picture of the door prize table, picked out a nice no-bake cookie and went downstairs to by my tasting glass. No one really said goodbye.
Volunteering is almost always that easy. At VanderFest last October, a hard cider tasting festival at a cider house called Vander Mill Cider Mill, I wrapped up my duties in under an hour. I picked up my extra extra large tee, accepted a silly amount of drink tickets, and accepted an assignment to pour cider for Tandem Cider from the Leelanau Peninsula. I loved Tandem because I had visited the cider house near Suttons Bay in December of 2013. Later that evening, a winemaker who never gave his named kept my pint full of Tandem and Guinness at a pub in Suttons Bay, a blend called a snakebite. Memories are made of cold nights drinking in drafty pubs. When I went looking for that pub in an old fire station, I discovered that a destination restaurant has taken its place. The chef didn't serve meals between lunch and dinner, so all I could order was warm, mixed olives in olive oil and an Oberon.
I was full of these Tandem Cider memories when I reported to the Tandem Cider stall. The sales representative was happy to see me, gave me a few facts about the two ciders on tap, and zipped off to try a few fills of his commemorative pint glass. I filled my pint with Greenman Cider, made with slightly green crab-apples. Then I poured out sample after sample of the Greenman and the Smackintosh cider, the Smackintosh made from Leelanau peninsula grown Mackintosh apples. After an hour of keeping the line short by serving up cider fast, the lines of Greenman and Smackintosh failed almost at the same time, spewing foam that made up my final glass once the bubbles settled. The rep confirmed he had run through his kegs and gave me a silly number of drink tickets as I thank you. I had to give them away before walking to a friend's house to sleep of the excess.