Leah Garchik gave me pride of place in her column today, so I thought I'd post a picture courtesy of Jeff, a bicycle messenger/ blogger at www.bluoz.com , who's been photographing the progress of the painting, on his daily route. It's been a unique experience to work in front of the Chronicle during this period when the paper is reinventing itself.
"Interesting painting." the old man said as I was working on this canvas today. "Well it's an interesting place to work. Shoeshine stands are like barber shops. Always good conversation."
"That's what I tell my friends. Forget the soaps on TV. Go to downtown Oakland: it's a lot more entertaining."
The old man is right and here are a few excerpts from my diary which prove it.
I started my painting of the shoeshine stand today just a block away from the site of my last Oakland painting. Early afternoon a handsome, elderly gentleman sat down to have his shoes shined. Glenn had barely started when an older guy, a retired shoe shiner, came up and started criticizing his work.
"Not like that! You gotta clean em properly first!"
He began working on the customer's other shoe. Two shoes. Two shoe shiners. Quite a sight. Glenn finally stepped aside and let him finish the job. The handsome gentleman stepped down and looked approvingly at his sparkling shoes.
I'd only been partly attending the conversation but my ears perked up when I heard the retired shoe shiner say "...two Olympic gold medals right?"
" This man was the fastest man in the world at the Mexico Olympics in '68. He held the record for fifteen years. We both went to McClymonds High School here in Oakland."
Turns out the man with the sparking black shoes was Jim Hines.
The conversation moved on to his running against race horses in '85.
"I won four out of the five races. The fifth race was at Golden Gate Fields. If I'd won that race I would have collected a large jackpot. But they set me up. You see I was supposed to run on a wooden track next to the horse. There's no way a man can run on the same surface as the horses at the track. But when I got to Golden Gate Fields they told me the trucks carrying the wooden track had been delayed. Delayed. Can you believe it? I lost that race. Golden Gate Fields got a full house and they never had to pay me the jackpot."
It's Obama Day in Oakland. People are in a festive mood. There's a preacher who stops by everyday. He's explaining the numerical significance of Obama's election.
"Forty years from Martin Luther King's assassination to the election of Obama. We've been wandering in the wilderness like Moses for forty years, but our time has come." He goes on to cite the forty days and forty nights that led to Noah's flood." Then on to many other instances that illustrate the significance of this number. His numerological musings become abstruse, talmudic. My head starts to spin and I turn all my attention back to the painting.
Today, just back from Clearlake, I hurried out onto the street to continue the shoeshine painting. I'd been interrupted by rain and couldn't finish it before I left. I was hoping to put Glenn in the picture but neither he nor his stand were here. People told me he wasn't here yesterday either. Someone suggested he might have gone to visit relatives in Chicago. How am I going to finish this painting? A shoeshine stand with a customer already in the seat and no shoeshine man. I suppose I could title it "Waiting for Glenn."
I phoned Blade, the barber, this morning. His business is a couple of doors down from Glenn. He told me Glenn was back so I returned to my site. While he posed I asked him where he'd been.
"I was asleep."
For two days?"
Turns out he wasn't feeling so good Sunday night so he took a Tylenol and a Vicodin to relax and go to sleep. The preacher arrived as he was explaining this to me.
"Did you know Glenn just slept for forty eight hours?" I asked him.
"Yes, I had to tell him what day it was this morning. He thought it was Tuesday."
This is one one of my most successful downtown paintings and I owe part of its success to the election of Barack Obama. I've painted three pictures here. I enjoy the contrast of the modern buildings across Broadway with the old buildings which are reminiscent, as John Protopapas once remarked, of the towers of San Gimignano in Tuscany. But it's a difficult place to work. The bus stop and BART attract large crowds. And there are a smattering of extremely disturbed people who become belligerent for no particular reason except that I'm here and that I can't leave without abandoning my canvas.
The first two paintings suffered from these distractions but this painting was lifted by a tide of enthusiasm that began rising in the days before the election when crowds of students who would usually stop and pepper me with a staccato of questions and wisecracks instead marched in orderly ranks down Broadway campaigning for Obama.
As the election approached it seemed that a weight was being lifted off everyone's shoulders. Even the malcontents eased up. The day after the election the light in people's eyes was contagious. It seemed to spill over into my painting. Spontaneous exclamations of 'Obama!' rang out on Broadway as people were unable to contain their joy.
A couple of days later a big man in an Obama t-shirt asked if I'd like to put him in my painting. I said 'sure' and asked him to pose with the Tribune tower behind him. After I'd finished he told me he'd just got out of jail. "What were you in for?" I asked "Somethin stupid, but I won't make that mistake again. I'm gonna turn my life around." He smiled at me gently and I believed him.