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September 7, 2008

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The day started on a surreal note, with a large craftsman house being moved across Fremont to a newly vacant lot just up the alley from us. It should have arrived by 7 am, but it didn't come to rest until well after 11, which was good because we'd slept in. After the house's final position was confirmed with a rock tied to a string, the engines shut off and the neighbors who'd been watching all morning applauded. We handed Steve the owner a bottle of champagne and said, "This was a work of imagination. Have you seen Fitzcarraldo?" He got the reference and laughed.

After a bowl of Mac and Cheese the fun really began. Sarah and I rode to Capitol Hill, pausing at Urban Surf where we saw Igor returning the paddle boards we'd rented yesterday. The Burke-Gilman between Fremont and U. District was uneventful as usual--which is one of its charms--although I do miss the Kalakala. The bridge was up as seen from a distance but by the time we got there we just rolled across. It seems every time I ride on Eastlake Ave I tangle with a bus; nothing bad, just ballet. After a pass through the epic Colonnade, we got on the Melrose Connector, a bike shortcut which runs parallel above I-5 North. I wished Dan Mourek could have been with us.

I had 5 pounds of nails in my shoulderbag and a liter of icewater melting fast in the resurrected summer heat. On my way to install a one-two punch of trash art as part of STart. The Trash Cycle-Own assembled in about 5 minutes. The cans (which I'd dropped off the previous day) would take longer. At first I was afraid of the bad people who might inhabit Broadway and ultimately harm my work, but an afternoon of crouching in the original 1993 e. coli Jack in the Box hot dirty parking lot nailing flattened cans to the soft asphalt filled me with joy and a renewed faith in humanity. So many people stopped to ask questions, say hello, smile. Like an animal in a zoo, they couldn't resist feeding me--hot dogs, candy, beer, even a can stomped flat especially for the occasion.

My job was to assemble a spiral out of 1,200+ traffic-flattened cans I've picked off the streets since 2005. Previous spirals were fragile and ephemeral, this one might as well be permanent; each can is nailed down with a 3/4 inch galvanized roofing nail--stout shaft, broad head, won't rust.

There's a saying in the construction biz: "Head down!" That means you're working, not idling or looking around. I was moving as fast as I could, selecting, placing, hammering each can down, one by one, at the rate of about 5 per minute when I was cooking (but a lot of the time the burner was off or merely sputtering along). When people asked dumb questions, I'd answer politely but couldn't always afford to look up. The dumbest I heard was, "Is this your parking lot?" Sounded like just another burnout. Turned out to be a cop. Actually, three cops. On bicycles. Backlit by a sliding sun, beckoning from the sidewalk side of the chainlink fence. One was nice, one was neutral, and the one who did the most talking was an ass. He suspected me of mischief. "We've got to ask when we see someone desecrating a parking lot...." "You call this desecration?" That conversation really went nowhere.

Photo courtesy Rebecca Slivka,

Afterwards, one of the good people who'd started to gather on the sidewalk for the arrival of the 6 o'clock soup kitchen mimicked the cop and asked me, "Why are you desecratin' this parking lot?" A wandering musician with a guitar strapped over his shoulder jumped in with, "Yeah, they don't have anything better to do than hassle artists!" It was nice to have their support.

The soup kitchen was just a pick-up truck, two folding tables, a propane burner and some pots. "Who wants a hotdog? How about some soup?" They also gave out tiny cupcakes. Anyone could eat. As they were packing up a couple of hours later, I asked why they were doing it, expecting some group affiliation, but it turned out to be only a father and his grown son and the son's wife, feeding anyone and everyone at the same spot every Sunday and Wednesday from 6-8 pm. The son said, " You don't have to be homeless or poor; you just have to be hungry." One of the wisest positions I'd heard in a while. True charity.

I only made it about halfway through the assembly process, still had a heavy bag of flattened cans and nowhere to store them for the night. I figured I'd have to take a couple of buses home--kind of a hassle after a long day crouching in a sunbaked parking lot. But lucky for me a reader of this website recognized the cans and chatted as I packed up. Mark is a fellow bicycling enthusiast and was one of the people who got the Colonnade project (above) rolling 15 years ago. He kindly allowed me to leave my things at his place a few blocks away. As I walked my bike down Broadway with the heavy bag balanced precariously on the top tube, I somehow dropped the sunhat John had left at our wedding party and which I'd borrowed for the day. I backtracked to find it but it was too late; there are many scavengers on Broadway.

I left my cans and tools at Mark's and rode off towards Fremont, rueing the shit I would catch from John for losing his hat. I'd only ridden a couple of blocks when I saw the same sympathetic guitar player from earlier in the day walking down the deserted sidestreet, now sporting the sunhat tied around his neck. I explained what had happened and he gladly handed it over, saying only, "Serendipity."

I raced home through the warm night feeling good about people and looking forward to what the next day might bring.