I have always thought that was very pivotal for me. It is on the highway in cafés where you can find the best cross section of good people, a thin slice of them.
Those words, his words, have always stuck with me. I drive or fly around the world and I paint big faces. Sometimes those big faces are war heroes or bankers or founders. It is the written or the economic history, but the lines between all of that is in the cafés and truck stops and pubs; the places you eat at when you are a traveling artist, that is where you truly learn about the people.
He shared his story about being a Vietnam war vet and how life had been really hard for him.
When I went down a second time and to paint a huge mural of the Gold Star Boys, who were war heroes, he remembered me. He was exactly where I left him, in the Route 66 Café, earnings on but not the pink ones, and he welcomed me back.
The mural that really happens is the people that you meet.
There was this Chinese man who came by the wall everyday. He claimed in a thick accent that “He no speak English.” He visited everyday to watch us work and sometimes bring me tea. It wasn’t until many such visits that he opened up. Turns out he was a doctor and spoke perfect English!
I asked him, “Why, now, can you suddenly speak English?”
He responded, “It is easier if people think I don’t understand and speak pidgin.”
I was appalled by this and how this man felt.
It is also when you are sitting on the wall painting that you learn everything about people painting with you. Shelly and I spent a lot of time together. She shared all sorts of stories including her grad story, which was one of my favourite examples of the differences in our communities.
“At my grad we were in a truck… and people starting shooting at us.”
“What are you talking about shooting at you?” I said “People can’t just start shooting at you.”
“Honey you don’t know nothing about Missouri.”
It was true. People did shoot at her and I didn’t know anything about Missouri, but I learned…
One day we were painting and I was teaching her when the Sheriff showed up.
“Mam! You need to change your clothes.” He said.
“Why? I’m fine.”
“Mam, we don’t allow no tank tops here.”
“We don’t want to see no tities.”
I thought he was kidding. Shelly told me he wasn’t, that I had to go put a muscle shirt on, anything but a tank top but in Canada we kind of laugh such things off so I chose to ignore him.
He put his hand on his derringer.
Shelly said, “Go change your tank top.”