Tag Archives: art

Poetry on Buses (and trains), 2016

poetry on buses 2016

The folks at Poetry on Buses have announced their 2016 theme: “Your Body of Water.” Last year’s theme, “Writing Home,” was provocative — so much so that I thought it might actually inspire me to write a poem (it didn’t) — but props to the new poet planner, Jourdan Keith, for selecting this one. Wow.

“Your Body of Water” is a poetic exploration of our connections to water and how it is protected and cared for by Seattle Public Utilities and King County.

We are all bodies of water, connected to one another through the water web. Your body of water is connected to streams, rivers, lakes, tides, waterfalls, toilets and faucets, to present homes, childhood homes and ancestral ones by memory, by the water cycle, by stories. Come, tell your story through poetry.

Yes, please.

Art + buses + community = life (part II)

My former coworker, Kate, bus (and bike) mama extraordinaire, moved from Tacoma to St. Louis over the summer. Kate and her crew are so far enjoying the transit life in a city that offers service after 7 PM (ahem) and have wasted no time integrating themselves into their new community.

Last Saturday, they attended a birthday party for the Gateway Arch and painted a bus.

Bus painting in STL

[O]n Saturday, October 24, children and adults [transformed] a 35-foot MetroBus into a rolling work of art that will travel on routes in St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis over the next year.

You guys. You guys.

How cool would it be to see a bus you helped paint rolling through your neighborhood? How cool would it be to ride on one? What a beautiful way to foster feelings of belonging and build community!

Transit agency/arts organization types who are reading: Make this happen in your area.

Stop that Alabama bus!

My most recent bus read was the autobiography of OG Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs. Come to think of it, it was the bus read before last; I finished Home last week. (I’m currently experiencing some rather extreme Toni Morrison withdrawal and am still carrying it around in my bag.)

I digress.

Among the many things I learned when reading Ms. Boggs’ book is that this amazing song exists.

I realize that it isn’t December 1st (or February 4th), but I couldn’t wait that long to share this. And really, is it ever a bad time to acknowledge the power and significance of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Right. Moving on…

“Alabama Bus” was recorded in 1956, at the height of the year(+)-long boycott. The artist, Will Hairston, was a friend of Grace and her husband, James Boggs. Mr. Hairston, also known as “the Hurricane of the Motor City,” was an auto worked and preacher who was deeply involved in the struggle for social justice and economic equality.

Thank you for your contributions, Brother Hairston. And, as always, honor and respect to the Original Bus Chick, Mrs. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks.

Trade ya!

Remember that bus scroll Bus Nerd and I bought last fall? Well, it was pretty big, In fact, it was close to as tall as me and possibly as heavy (OK, not quite), and the place we wanted to hang it was kind of tricky to reach. Plus, we’re lazy and busy working and parenting two small people and have just barely, after over a year and a half, gotten around to hanging the pictures we moved to this place with. So, the cool bus scroll sat on the floor of our bedroom for months upon months, forcing us to expose visitors to the chaos of our personal space in order to show it off.

Fortunately, our neighbor, Mark, happens to be down with some cool, museum worker types who actually hang pictures for a living. He hooked us up, and the lovely lady and gentleman came over and helped us put it up. The scroll looks great, but, despite all evidence to the contrary, that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about a man named Josh, one of the cool people who helped us hang our picture. Josh is a self-described “transit and history buff,” and he really liked our scroll. Josh doesn’t own a car, and the story of how he came to be without one is one of the best I have ever heard.

In addition to being a picture-hanging expert, Josh is also an artist and therefore tends to spend time in the company of other artists. One of these other artists is a very talented portraitist. Josh really wanted this person to paint a portrait of his elderly grandfather, but (being an artist) he didn’t have the money to pay for it. What Josh did have was a car that he rarely used; living on First Hill, he rarely needed it. So, he offered an exchange. The talented portraitist got some (not-so) new wheels, and our history buff got an enduring reminder of a man who has had an immeasurable impact on his life.

I think we know who got the better end of that deal.

Homage to a brilliant bus nerd

I recently passed this Jacob Lawrence tribute shelter on Jefferson, somewhere between 18th and 21st.

Jacob Lawrence bus stop

I can’t believe I never noticed it before!

Thanks to my dad, I’ve known and appreciated Lawrence’s work since childhood. (Pops was both an admirer of Mr. Lawrence’s paintings and an acquaintance of the artist.) What I didn’t know until I read this HistoryLink essay is that both Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight, were bus people.

In 1971, Jacob Lawrence accepted a teaching position at the University of Washington’s School of Art. … As part of the move and their effort to become part of the community, they bought a house that was near both the University and a bus stop.

For apartment dwellers who had never owned a car or a freestanding home, all of this was an adventure. They walked or took the bus nearly everywhere they went.

The evidence is mounting, folks. There’s definitely a connection between transportation and inspiration.

The art of public transportation

The latest evidence that art and public transportation are inherently complementary (previous examples can be found here, here, here, and here): MoMA’s London Underground poster exhibit. If you won’t be in NYC between now and mid-January, check out Slate’s review and slide show (via: Bus Nerd).

This one’s my favorite.

Zero (Hans Schleger), Thanks to the Underground, 1935. Lithograph Printer: The Baynard Press, London. Gift of G.E. Kidder Smith, 1943
A bus chick with places to go

On writing and riding

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have many obsessions: libraries, Rosa Parks, Three Girls Bakery, Mount Rainier, and–oh yeah–buses. You might not know, since I have not thus far had occasion to write about it here, that I am also obsessed with August Wilson.

I am a huge August Wilson fan. The first time I saw one of his plays staged (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Alley Theater in Houston, back when I was a student at Rice) was transformational for me. The man has an unmatched ear for dialogue, and [ahem] I happen to enjoy listening to people talk. It’s one of the primary reasons I love the bus.

Apparently, Wilson enjoyed buses for the same reason. Transit geek/novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez just hipped me to the fact that the famed playwright, a resident of our fair city (incidentally, another of my obsessions) from 1990 until his death in 2005, rode Metro. A lot.

All these years of semi-stalking the man, and I didn’t know. It wasn’t mentioned in any of the zillions of bios I read about him over the years–or at either of the memorials I attended after his death. And yet, all it took was a quick online search to confirm* Dolen’s assertion. August Wilson did, indeed, ride the bus–probably, given the location of his home and his regular haunts–a lot of the same routes I frequent.**

So, it seems that, in addition to providing us time to enjoy the creative work of others, riding transit can also aid the creative process. Toni Morrison (yet another of my obsessions) has said she used her subway rides to work on her first novel, and, as I’ve just discovered, Wilson found inspiration (and probably a lot of material) on the bus. Perhaps I should break out my own (10-year-old-and-as-yet-unpublished) novel. After all, a good quarter of it was written en route.

*This article is in the Boston Globe archives, and I had to pay to read it. I doubt the link will actually show the full text.
**Too bad we never (that I know of) shared a ride. Even my friend Aileen, who boasts of actually meeting him at Red and Black Books back in the day, would be jealous.

Art and the politics of transportation

If you’re going to be anywhere near SoCal between now and December 11th, go see LA artist Diane Meyer’s provocative new photography exhibit, Without a Car in the World (100 Car-less Angelinos Tell Stories of Living in Los Angeles).

Car-free artist Melba Thorne (photo by Diane Meyer, via Green LA Girl)

Here’s an excerpt from Green LA Girl’s review:

Without a Car pairs photo portraits of 100 L.A.-area residents (including me!) with brief quotes from their interviews about car-free living. Far from a simple hurrah for automobile-free living, the exhibit features interviews both from those who are proud of their car-free lifestyles to others who sound deeply unhappy about a car-less-ness that’s been imposed on them, whether due to financial concerns, disability, or other reasons.

In fact, the juxtapositions of these points of view are what makes Without a Car especially poignant. One Angeleno talks about how taking public transportation’s so much easier and convenient than people think it is. Another expounds on the difficulties of getting around by bus — how long it takes, how unreliable the system seems.


What the exhibit makes clear is that going car-free’s an extremely individual experience — and that race and class play heavily into how pleasant that experience is going to be.

This looks (and sounds) absolutely amazing. If you’re able check this out, hit me up (or comment), and let me know what you think.

Bus art is cool

Kathleen McElwaine from the Texas Hill Country has taken her bus pastime to a whole ‘nother level. Every day, on the hour-long bus commute to her job at the University of Texas, she paints–real paintings, folks–from her seat near the window. Here’s a sample of her work:

A bus painting
Just a Geranium,” by Kathleen McElwaine

The majority of Kathleen’s bus ride is on the highway, so she doesn’t have to deal with the jostling of a city bus. (I’d like to see someone try this on the 48.) She’s also managed to create a bus-friendly set-up (lap easel, paint pallet, et cetera) for her rides. Check out this Youtube video of Kathleen in action.

I paint going and draw with the marker coming home. I often paint as many as 5 paintings going in the morning, most often when the morning sky is a great inspiration. As I finish the watercolor stage I put the painting in a watercolor book to get it out of the way; our bus is crowded and I want to be a plus in everybodys life. I then paint another and another until I must stop. Then in the afternoon all I get out of my back-pack is the watercolor book and my prismacolor marker – it seems to work well this way because I’m tired at the end of the day.

A fabulous artist and a good bus citizen? Definitely my kind of bus chick.

Kathleen also sells her bus paintings–both originals and note cards–online. Talk about taking advantage of travel time!

Station art (or, Guess I won’t be the only one dancing around the train)

Augusta Asberry‘s piece, Come Dance with Me, was installed at MLK & Othello on Friday as part of Sound Transit’s public art program.

Station art
Come Dance with Me, by Augusta Asberry

Sadly, Ms. Asberry died of breast cancer last September. (According to ST, “Her family and friends rallied together and found an artist, Keith Haynes, who could finish the hand-painted details in a way that would best reflect her style, palette and ability to bring life and movement to her art.”) I am grateful for the amazing body of work she left behind–and I look forward to admiring this piece in person every time I ride the train.