Monday, November 10, 2008

Why Drive an Art Car? A story from Kansas.

From the driver of an Art Car, the daily driver "Scout", which is used in conjunction with independent artist and educator Erika Nelson's travels and lecture circuit.
This weekend's trip was a great reminder of "Why Drive an Art Car?"  On the way from my home base in Lucas Kansas, home of the Visionary Art Environment "The Garden of Eden", to a Kansas Humanities Council lecture in Park City KS, I remembered some of the many varied reasons.  Driving an Art Car brings art into an everyday, unexpected experience, which has great impact on both the viewer and the driver.
While driving the back roads of Kansas, I'm often passed.  The reasons for this are varied - I tend to drive between 60 and 65, as that's the very best mileage speed for my vehicle.  Sometimes, that means that I'm just on the speed limit, while others really really really need to pass.
Also, it's not a good idea to speed in an Art Car, as you're the first one a patrol man sees in the sea of automobiles, and the long yellow topknot sprouting from the cab of the vehicle makes for good a good tracking point for aiming your radar.
One of the hazards of being passed in an Art Car is the occasional "WHOA!" moment of the other vehicle, which usually occurs right in your blind spot.  The passing car slows down in the middle of the pass, hovering in your blind spot, while they or their passenger hunt for a camera or try to figure out the camera function on their phone. 
This trip was no different - I could see the "WHOA!" coming, from a white SUV.  We were on a two-lane, small-shouldered blue highway, with grain truck traffic coming the other way.  They didn't pause too long, but passed and accelerated over the next hill.  A few miles later, I saw it parked in a farmer's pull-off, with a man standing by the road.  As I passed, he raised his camera.  I waved and chuckled.
Within another mile or so, they'd moved up in traffic again, car by car.  They passed, slowly.  I waved.  As they got past the blind spot and parallel, I saw that the back window sprouted a large, long camera lens. 
Once again, they sped over the next hill and became indistinguishable in the Saturday afternoon country traffic.
As I entered the next town, I was eyeing the gas gauge, doing mental calculations of regional price differences, projecting potential fuel savings in the next 40 miles (as prices were dropping approximately 2 cents per mile while driving Southwards), and approximate remaining fuel level as divined from tank capacity divided by automobile manufacturer's interpretation of level marks modified by point percentage difference as determined by past AAA-calling events.  This, coupled with Kansas weather predictions in relation to warmth of emergency fleece (in case I needed to walk or stand outside for an extended period of time), and approximate car density on the next rural route (adjusted upwards with harvest time activity) didn't have me too worried, but I checked out the posted Co-Op prices anyway.
While passing the Co-Op with math sections of brain buzzing, I saw the white SUV again, parked at an angle in the 'out' drive.  Once again, camera, wave, and smile.
As this particular Kansas town marks the intersection of two main routes, it was unlikely that I'd see them again.  I continued South, enjoying the day.
The white SUV appeared three more times, twice in passing, and once in wait at the entrance to a college campus.  By this time, I realized that they were intent on getting all angles and views of the truck, and one of their company was a stickler for getting the perfect shot.  By now, I was feeling like an exotic bird being captured by a friendly photo shoot, or perhaps, more appropriately, like the GEICO gecko in the current run of commercials.  It was a good reminder of the purpose of driving an Art Car, and I hope it planted the seed in the minds of my photographer friends.
The weekend continued with three more "WHOA!" blind-spot moments on two-lane roads, one more pull-over to see (this one was a very nicely tinted Mary Kay Cadillac, with the pink pearl automotive paint changing with the sun, housing three nicely done ladies, who had no reservations about turning completely around in their seats and waving), a Dixie horn toot from a large rumbling 80s Ford pickup, and an extended thumbs-up from a passing Prius while on interstate. 
Art Cars are a wonderful way to travel, and passing out postcards of your vehicle is an easy way to brighten even the moodiest surly teenager.  Art Cars can open doors that you didn't even know were there, and will make you a better, more aware driver.  You develop a habitual wave and smile, which carries over to non-Art Car vehicles, as well. I strongly recommend the experience, as there's a whole network of friends just waiting for you over the edge.

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