Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Form Over Function, the Curse of Art

Form over Function
the Curse of

Both my hands are full and I use my knee to close the right saddle bag of my 2008 Gold Wing. With regrets, I notice that the zipper on my cold weather gear has put a beauty of scratch in the paint. This is not the first time that I have given thought to having the bike repainted.
I check around Aiken. Look at the Yellow pages, talk to the folks at Aiken Motor Cycle Sales and everyone who will listen to hear me ask about a really good automotive painter. The Cycle shop gives me several cards to chose from to select a painter. It seems a trifle bizarre that all of the highly regarded painters live in the boonies and have their own way of doing things.
The search is as rewarding as finding the painter, who, with a smooth mixture of Monet and the swashbuckle of a Jesse James makes objects of the mechanical objects d'art. A unique list of character traits haunts the minds and bodies of those who create with oil, latex, epoxy and the smooth swing of an arm loaded with a spray gun spitting out just the right mixture of color and air to form a glossy coat that hides or displays the skills that are creative automotive painting.

Almost nothing is as it seems on first sight. Chad Martin is such a chap. It has been raining for a couple of days now and there are some slick spots on the driveway and grass of this home/business tucked away on a dirt road a couple of miles from Saluda, SC out toward Columbia on 378. I guide the Honda Gold Wing GL 1800 to safe spot of dry gravel just next to the paint house and dismount. No one is visible, so I shuck some of my riding gear and settle down to greet whomever comes from the house or the paint shed. Its the house, and the man approaching looks as though he would be a good choice to avoid in some foolish physical argument. Like I said, nothing is the way it seems at first glance. Before he extends his hand, before he says a single word, he breaks out in a grin that bespeaks the character of one who has enjoyed his life with people. I immediately take a liking to him. Finding Chad's home was not as easy as it may seem on the surface, but the search was worth the wait. It's a small southern town where everybody knows everybody and they know where everybody lives.

 The first request for directions went to the owner of Matthew's BBQ place on Hwy 39 just short of the intersection with Hwy 191 in Saluda, SC. Everyone in the place knew who Chad Martin was but they were not sure where he lived. One patron advised that Chad's parents owned and operated the only workout facility in Saluda county. A compendium of inputs and we were off to Main St. to find Chad's parents. As I dismounted my bike, I had a painful reminder of the spicy food from the day before and anxiously sought a place of relief. Thinking it would not take but a few seconds to determine where Chad resided, I foolish asked two locals, who "resided" in the facility, where I might find Chad. I immediately fell into an 'other world of Abbot and Costello where time did not exist but pain was every where and my vision narrowed on the faces and mouths of the two locals arguing about how to get to Chad's place. I rudely excused my self and as I turned to escape to gastro nirvana I actually chuckled at the Hollywoodesque comedy scene that continued unabated by my rudeness and departure. When I returned with homeostasis established, I was again amazed at the discussion that had continued and heated up in the few minutes that I had gone missing.

From behind me, a soft southern female voice silenced the two vocal sparring partners and introduced herself as the mother of Chad and quickly gave me the directions to the "house". I rendered my appreciation for her consideration as all southern gentlemen and their ladies would naturally do and stepped back into the real world of those who seek a livelihood on Main St, Saluda, SC. As the door closed, I could still hear the refrains from the friendly argument that continued in the world of Abbot and Costello.

Do south on Main St., turn left at US 378 and follow it toward Columbia for a "couple" of miles, until you see the square cinder block building on the right that may have been a business or home at one time but which now serves as a place of worship to the Spanish speaking workers who make their home in Saluda. Turn right at the next dirt road and Chad's place is marked by the second mail box on the left. Such were the instructions from Chad's mom and they were good enough. We found the place.

Chad is like most folks from the rural South...he speaks quietly but with authority when the discussion is about his passion for restoring automotive vehicles. Chad is a large man with big bones and hands that look like they never saw a day when Dawn was used to take away the grit and grime. But his smile and grin. They, as the poets say, are gateways to his personality. In my short exposure to Chad he exhibited a muted excitement about his work but was always, unlike myself, humble in the midst of company. Seldom in my days have I enjoyed such a conversation that was ultimately going to end with a discussion of money. I had prepped myself for this moment by dealing with other mechanical artisans and experts. Chad had a momentary delay while he considered the scope of the task in front of him and made an offer that I thought both fair and reasonable for both of us. A handshake sealed the deal.
As we parted, I have seldom felt like I was leaving something valuable to me in the hands of one who was perfectly suited to take care of the bike but deliver what he promised. Several weeks later he delivered what I consider the most beautiful and original GL 1800 on the planet.

Now Chad had a helper, Odi, who resides in an RV on the property where he works which is in the shop with Chad. Now Odi is not your regular man on the street. He is far more interesting and educated than the normal man on the street. Odi will admit that his personal appearance gives a soup sandwich a good name. But Odi is a man of the world who appears to have forsaken all that most in our nation would call success. His success is a man who lives by his own values, works hard when required, smokes the most unusual device that looks like a hashish pipe but is not and sports a full beard which is eternally scraggy but suits his personality. It is impossible to meet this man and not like him immediately. I, for one, am not the least shy about questioning a person about his/her history. So I started with Odi. He was born in California but spent about 10 years in South Dakota working at a variety of technological industries. I have spent some time myself in South Dakota and I asked Odi if he had ever visited the Cattleman's Club just outside Pierre, SD. Odi's eyes opened just a little and he proudly announced that he had jumped the bones of the cashier at the restaurant. Recalling my visit to the Cattleman's Club, I asked him if the cashier was the same one who had a son working there by the name of Austin.. Odi shrank back from my presence just a little with eyes now wide open. I am sure Odi believed, for just a moment, that he had fallen in with a bunch of zombies with prescient powers of mind reading. To bring him back from his obvious shock, I explained that my riding buddies and me had stopped at this place three times during our trips across this great land of ours to eat the best rib eye steak ever. I remembered Austin because that is my son's name and because of the following true tale.

0When Austin came to our place at the bar and asked us what he could do for us, he had a name tag that introduced him as Austin and he wore a Notre Dame baseball cap. One of my partners, Stu Schippereit, was a graduate of ND and they started up a heated conversation about football. Try to picture this portion of the bar as long enough to hold four stools. The three closest to the wall were occupied by me and my buddies. To my left on the stool next to me was an elderly gentleman who seemed to know everyone who came in and went out of the place and his stool was right next to the cash register that was operated by a tall very good looking woman. Curious, I asked Austin who was the lady at the cash register? Austin grinned and said, "That's my mom." Before I could get my breath back, the man next to me called one of the wait staff and said, "Girl, get me a drink". The waitress, feeling the sting of authority, fetched a scotch tumbler, put about two jiggers of vodka in it and filled the rest of the glass with ice and a mixer. When she set the glass down in front of the old man, he stared at her for a few seconds, pushed the glass away and said, "Austin, fetch me a proper drink". Austin stopped what he was doing, clutched an ice tea glass, filled it with ice and then added enough Vodka to fill half the glass up. He put it down in front of the man and said, "There you go grand dad." Austin's mom and the three of us all broke out in big grins. Three generations working the steak house. So, Odi, I have been there and know of whom you speak.

Recently, I took my bike on a ride alone and was gently weaving my way through the peach orchards around Monetta, Johnson and Ridge Spring. The bike's fairing forces the air up and over the Plexiglas windshield and plants a kiss on the top of my helmet and flows down the back of the bike creating invisible vortices and eddies in its wake.  Air that patiently awaits the next unknown contact with a highway denizen who will stir the air anew.

Our travels are not simply man made metaphors.  Our travels expose the majesty and wonder that is this great nation of ours. They transcend a written or oral description of what is seen, but deliver to us, daily, proof, that we exist in a land and era where men may live by their sweat, by their faith and by a freedom seldom found on this orb.  Our travels give witness to the glory of looking into the face of a neighbor and see how our lives are inextricably woven together and held in place by our Constitution like the hook and pile of a Velcro connection.
Forest Gump can be quoted as saying, "Me and Jenny go together like peas and carrots." Well, Chad and Odi go together like peas and carrots. Each man has his own strengths and weaknesses but they complement each other with their mixtures of skill and experiences. Let no MIG welder, or oxy torch, nor cheap paint, nor impatient hands or minds deter this pair from the use of their creative juices which, through the magic of God's will, gives birth to art.
There is one poem that says it all for me and does so in such a pragmatic yet ethereal way that I apply its beautiful words to many of the mysteries that bend our minds away from the truth of our lives. The words are spoken by Robert Redford in the last scene of a movie he directed but did not star in. The words carry a name that is the same as the movie title..."And a River Runs Through It."

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
These words inscribe, for me, the elements of the soul of men who make things of both form and function with hands that look as though they were burying fence post all week yet are steady and light to the touch as art flows forth from their finger tips

I am both thankful and jealous of those who have these lights and shine them on objects as common as a  bolt or air rushing by a paint nozzle  applying color that speaks to you when it is finished.

Chad and family, may your days be long and fruitful and the hand of happiness comes to you, your family, Odi and all of your customers.
I am most grateful and respectfully yours.