That moniker: Crayola Guy came from a USCG crew whose cutter I’d visited for a few days in the Persian Gulf back in 2006. “CG” one of the guys first called me. I quickly thought “Coast Guard” but when prompted, he said with a chuckle: “Crayola Guy”. I had been sent overseas by USCG Headquarters to cover the US Coast Guard’s role in the Middle East, eventually turning in nine pieces of art depicting everything from down time to onboard training to vessel boarding. That trip began a few years before while researching a children’s picture book project on Coast Guard rescue and learning of and getting accepted into their art program. I’d been transitioning from humorous picture books to non-fiction adventure for a few years. Three years ago I began another journey exploring the images of World War Two people. I essentially stopped working in publishing (and making money) to focus solely on this project.
Two years of building the exhibit, I took it on the road in May 2013, starting in my hometown of Amherst MA where six portraits of people from the town were now hanging in the town’s main library, the Jones Library, smack in the center of town. My father’s portrait as a young pilot was in the mix.
Someone the other day, while visiting family and friends in the DC area, said to me “You know, most people wouldn’t do what you’re doing.” I was reminded of the novel I’d read just before embarking on my journey: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce in which a man who, after being contacted by a former colleague from her death bed, decides on his way to posting an innocuous get-well note, to instead walk the 600 miles to try to save her. The book is about Harold’s self-discovery.
Once in Amherst, I very quickly realized my own pilgrimage was just beginning starting with the suggestion to the woman cutting my hair, that maybe (after learning she’d been recently dumped) she should walk out her door some day and explore life. “Harold” had been on my mind. When I mentioned the book title, this woman exclaimed: “That’s his name, my ex. His name was Fry.” My journey was just warming up.
I wasn’t looking for unusual encounters. They seemed to come to me. That was the beauty of working in public. That was why the blogs started. I needed to remember the people, the stories with the hope of one day publishing them in book form. There are many people whose names have not met the blog. It’s not to say they are less significant. Maybe upon reflection some will make it like the cowboy I met in Boerne Texas named “Rico”. A bona fide cowboy if I’d ever seen one. Handlebar mustache, sweat-stained hat, kerchief and weathered skin and calloused hands right out of Lonesome Dove. It turns out Rico was originally from Puerto Rico via the Bronx. But no matter. He’d found his way to where he needed to be.
As I sit in the living room of a friend’s house in Bethesda Maryland, taking a couple of weeks off from the tour, I’m finding myself adrift. The road that has become my touchstone is not there. I will also return to, for the first time in three years, uncertainty. Schedule changes, venue postponements have left a hole in my calender. And yet, that seems more comfortingly familiar than being idle in old familiar surroundings.
Where is home? I don’t know. The other day on facebook a friend posted a link to a young Japanese photographer’s images of herself “floating” around the world. The startling photograph to the story showed Natsume Hayashi floating through a sewing shop in Vietnam, eighteen inches off the floor, young women her age undistracted working away on their machines. I felt an immediate connection. Here was another person on her own pilgrimage. And most people would say too that on some level she too is taking a risk. She had an idea and needed to explore it. That’s all I know. There is some internal compass that compels her, Harold Fry and the Crayola Guy’s of the world to walk out the door and keep going. Someone said that it’s not the end that matters but the journey. Amen.