Friday, April 6, 2018

sixty six thousand miles

I need to be drawing.  I haven't started a large drawing in a while and the ideas are welling up.  Since winter break I've been reading and doing a lot of planning for all the crazyness that comes with the spring semester.  Art hikes, Sculpture Deathmatches, new projects and such.  And spring has been confusing here.  It was cold, then it was warm, even really warm for a few weeks.  Then spring break came and it was cold again.  It's warmed up a little again but I've still had to wear a jacket and something on my head each morning and that's not normal for April in the South.  

When it warmed up the first time, nature thought winter was done and things started blooming.  My cherry tree started to bloom and then it got cold again.  You could almost see the surprised look on the tree as the first blooms just sort of hung out there waiting on more.  It was weeks before the other blooms emerged.  I was slogging with my art crew yesterday and in the warm late afternoon the pollen was wafting through the breeze.  We ran by a particularly harsh flowery smell and I looked around to see what it was.  Across the street to my left there was a curtain of wisteria hanging from a tree in full bloom.  

Wisteria.  It reminded me of something.  Oddly enough it was a song I don't think I've ever heard.  

My hometown is Sparkle City.  Spartanburg on the map but since every city needs a hip street name, it's Hub City, Sparkle City or if you watch the news it's often Murderburg.  That last one is mostly a joke.  Mostly.  Like any city worth it's salt, Spartanburg has a Krispy Kreme.  It kinda has two really.  The original one is pictured in these photos.  It was the beatnik looking building with the cool sign by the road.

 The franchise is owned by Glenn Reese, a local politician and the father of one of my school friends, David.  David and I were in 1st grade together and we graduated together.  He never brought me free doughnuts though.  

A few years ago the franchise moved literally just across the street to a new building that I'm sure proved to be more modern and better for making the doughnuts but the new brick rectangle building lacks the visual appeal of the old A-frame beauty.

Blue, Violet and I had a few minutes to kill on Easter Sunday so we dropped in to have a couple of Easter doughnuts.  We grabbed a stool at the countertop by the window looking out over the classy old abandoned building across the street.  These stools were not the same.  This countertop was not as cool.  So we went across the street to show the kids what a real doughnut shop should look like.

 That's the countertop I sat at back in the day.  Those are real doughnut stools.  That cash register was never connected to wifi.  

 People who were eating a doughnut with a friend and only staying a few minutes would sit at those first seven stools with their backs to the parking lot.  These were quick turnover seats.
 The side stools (right) and the back stools (below) were for the relaxers and the people watchers.  These people were having coffee, maybe no doughnuts and they were going to be a while.  With their eyes on the door and on the quick turnover seats, they observed everyone who entered.  They listened to orders and conversations.  They were mostly quiet, though sometimes they'd whisper to other patrons in the same section.  

 One night my friend John Mills and I went for a doughnut and a coffee.  This was back before Starbucks took over the world.  We decided to sit in the observer section and see what life was like there.  See that stool in the photo above?  There was a guy sitting in that spot with his lady friend beside him.  He had a long droopy mustache and a mullet sticking out from under one of those white ship's captain's hats.  He was missing a tooth.  Probably more than one but the one I remember was right there in the front.  His tooth vacancy didn't stop him from smiling a big, happy smile at me when I sat down.  

Those of us who hate social situations know that smile.  It means, "I'm going to talk to you".  And he did.  Immediately.  He asked where I was from and what I did.  He interrogated both of us as if he was checking to see if we qualified for the "stay a while seats".  I was in a good mood so I played along, returning fire, question for question.  He was just passing through on his way to Florida with his girlfriend.  I don't think he ever used the word girlfriend though.  He called her by some kind of sweet hippie-ish nickname and she smiled quietly through the parting of her long frizzy hair.  She looked at him as if she was in orbit around him.  She appeared completely enamored by his presence.  Either that or she was high, which I realized soon was a distinct possibility.  

At sentence two I knew he was a space cadet.  His language gave him away as a hippie but in the mid 1990s it was cool to be a leftover hippie.  I tried really hard not to focus my eyes on the hole in his tooth-line as he spoke.  He made hard, intense eye contact and smiled his sentences out of his mouth.  He told us that he met his lady friend at a summer festival where he was playing guitar in the street.  He was playing a song called "Wisteria" and she came out of the crowd and danced in front of him in the rain while he played.  He told us that at that moment he knew they were destined to be together.  

 John and I were thrilled to find such entertainment on our first visit to the slow seats.  We laughed and smiled as he talked and we tried to commit his face and his stories to memory on the spot, almost as if we knew this was a significant moment.  We knew that when we left Krispy Kreme that night we'd never see this man again.  He had stories of picking fruit on farms and traveling across the country for music festivals.  He talked about concerts and his favorite jam bands.  None of this was surprising or noteworthy.  It seemed like small talk coming from someone that could easily have started a cult with his magnetic personality.  His excitement started to rise as he told us stories and shared his "wisdom" with us younger folks.  And that's when he said it.

A story ended and there was a pause.  He took his mug in his hand and raised it to his lips.  I could imagine the steaming black coffee passing through the void of the missing tooth and racing down this throat.  I'm sorry, it's just how I am.  He stared blankly over the counter.  We looked over at him to see if we were done.  To see if it was time for us to leave.  He sat his mug down on the formica counter and the sparkle had returned to his eyes.  He locked eyes with me and he said...

"Do you ever just stop and think about how crazy it all is, man?  I mean, right now we are sitting here at this counter and we're moving at 66,000 miles per hour.  Isn't that crazy?"

I broke eye contact long enough to turn my head over to John.  John has a big brain but he didn't know the answer to this riddle either.  I looked back at the hippie guy and he continued.

"Like, we're on this planet right now and while it feels like we're sitting still, we're really flying through space at 66,000 miles per hour around a big flaming star we call the Sun.  And then if you think about it, that's just in our solar system.  We're also traveling through the universe at an even higher speed."

Again, I looked to John who raised his eyebrows and slightly nodded that this could be scientifically close to true.  I turned back to the sparkling eyes.

"And in a universe so vast and intricate and on a planet so large and full of billions of people, we stopped here tonight for a cup of coffee to keep us awake for the drive and we meet two beautiful souls like you.  It's just crazy, man.  Crazy."

You wanna know what's crazy?  In those early days of the interwebs, we took the time to look it up in actual books and the hippie guy was right.  Right now while you're reading this you're moving 30 kilometers per second or roughly 67,000 miles per hour.  He was off 1,000 miles per hour but come on, that's pretty spot on for a traveling hippie guitar player.  If you're into that sort of fact checking, the solar system is also moving at about 514,000 miles per hour.  He didn't have a number for that but he was still correct.

He was also correct about the last part.  It seemed like a spur of the moment decision to sit at the slow side of the counter.  The Krispy Kreme sits a good ways from any interstate so I'm not sure how the hippie couple found their way there.  The odds of the four of us meeting had to be something very lottery-esque.  If you're the kind of person who believes in coincidence, that's a decent coincidence.  I'm the kind of person who believes things happen for a reason.  When people meet, there's something to be learned or exchanged.  There's a chance for someone to help or be helped.  Maybe the people on the slow turnover stools understood this about life.  

I have moments where I realize I'm lucky to have young humans rolling into my life for 4 year periods of time in my classes.  In those moments I think about the things I say and do and how those things may be remembered by that one individual for the rest of their life.  I realize that 20 years from now I'll be the weird hippie guy in someone else's story.  Crazy man, crazy.

Hey Krispy Kreme, that original building is in good shape.  The coffee maker looks like it still works.  Your doughnuts are great but your new building doesn't foster stranger conversations.  The old sign still works, open that register back up and I bet the hipsters would stand in line to sit at the old countertop.  And Mr. Starbucks, maybe consider putting in some formica countertops and stools and tossing those tables out.  Maybe take out the plug ins and charging stations as well.  Turn off the wifi.  What if all those frappe-whatever drinkers actually started making eye contact and socializing with people they've never met?  If you do it, I'll buy an old captain's hat and meet you there.

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