B-Town, Paint Louis and Beyond

The week has flown by. I drove over the Canadian/USA border at Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls almost a week ago. Got to see the falls from the bridge, and I didn’t need to stop to catch any other view. The border guard didn’t flinch at the big bike box in the back. If he had looked, he would’ve found a partial bike made from used parts. The back tire of the bike Martin Heath made for me began to squeak again. It started up after I pushed the coaster break. Martin said the back tire was shot and that I’d have to find another one in San Francisco.

Martin gave me a pass to see the opening of the Short Film Festival up on Bloor St. Then I went to CineCycle, helped pack the bike, and watched some amazing 1960s Serioscope jukebox music reels. They were dated, but extremely interesting to watch. I said final goodbyes to Janet and then Martin and I pushed the bike to my China Town flat on a dolly. Toronto was fun! Can’t wait to post the stencils from there when I get a chance.

The 17th to the 19th were back-to-back stops: in Buffalo, Cleveland, and Columbus. Cleveland was a street fair, so no presentation. I wasn’t expecting huge crowds at the Cleveland gig. Buffalo at Hallwalls went great. They have a great theater in the back of an old church. About 30 people attended and Talking Leaves Books sold 10 copies of the book. I had wifi so showed the early audience a preshow of A1one’s works in Tehran this past week. I also showed them stencils from the streets of Iran.

Hallwalls put me up in a hotel, a first for the whole year. I felt like the rock star that Laura keeps telling me I am 🙂 A local artist and his girl offered to help me find food. So we drove to their house and ate great veggie cajun food from a place nearby. We shared stories, tips, and he gave me some Interlok paint for the rest of the tour. Nice!

Drove to Cleveland the next day and found Mac’s Books on Coventry no problem. Suzanne had stencils from a local artist to show me. I found a few on the streets there. But not many. Thursday night was the Coventry Street Fair, a long tradition in Cleveland Heights. The police wouldn’t allow street closure on weekends, so the street cleared at 5pm last week. There was a frantic rush to set things up on the streets before people showed up at 6pm.

Suzanne showed me where to set up at the Mac’s Books easy-up, and I saw an elderly man resting his head on the table where I was headed. Oh, that’s Harvey Pekar, who I used to enjoy watching on David Letterman back in the 1980s. I met him briefly and then began to set up. His wife Joyce soon showed up and talked my ear off. We discussed freezer stenciling (a process where you freeze something and make a stencil out of it), puppetry, politics, and other random things. She had to fight to sign the books that people wanted Harvey to sign. But she did it in a great way. She shared stories about how hard it is to be the wife of a popular writer who happens to illustrate his words sometimes.

I only got to ask Harvey one question before he left super early. He brightened up a bit when I got him talking, but really has to be poked to engage. I didn’t sell many books there, but met a lot of people and gave away a lot of cards and stickers. Drove to Berea afterwards and slept with a friend of a friend. There was a photo of the wife and John Denver in the room where I stayed. That will stay with me!

All this time,  I was sharing photos of street art in Iran and hoping that A1one was OK. I heard from him a few times, but haven’t heard from him in the past 48 hours. I followed the events online, and posted some links on here to share. What an anxious time. I wish him and all his friends well. The went for it and tried their best to change things there. Let’s hope it works.

Up the next morning to a thunder storm. A first in a series of storms here in the heart of the tour. The heart of the Mid West. Drove on to Columbus in blistering heat. Solstice hadn’t landed yet, but summer weather had blown in and the outside cooked. I found Wexner Center for the Arts and stayed there. Too hot to think about stencil hunting. Matt was busy doing inventory so I didn’t see him until right before the presentation. Great store and nice people. A small crowd of about 7 folks attended the gig. If only class hadn’t ended the week before. University of Ohio was a ghost town. Wexner was empty. Oh, well. That’s how it rolls sometimes.

My host Jimi from the Monster House (a punk house that hosts shows in its basement) was at the gig, so picked me up afterwards and took me to the house on 10th St. Great vibe at the MH. I set up on the floor in an empty room (well, it was full of things but room mate free) and then found stencils in the alleys across from Wexner. I got to see MH’s 99th show back in the garage. An acoustic gig so chill in the coolish garage. I also left them a globe stencil in the basement. Woke up to thunder storms again, this time cooling off a hot, stuffy room. This was the one stop where the tour felt the most punk. I’ve been calling this the Punk Rock Stencil Tour, so finally lived the vision at the Monster House. And I hope to see them again in the future.

Back in the car, heading to Bloomington, IN. Had a “Maint. Reqd” button going off in the rental so wanted to deal with this and an insurance matter. The Columbus Airport Alamo desk was staffed by a bored woman who was no help. She couldn’t get in touch with her manager, so I said don’t bother and drove on to Bloomington. Landed there safely and in time to meet Steven for an interview at WFHB. Went great, and we grabbed food afterwards with his super nice, quilt-loving gal. Back to their place, and then wandered to a Space Party for a midnight hang. Met some great people there, talking film, stencil, and puppetry with many folks.

Slept behind two doors, where a mattress was on the floor outside a closet. A piece of cloth cover the open part between the two open doors. This was someone’s room! And they were just paying $800 a month for the whole house. Outrageous. There were about 8 stencils out on the street in front of the house. Too good to be true. There was a health food store 50 yards down the street from them. And I did laundry at one of the nicest laundromats I’d ever been to. Wifi everywhere in the city and then I saw lightening bugs on the walk back to the house. Found some stencils. Saw a family of raccoons. Wow, B-town is a nice place! Reminds me of Athens, GA.

More humid heat the next day. I only wandered an hour around the alleys, snapping a good pile of stencil pics. Had about 50 people show up for the presentation, overflowing onto the front porch, and sold a good pile of books and art. There was vegan bakalava eating and globe stenciling afterwards. The three folks watching me stencil got to hold a can and spray some of the art. The women got to do the flags and a guy got to do the half tones. Fun!

Back to the house for pizza and then a few more globe prints. Steven will keep one, give one to Boxcar and then sell the other two to help fund their great books to prisoners program. After that we headed to a carnival that was in town. I did a ball toss game and the hall of mirrors. Steven and his gal did the ferris wheel. I gave another woman $2 to try to push the buzzer at the top of a rope ladder. She fell off just before reaching the top.

Up again to thunder storms. This is the biggest and baddest of the cluster. The streets outside the window look flooded. Not looking forward to driving in this, but it goes away and the streets begin to dry. Off to the Alamo branch in B-town and the woman there says it’s only an oil change and fixes my insurance issue. Glad that was easy. Another thunder storm blows over us and then goes away. I drive to St. Louis with Iron Maiden as the soundtrack. I also listen to news podcasts to get the latest on Iran. Peat has to work until 5pm so he tells me where Paint Louis is. And that I should check it out.

Down river from the amazing St. Louis Arch, a long flood wall stands as an open canvas, covered with graffiti on all levels of skill. Most of the walls are trashy quick tags and dis/crossed tags. But there’s some good stuff in there, along with a small pile of stencils. I walk a long portion of Paint Louis and bake in the sun both ways. Blistering heat again, and so I arrive to the car soaked and a bit dizzy from the sun. Peat’s on the way so I check out the Arch while I wait. Once he arrives, he takes me on a great car tour of the city.

Peat drives me by his old studio, which is right down the street from Paint Louis. He drives me by Mad Art, passing the Wonka-esque gates of the Budweiser factory. Mad Art is an old 1930s police station and still has jail cells, the front desk, and a shooting range (not in operation). Peat drives me over to his new studio on Cherokee, running into a friend along the way. Security is fierce at the Incubator, but this is a strange hood. Getting gentrified, still funky, with no graffiti at all. None. Well, I saw a few stickers.

We grabbed some Mexican food nearby. Peat showed me the Anarchist cafe down the street, and then we found some friends of his. We all ended up back at Peats, dropping quarters in the Simpson’s pinball game. Peat doesn’t have the key so has to pay for his own game. Anyway, we settled down and called it a night.

Only two more gigs left of the tour. And the year of touring.  Almost done. As usual, things flew by, books were sold, and I am again amazed at all the beautiful people out here in the world. As I showed many of them photos of Iran, and told them a bit about A1one, I also learned that we all care about people as best we can. Even the ones we don’t know who live so far away and have much less than us. What a year.