I first met Jennifer Schwartz at the inaugural Flash Powder retreat in Astoria, Oregon last summer.  It wasn’t long before I was deeply impressed by her passion for art and for people, and her brilliant out-of-the-box thinking.   When she first told me about the upcoming Crusade for Collecting, I loved the idea, and I had the distinct premonition that I’d find myself involved in some way (ok, actually, I had visions of being broken down in the middle of Texas, having repeatedly told Jennifer that I did not drive stick...) Still, this all sounded strangely appealing, so with a teaching sabbatical on the horizon, I figured I’d jump in. I was fortunate enough to participate as one of the featured photographers in both New Orleans and my own home of Los Angeles before I actually joined Lady Blue on the road in San Francisco.  The experience of giving my work away to strangers in both of those cities was a whirlwind of energy.  Whether the people passing by were genuinely interested in my work, or whether they were just bewildered and took a photograph to get me to shut up, it didn’t matter—my work was making it’s way into the hands of new collectors.   Who knows, maybe they got home and threw it away, or maybe they put it on the wall and it’s their new favorite thing… either way that’s okay.  What I found so valuable was the interpersonal connection of artist to collector, giving artists a chance to forge a vibrant network of relationships in the community through their work.

The next week, I met up in San Francisco with Jennifer and our fellow Astoria mate Sean Dana, ready to begin my leg of this adventure on the road.  As promised by Jennifer, I was not allowed to drive Lady Blue, due to my aforementioned ignorance of manual transmission (yes, I’m a bad Minnesotan).   So instead, I took up residence on the backseat bench, where I could get lost in all the street noise and be left to shout “what?!” to Jennifer and Sean as they had their conversations in the front of the bus.   The first story I heard was about how Lady Blue had spent most of the weekend in the shop, being tenderly serviced by an amorous mechanic named Coby.  Sean seemed reassured by Coby (who wore a jumpsuit with the name Paul on it, so Jennifer called him Fake Paul from the start) that things were going to be in good shape for the drive to Portland.   After a leisurely morning of preparation and b-roll footage, we hit the road.

The camera was rolling, the music was cranking…. and the oil was leaking.  Heavily.  We didn’t even make it over the Golden Gate before Lady Blue decided she missed Coby.  With only a couple miles under our belt, we had to go back to Valley WagonWorks to spend some more quality time with Fake Paul Coby.   I was beginning to wonder if we would spend more time crusading for mechanics to become collectors than anyone else.  This photo says it all to me:

The generous sponsorship of the “Impossible” project, written on a decal along the side of the bus, threatened to become an ominous prophesy of doom.  However, long story short, and a mediocre Mexican dinner later, Coby found what was wrong (or did he?) and sent us off on our way, just barely before sunset.

After spending the night in Willits, CA, Sean chugged ole’ Lady Blue out of the parking lot of our hotel and into the middle of the road, where she promptly decided that she was done … only two minutes into the day.  We forced her to chug along a side road to Ron’s Muffler, where we would meet our next batch of collectors mechanics.  This time, however, the experience and wisdom of Ron was on our side.  I had a good feeling about this and was optimistic: I grew up around repair shops and mechanics.  It’s the type of work my family has done for generations, and while I’ve always been a total misfit to that world, I still had a good feeling about Ron and his two guys, Cesar and Matthew.   Sure enough, within minutes, Ron could tell what was happening, and Matthew found a bolt that was loose, or broken, or something like that… I don’t know… Sean talked to them.  I was busy taking photos of junk piles.   Again, I’m a bad Minnesotan and I fell far from the mechanic tree in my family.  In any case, with a sense of great relief, we hit the road again, with our mechanical woes behind us.  Lady Blue was finally happy, it was a beautiful day, and the lush wooded landscape of the 101 northbound was ahead of us.

The day was marked by two epic stops:  first with John and then with the Giants.   Jennifer has already shared a bit about John, and his toilet in the middle of the field along the side of the 101.  (You can see some of Sean's photos here.) This was truly your quintessential road trip experience.  John’s roadside wunderkammern was a definitely a “cabinet of curiosities,” but it was John himself, and his hospitality and generosity, that left us feeling so much joy.  

Upon first getting out of the bus, I was led by John directly to the far back of his large shed where he opened a fridge packed full of beer and soda and proceeded to tell me all about his Chrysler New Yorker, his various collections, and all the different people he gets to meet when they stop to use his toilet in the field.  He pulled up chairs for us, offered us many gifts, and even sang along to some of his favorite songs (he would regularly grab the remote to his Bose speaker system and play whatever song he felt appropriate in the moment).  Eccentric, definitely, but crazy?  Not at all.  John struck me as a man who delights in simple pleasures, and loves to meet anyone who comes his way.  He is a collector of experiences, and a perfect person to meet on this Crusade adventure.

Our next stop was to see the redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants, a sight I have always wanted to see.  Needless to say, I found myself deeply in awe of the beauty of this place… but having been told by Sean that this is where they filmed Return of the Jedi, I was sorely disappointed that there were no Ewoks and speeder bikes.

Our second night was spent in Crescent City, which afforded us this beautiful view the next morning (see above). Day three would be spent driving up the Oregon coast, which is really beyond words in its beauty.  Much to our delight, Lady Blue behaved herself all day and managed to control her addictive desire to meet new mechanics in each major city.   That night we finally found ourselves in Portland, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of my friend Tom, slowly peeling off the layers of clothing that we wore to keep warm inside the bus.  Photolucida was the next day, and my adventures with Lady Blue were coming to a close.   I didn’t participate in the Portland pop-up, due to review appointments at Photolucida, and I have to admit, it felt a little strange to not be part of it.  It had been a total pleasure to be included on three legs of the Crusade and to be along for the ride between two of them (even if I never did get to drive the Lady). Jennifer and the Lady are headed to the Midwest and East Coast next.  If you’re in one of the remaining cities of the Crusade, don’t miss your chance to see what it’s all about, and even go home with some free art.

Kurt Simonson is a fine art photographer and professor based in Los Angeles.  He is also one of the best people on the planet.

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