This year’s Tour de Bier, a charity bike ride that I’ve ridden pretty much every year, took place as an “on your own” type of event. Instead of a mass start, with thousands of cyclists heading out all at once and descending upon local breweries in groups of twenty and thirty at a time, riders had a month to complete the route. I actually wound up riding the route twice: once this past Saturday, and again on Sunday. I saved half of my beer sampling tickets for the second day and still wound up slamming the route pretty quickly. Stopping in downtown Kansas City on a Sunday, there were few cars and hardly any of my fellow cyclists in sight. A short break heading over the bridge next to the Sprint Center allowed me a bit of respite, and an opportunity to capture the silhouette of some of the buildings that characterize this section of the city.
Driving back the long way on Labor Day, we get behind slow moving vehicles on narrow two lane roads. Coming down to the lake house, traffic was light until we got close to the lake where we encountered a ridiculously huge crowd of people campaigning for their political candidate, clogging the roads and definitely not social distancing or wearing masks. No way I wanted to find myself stranded in that crowd, which is why we’re taking the longer, back way home.
Lunch time approaches and passes, and the place we’d planned on stopping at turned out to be closed for the holiday. A mile or so further along and I hear, “Oh, you’re going to want to sketch this place!” as a shiny diner come into view.
I’m not comfortable eating inside restaurants yet, but when we stopped it turned out the only way to even get a to go order was to go into the place. Once there, it became very clear there was no attempt to social distance. The quaint booths were overflowing. I ordered, sketched while we waited the ten minutes it took to cook decent diner burgers and excellent diner onion rings, and hit the road with our meals bagged.
But standing there sketching on an iPad, I must have presented something of a curiosity to my fellow diners. Maybe it was simply fertile imagination, but they frequently glanced up at me with what I interpreted to be a suspicious glare. Perhaps I was one of those interfering liberal media types, come down to southwest Missouri to shake things up. Almost certainly there was a plotting antifa protester behind that black mask! Two other couples showed up while I stood there, took one look and turned back toward the highway, muttering loudly “no masks, let’s go.” And there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief as I turned to leave as well.
Funny. All I wanted was to sketch a cool diner and eat a greasy spoon cheeseburger.
As I rode along the Line Creek Trail, I noticed from time to time that there were divergent paths accessing side roads and parks. Not really trail heads, these were nevertheless trail access points. And as I was already on the trail, they were also sources of further exploration.
Veering off the main trail occasionally, I discovered the outer edges of neat, somewhat forgotten neighborhoods. The Price-Rite, I was told later, “has awesome pizza.”
A month. It’s been nearly a month since I last sketched, painted, or did anything remotely drawing-related. My art teachers have reported back, and for better or worse we’ll be teaching art classes again in four days. This will take place face-to-face for some kids, in a weird hybridized version for others, and entirely virtual for still others. On top of that, my travel sketching workshops kick off two evenings later, and an introduction to watercolor class a couple weeks after that.
And after a month off, I’m not even certain I still remember how to draw!
I’ve written, then rewrote, and recorded, and rerecorded and re-rerecorded art lessons and tutorials and words of wisdom and announcements. A similar exercise has had me redesigning my art room over and over again in an attempt to move student seating as far apart as possible. I can only fit 16 kids in a room I normally seat upwards of 30, and I’m seriously worried about fitting myself in someplace. As it stands it looks like I’ll be standing behind a cart with my iPad, Apple Pencil, and a lavalier mic, demonstrating on a projection screen. I already miss telling students to come gather ’round my demonstration table – “get closer, now!” – and, hopefully, initiating a new round of curiosity. My K-5 teachers, incredibly, designed and produced an entire 18 week, stand-alone virtual art course for each of six grade levels in a matter of days. They are a remarkable group of 22 art educators, most younger than me by a couple decades, and I’m exhausted just standing by as they whirl around making stuff like this happen.
And actually, it’s all just exhausting, to be honest. Many days my email notifications are going off every few seconds – and I mean that quite literally. The pandemic-related conditions force us to constantly re-evaluate the situation on the ground, and we educators have learned to pivot and adjust with something close to grace and aplomb.
You’d think that events would lend themselves well to urban sketches. You’d be right, of course, and I’m certain I’ll later regret not having a visual journal of these last several months, and especially these last four weeks as we redesign overnight the 150 year old institution we call “public education.” But right now, the one sketch I’ve made is the autobiographical cartoon at the top of this narrative. It seems to sum up August quite succinctly.