Breaking The Concrete Update: Lewis Lewis Reborn…!

| May 31, 2010


Lewis Lewis Reborn from MainStreetMedia on Vimeo.


A grease bus breaking down in Berkeley is like having a computer glitch at Steve Jobs’ house during the company party. Within a few hours of Lewis refusing to start, the small world of urban farmers and veggie diesel mechanics swung wide open.

Craig Reece arrived first on the scene, via cell phone. Craig runs PlantDrive.com,* a vegetable grease store of sorts. Craig sells conversion kits and components for people running waste vegetable oil in their diesel vehicles. Though we’d never met, Craig talked me through the engine and the triage process for Lewis.

*Editor’s note: We here at BTC can and will plug businesses we like. We like PlantDrive. This entire post, in fact, has more product/people placements than a sitcom kitchen set.*

Craig also recommended a few mobile mechanics.

One showed up that first afternoon in a sooty Mercedes that looked like it had been parked in an exhaust pipe. A tall lean man in a mechanic’s jumpsuit emerged. Dreads like ancient tug boat lines fell halfway down his back and framed his worn, super-sized facial features. A grease pirate. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time for a thorough check and just muttered some highly complex suggestions as he climbed back down into the french fry Mercedes and took off.

Then Billy showed up, on his bike with pannier bag full of tools. Billy is one of the nicest men on earth. He looks a bit like Jack Black and John Belushi in his mechanics Dickies pants and Converse shoes and heavy flannel coat. He speaks softly and deliberately and his voicemail says he is “delicately working on a car.” Billy searched Lewis Lewis for over an hour. Nothing. He returned the next day, this time in his red Mercedes grease sedan that looked as if it also spends nights in an exhaust pipe. No answers yet again. I liked working with Billy; it felt like being with a shaman of sorts.

Billy is also the boyfriend of Novella Carpenter . Novella works at Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, a biofuel station and urban farming shop run by five women. Novella has become a big name in the urban farm world since her book Farm City came out and chronicled her exploits and experiments with raising goats, ducks, pig, and other livestock and fowl in Oakland vacant lots. She’s rather revolutionary, even in Berkeley, where “revolutionary” gets tossed around like Free Tibet bumper stickers in Boulder, CO.

Just down the road, Grist.org food editor, Bonnie, who has been posting BTC dispatches, works in her home office and knows Novella and Billy. And a few blocks away, Jenny, science editor for our book publisher, University of California Press, met us for coffee. All of which is a short bike ride from Alice Water’s Oprah-huge Edible Schoolyard.

So it seems Lewis Lewis drove right into the epicenter of the urban farm and biodiesel web. We can’t begin to describe how happy we are to have him back.

On our way out of waste vegetable shangri-la, we filled up with 100+ gallons of greasy gold from Craig and headed south into the California night, stopping at 2am beside a classic example of large-scale monocrop – miles of potato fields sown by equipment larger than Lewis Lewis. We woke early and rolled out before coffee could brew. To Flagstaff, AZ…

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