NOB HILL--Central Avenue is part of one of the greatest modern trade routes of all time--U.S. Route 66. In terms of the last 100 years, it is the story of America itself. It is no wonder that when life seems to get a little slow at our house, MaryAnn and I venture down to the Mother Road for an evening.
As we sit at a table in front of the Central Ave. Flying Star, the history of the 21st Century parades before us. The whole world, people from lands near and far, walk by and many times we can only guess what languages are being spoken. We on the street are all so close that we could touch each other.
Last week, just as the sun was going down, we sat at our favorite sidewalk table drinking coffee. “Are you interested in art?” someone asked. The speaker didn’t seem to expect an answer. He was a little unsteady and frankly, as he looked down at the two of us seated at that table, he seemed a bit unpredictable.
“I’m always interested in art,” I said.
He peered down at me from under a bandana that covered the top half of his eyelids. He was carrying a large plastic bag. Setting one end of it on our table, he started pulling out drawings and handing them to me. There were three of them. All were framed and under glass, although the frames looked like they might have been used before.
The first was a motorcycle with a huge eagle arching over the scene with its wings spread out in a protective way. The second was a pencil drawing of a heart. It was faceted and glistened on the page as if it were made of one incredibly hard diamond. The third was a silhouetted dancer wearing a headdress and holding knives.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“I come from way over there.” He waved in the general direction of somewhere beyond downtown. “I’m a White Mountain Apache,” he said.
I set the pictures in a row up against the window of the Flying Star. They looked to be done in marker and pen. The heart was a pencil drawing. And they looked really beautiful in that fading sunlight.
“That’s me,” he said pointing to the dancer. "It’s a Crown Dancer. You can look it up.” I nodded.
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Natani Hinton. It means ‘Chief.’”
“What do you want to do with your drawings?”
“I want to sell them. I need a motel room. Thirty bucks for all three.”
He had a big bump on the side of his face. He said it was a spider bite. People approaching us on the sidewalk were giving us a wide berth. I looked again at the three pieces.
“Somebody stole my backpack and I lost my notebooks.” He took out an old baggie filled with cheap markers. “I don’t have any more brown,” he added.
“Where did you make these,” I asked.
“In the park. I got the frames from Healthcare for the Homeless; you can refinish them if you want.” Again I nodded.
Frankly, there is nowhere I would rather be as the sun goes down than right here at this table in front of the Flying Star. Route 66 is the river of life and I was about to dip my hand into it.
“I’ll give you $30 for the big motorcycle picture and you can sell the other two to somebody else.”
Natani Hinton looked at his pictures leaning against the window. The setting sun gave a golden cast to each. He loved all three and said so. He spent at least 5 minutes explaining the how and why of each one. Then he looked at me and gestured with a sweep of his hand.
“No!” he said. “All three for thirty dollars.”
“Well, okay then. Done."
The artist signed them on the back with an old blue marker. He was smiling. I was smiling. I took pictures with my cellphone.
Natani Hinton took the $30 and put it in his pocket. We shook hands.
To the east, the Sandia Mountains were glowing. The street traffic hummed a bit louder. We said our Good-Byes, and he was gone.