Poverty, Creativity, Individuality and Inspired Ideas: Big Dave's Truck

Monday, September 29, 2014 10:01 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
 Tondeleo: I've been writing from my notes and recordings about the immense creativity and the drive for self expression in even the poorest and the most uneducated people. In the rural areas of America, at least the ones that I have been to, there seems to be no limit to these traits.

If I was poverty stricken, I would try to not attract attention to myself. But for these rural Americans, it seems that the poorer they are, the more need there is for self expression. They seem to have a need to say, "HEY! Look at ME! I may be poor, but I am SOMEBODY!"

One  example of this is the Ford pickup truck that belongs to Doc's friend, Big Dave. Dave hasn't had it registered or insured for about two years now. Something happened somewhere that caused him to park it in his garden for a while. Neither he nor Doc feel that it is important enough to talk about, and when I pulled Marilyn aside to ask about it, she says it is something that we don't talk about. It just "is" for now.

I asked Big Dave what year it is, and he says that it's a couple of different years.  "It doesn't matter."
I ask about the modifications he's made on it and whatever else he can tell me about it. Here is what he said:

Big Dave: I'm not drivin' it right now and it makes me feel bad, you know? It's sittin' there wastin' under a tree when it ought to be drived. 

Well, it's a 4X4. Got 4 wheel drive. That means it's good for drivin' in the woods and in mud and snow without gettin' stuck. I got 31" tires on it. I lifted it up like 3 inches, to make it a little taller. When I go deer huntin' I can take the truck out there, so I'm not walkin' and draggin' the deer around through the woods. Especially if I get two or three of deer.

Tondeleo: I notice that it doesn't have a grille. And, you've painted what was behind the grille silver. Does that mean you're not going to get a new grille for it, Big Dave?

Big Dave: Yeah, my truck lost his front teeth in a fight with a white oak tree! 

I couldn't find a grille that was any good, so I took some of that mesh that you use in front of a fireplace and put it in there to protect the radiator - that's all a grille does anyway, and then painted it all silver... (laughs) it looks like I at least know he ain't got no teeth anymore! 

I painted the shiny metal around the headlights black, and I painted the bumper black because I had some black spray cans and didn't have anything better to do. So I painted stuff. 

Tondeleo: What else can you tell me about your truck, Big Dave?  Remember, I don't know much about these things, and people who read my blog may not know very much about them...

Big Dave:  What else? Uhhh, I got a cap on the back. I tried paintin' it cammo by sprayin' around leaves here an' there. It didn't come out too good. 

I can sleep in there if I'm out deer huntin' or duck huntin'  over the weekend or anytime, really. If I got my tools in the back, the cap keeps the rain off of them. Keeps people from just reachin' in my truck and stealing my stuff. Havin' a cap on the back's a good thing... 

I could clean it out back there and have a date back there.

Marilyn: YUCK! You're so GROSS, Big Dave. NO self respectin' woman would get in the  back of your old truck!

Big Dave: Well, I don't always go for the self respectin' type...

Tondeleo: I notice that you have painted the back half of your truck black. Was that because you were bored, also?

Big Dave: I painted the back part of it black because I'd had a wreck into another tree. 

Tondeleo: Your license plate says Dog Man. Does that have a meaning?

Big Dave: Yeah. I'm a dog man.

Doc: Yeah, he's a dog man, all right.

Marilyn: Big Dave really IS a dog man, Tondy.

Tondeleo: OK, I think I get it... you're a dog man, and it says it on your license plate... 

Marilyn: Well, he loves his dog Bulkley more than anyone on the whole earth, Tondy. Bulkley is head of the pack, fifteen years runnin.

Big Dave: Yeah, ain't nobody better n' Bulkley. Well Christine is, but she's Asian.  

Tondeleo: ... uh, ok... I think I get it...  so, what is the meaning of the four horseshoes on the front of your truck, on the front of the bonnet?

Big Dave: My truck ain't got a bonnet, first off. It ain't a woman. A car ain't got a bonnet either. It's a hood. The meaning of the horseshoes on the front? It means good luck. You oughta know that, boy. But it means somethin' else, too. Somethin' people gotta figure out. But I'll tell you; I don't want you sittin' here all night. It means what might be good luck for me ain't good luck for someone else.

Tondeleo: Like what?

Doc: Like for the HORSE! That's a lesson right there, good luck for one is bad luck for another. People can  look at the front Big Dave's truck and get a life lesson, if they're thinking while they're looking.

Tondeleo: How about the donkey that is also on the front? Does that mean anything, Big Dave?

Big Dave: Uh, well, yeah it's got a meaning... 

Doc gave me that a long time ago. That's the third or fourth truck it's been on. It's outlasted every truck I've had and two women. That donkey, well, he's got a big grin on his face. He's happy. He's sittin' down on the job. He ain't workin' and he ain't doing anything and he ain't goin' nowhere. He'll get up when and if he's a good and ready. That donkey is me, Tondy.  

Doc: It SURE is.That donkey is definitely Big Dave!

Poverty, Creativity and Having Fun

Sunday, September 14, 2014 2:14 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: OK, I admit it. I'm not much for working on cars, getting dirty or racing or any of that. I don't like loud noise unless it is loud music. But I DO like learning, and I like helping people and I like having fun.

Doc took me over to his friend's house early on Saturday morning, to work on a race car of sorts. His friend is like Doc, in that he doesn't have any real money, but he likes to create and make things, and make the best of a bad situation. Pat's house has a metal garage out front that's almost as big as his house, and there are a lot of cars and pick up trucks, in various stages of being dismantled, repaired or stripped out to be sold for scrap metal.

Out in front of the garage was a rather torn up Mitsubishi. The  windscreen was broken, the headlights were clouded over and useless, and it was dented up. I couldn't see any potential in it whatsoever. Doc informed me that I was looking at a future race car. I could not believe it.

Doc: Tondy, racin' ain't always about big money. The kind YOU are thinkin' of is big money. But we aint got that. So what are we gonna do... not race?

No, we're gonna do the best we can. Like with this car, someone gave it to Pat because it had problems. Dented up, busted windshield, bad lights and some other issues. The AC don't blow cold. I don't know all the issues, Tondy, but it was bad. But it DOES run ok. Trans and rear aren't bad.  Now, it's worth about $10 per hundred pounds as scrap metal. Pat's gonna turn that  car into scrap metal, and get a couple hundred bucks for it.

But first, he's gonna have some fun with it, racin' it on the dirt track at Potomac Speedway. He's gonna finish bustin the glass out, strip out the interior, pu;; the door handles off and a bunch of other stuff. The trunk [boot] lid and doors will have to be chained shut for safety. He'll have to put hood [bonnet] pins on it to make sure it doesn't fly open. He'll take off the exhaust - the cadillac inverter's  [catalytic convertor] worth a few bucks. He'll save that for cashing in on later.

Pat's got a bunch of old roll bars and pipe from other junk cars what he raced, so he's gonna weld in whatever roll cages they say he's gotta have. I don't know about that, but he does, and when he's done with the car, he'll pull it all back out again for the next one. They been in and out of more cars than I don't know what, Tondy! They's all rusty, but looks don't make it go any faster.

Him and his boy James is gonna take it to the dirt track an' drive it til it won't drive no more! They'll have just as much fun as them boys what spend thousands of dollars to drive on the same track! It ain't NASCAR, but it ain't bad. He'll still be mashin' down hard on the gas an' turnin' left, over and over again!

His wife and daughter will be out there cheering him on, his friends and cousins will be there. He'll have a couple of them working the pit crew. Everybody's gonna have a good time, and it really aint costin' them nothing much.It's a lot of fun and it's good for a family to do stuff together like that.

And guess what? When him or his boy have raced the mess out of it, he'll yank out the battery and the radiator, and sell that car for scrap, and get just as much out of it as he would if he hadn't raced it and torn it up. That $200 bucks or whatever he gets will help him pay some bills and will leave a little money for the next junk car him and his boy want to race. Plus it's good father-son stuff to do."

Doc and I spent the whole morning and into the late afternoon and evening working on the car with Pat and James. I don't do much, but I handed them tools when they asked for it and brought them sandwiches that his wife made. I sprayed the rims silver. Doc put the lettering on and used a brush to write some other names on it, and some details that were added at the last minute.

I confess that I was proud to have my picture taken standing with the car. I had been breaking the windscreen out of it when Pat's wife wanted to take my picture. You can see that the windscreen is half in and half gone. That's my handiwork! I would have never gotten this opportunity in England,  and it makes for a good memory and a good story to tell my mates when I get home.

Poverty, Creativity and Inspiration

Saturday, September 13, 2014 1:30 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
 These last few posts have been about the creativity that comes to the surface when a person has the same desires as other people, but not the resources to fulfill them. 

For example, it's natural for a person to want to stand out, to be noticed, to appear to be successful and confident. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the car or truck that one is driving. 

You may be broke, living on SSI, social security, disability, welfare and any other government entitlements that you qualify for - but that won't get you the kind of money you need to express yourself adequately. After buying groceries, cigarettes, paying the rent, the light bill and phone bill, there just isn't enough to set yourself apart from the crowd. that is, not if you don't draw upon your  inner genius for some inspired ideas.

Here's a car that you would see at Scott's Store in McConchie, MD, just east of Nanjemoy. It was cheap to buy, and all it needed was some love and inspiration to make it into a real head turner. 

Doc pointed out all the refinements to me, so I could appreciate it and you could learn from it. This is like a poor man's Pimp My Ride episode. Here goes:

Doc: Ok, Tondy, this car's all about customizing on a working man's budget. Look at that gold grille. $1.50 can of spray paint from Dollar General and a $2.50 roll of masking tape. 

That hood scoop came off a 70's Corvette that was wrecked on the front end. But the scoop was still good. Bein' fiberglas all you need is a saber saw to cut it off the Corvette hood so you can put it on the Caddy hood. You're lookin' at about an hour total, with cuttin' it out, sprayin' it flat black, and screwin' it on with drywall screws.He prob'ly got it gave to him,

 so all he had was a buck and a half of black paint and a handful of drywall screws. But he's changed the whole look of the front of that car! I don't know where he got them rainguards on the windows. He probally had to buy those brand new. I aon't know what they cost, but they add to it. 

Look at the rims, Tondy! Well, wheel covers, really. They ain't match but they set that car off! You can pick those up off the side of the road for free. People pay about $30 for a set at the Wal Mart, and then they fall off when you hit a bump! The trick with them is to use screws to hold 'em on. That's one trick. Or you can use zip ties, around two spokes and through the holes in the rim. 

What I do is get a set of trim rings, and pop rivet the wheel covers to them. You ain't never see trim rings on the side of the road, cause they got grippers all the way around. You can get those at a junk yard for $20 a set. I go head and buy wheel covers new at the Wal Mart or the Pep Boys when I need 'em. I did that for Marilyn's car.

Now, look at that back end job! Five antennas! He aint got no CB in it, but they just dress it up and set it apart. You get them antennas for a couple bucks at yard sales. Aint too many people got CB's in they cars anymore, so they aint want the antennas. Out of five antennas he got three different kinds! You gotta work with what you got, Tondy!

Then, you set it all off with the two American flags!  That'll make people sit up and take notice. He'll probally catch a good lookin' woman with that rig!

Them old Caddies always had a problem with the plastic around the tail lights breakin' up as they got older. You can't find them in good shape anymore, so you got to do what you got to do. He used that shiny silver tape what's made for fixin' mufflers. It looks better than the broken plastic, and really catches the light good. 

Last is some bumper stickers and magnetics to show what you believe in and how you feel about things. That way if a woman sees that car and thinks she might be interested in you, she can read the back of it and see if you're her kind of fella or not. If she likes what you're about, then she'll find some excuse to hang around your car til you come out, and she'll start talkin' to you. It's a good start, anyway.

Look at that thing, Tondy! Look at all that glory! Flags wavin' in the breeze, the wheels reflectin' the sun, the silver tape on the back end... If that don't catch your eye going down the road, you just ain't lookin! 

I couldn't help but agree. Seriously.

Poverty, Creativity and Latent Genius

Friday, September 12, 2014 6:14 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
One thing that has continually fascinated me, and that I write about regularly is the creativity that latent in the hearts and minds of people with scant financial resources. These people want the same things that others want, but don't have the means of just going out and buying them; so they make or adapt what the want from what they have access to.

Also, like the rest of us, they draw inspiration by what they see on TV or things that other people have. I'll be writing about this for a couple of days or so.
For example, you may have a boat that you use for bass fishing, and it's big enough that you can't haul it on the roof of your minivan, so you have to pull it up out of the water and keep it on the bank. You might have to pull it up on a trailer from time to time, if you want to take it to a friend's house.

But, you don't have a pick up truck or four wheel drive. You need to get the boat up on bank, or on the trailer. What to do?

You can have an "inspired idea" that comes to you in the wee hours of the morning. An idea that compels you to get up out of bed and go out to the shop and start inventing!

Here you can see what can be done with a front wheel drive minivan, some scrap steel and a cheap winch.

Make a rectangle base from the steel, then weld the two upright pieces to the base. Using a U bolt, fasten the winch to the uprights.

Then, get some bolts with 2" washers, and drill holes in the hood of your minivan (or car) and tun the bolts through the steel, then the hood, and put the washers on the underside, and then tighten the bolts. Voila! Who needs a pick up or a 4X4? You're all set to pull the boat up onto the bank when you're done fishing, and you're ready to help a friend who has run off the road after a night of visiting the local watering holes! Not only that, but you've increased the usefulness and possible resale value of your minivan by at least $75.

There's no limits for a person who will draw on their inner resources to get their dreams fulfilled! Everybody's got an inner genius living inside of them, that is just waiting to be called on for solutions and inventions! That's what Doc and his friends say. And, it MAY be true!

Poverty Can Be The Mother of Invention

Friday, September 5, 2014 6:53 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
One thing that amazes me is the creativity of poor rural people. They nave the same needs and wants as everybody else, but don't have the means of buying it. So, they either do without, or find some kind of way to make do with found objects.

I was out in Doc's homemade shop behind their bungalow, and he was showing me some of his new inventions since the last time I had visited. 

I was particularly fascinated by his shop cart. Not because it was professional looking, but because it illustrates one of the traits that I admire most about these rural Americans and their abilities to think outside the box.

Doc's shop cart was a hodgepodge of different parts and scraps of metal that he had obviously found somewhere or had been given. I asked him to explain it to me.

Doc: "Well, it's really just a bunch of junk. I had the two trays that were part of an old something or another that someone threw away. I was out pickin' up scrap metal and this lady had a bunch of old broken pans, trays and what not. She gave me that, and I figured I could make something out of it that was worth more than scrappin' it. I threw it out there behind the shop until I could find the rest of what I needed. 

"About  three weeks later, this boy up there at Gray's store had one of them three wheeled baby carriages what you use for pushin' your youngin's along dirt roads and paths. The seat was busted out and he was tryin' to stuff it into Gray's dumpster. I asked if I could have it and he said, 'yeah.'

"I brought that baby trike home an' pulled that tray thing out from behind the shop and looked at them both and it came to me like a revelation. I could just see it in my spirit, all finished and bein' used around the shop. 

"I cut off the front wheel and used hose clamps and a couple bolts to fasten it to the tray cart. I had to use some shelving angle that I hammered out flat, to make it stable. I had some of that in the back of the truck, along with some other scrap. 

"Then I cut off the back wheels and did the same thing. I bolted 'em on, and then used some more scraps of shelving angle to stable it up. I stick welded them to the axle. For the handles, I cut up a pair of them high rise monkey grabber handlebars and bolted them on.

"It really wasn't anything to it, and it didn't cost me a dime. It just took about an hour of thinkin', cuttin', and puttin' together.

"Now I got a shop cart what I can put my tools in when workin' aroun' the shop, or whatever else I need it for.

"With them big wheels, when we have a bushel of crabs or a picnic, Marilyn just lines the trays with paper an' put's the food on the cart an' wheels it out to the backyard. She loves it as good as I do. Fact, she wants me to make her one for her own, as soon as I can find the parts. I'm gonna do it for her, Tondy, 'cause she's a real help around here." 

The Travel Bug that Just Drives a Man To Wander and Roam

Thursday, September 4, 2014 2:00 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
Tondeleo: Doc has always enjoyed traveling - or rambling and roving. Sometimes he refers to it as being a hobo.  He says when the travel bug bites, he has to take off. When Marilyn was dropped off for him to raise, he had to cut back on his traveling to just a bit here and there, and for shirt little trips and time off.

Doc: "Yeah, I had to cut way back on my hobo ways when my brother's wife dropped her off here on her way to Tennessee with that piece of trash what she met at the carnival. Marilyn was about 10 or 11 and couldn't be left on her own, so it was up to me to be there for her and look out for her. Plus them socialist services was on my case all the time tryin' to catch me messin' up. I had to watch my p's and q's, which included not takin' off so much."

That seems to be a pretty common phenomenon among him and his friends. They can talk for hours about the various times they just "took off," to wander around the country for a spell. Some of them have spent years at a time hopping trains, and just going wherever the trains took them. To support themselves, they'd steal food or anything they thought they could get by with taking and then sell very cheaply. Doc won't talk much about what he calls the days of his darkness. Especially not with Marilyn around.

But he does talk about the urge to wander and roam. He talks about some of the good times, anyway. From what I could tell, the travel bug would bite whenever there was financial pressure, work pressure, family pressure or any other kind of pressure. When the pressure builds up too much for alcohol to wash it away, they would take off. They might just start walking. Just walk out the door with nothing but the clothes on their back, and keep on going.

Doc: You gotta go when you gotta go. It gets too much to be stayin' in one place and then that open road starts callin' and you gotta answer. I've hopped trains, hitch hiked, walked, took buses when I could do some work for a few dollars, and then one day you wake up an' you're ready to go back home an' see your friends an' family. Dependin' on where you are, it might take a couple weeks to make it back. Home seems better when you're far away and been gone awhile.

Once you been gone a while, you can remember all that's good about it and how the folks back home ain't that bad, and they mean well and how deep down in your heart you really do love them. Well, most of 'em.

I always take a guitar along. Usually my oldest Tele. That guitar's been a friend of mine for years an' years an' been on many 'ventures with me. I can count on being able to make a few dollars singing on the streets with that Tele and my battery powered amp, or play indoors with other people and pick up a few bucks.

Once people here you singin' and playin' and find out you're not a crazy person, you can get invited to their place to play at a party or barbecue or whatever. Mostly it's about playin' and  singin' the kind of stuff they want to hear, an' also about bein' friendly and not scary. A lot of homeless people scare people away as a way of protectin' themselves. I can take care of myself, and for me, bein' funny works most of the time.

I like going to churches and missions to play for 'em and share my testimony. Sometimes they give you a love offerin' and put you up for the night.The preacher might meet you for breakfast in the mornin' if you told your testimony well an' if the folks got touched or someone got saved. Oh yeah, I also take a Bible with me when I go ramblin'.

So I ask, "Doc, what is it that makes a man want to ramble, as you put it? How do you know when it's time to take off? What about the people in your life, like your family or boss or your friends?"

Doc: "Well, Tondy, it ain't somethin' you choose. A restless feelin' comes on you and won't leave. You start dreamin' about places far away an' wantin' to be there. Even if you don't leave, you're no good where you are. You're heart's not in it and your mind's not in it. You're better off just takin' off an' gettin' it outta your system."

Me: "But what about the people you leave behind? What about your boss?"

Doc: Well, when that bug hits you hard enough that you gotta roam, they all know it, and they are pretty ready for you to go. If you're poor, your job ain't much anyway. You get a little hard to deal with, and usually the boss man is about ready to let you go from the job. You ain't really hurtin' no one. I know, they cry a bit an' fuss, but they know that a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and that you'll be back when you can. And then everybody's happy when you get back. Plus, you got new stories for them from faraway places."

You know what else, Tondy? If a man's gonna be poor, he ought to at least see some sights Y'all forget that poor folks can't go on vacations an' cruises an' all that. We work, we find some way to chill out, like drinkin' or smokin' weed for some, or playin' music - for some, it's drinkin', smokin' weed an' playin' music all at the same time - or goin' to church and gettin' on fire for the Lord.

That's one reason why a lot of our churches are more excitin' than the churches where richer people goes.

Church is all the excitement we got, if we ain't drinkin', druggin' or ramblin'. When I cut back on my ramblin', Marilyn and the people at her church got me goin' to church an' castin' my cares on the Lord. That's kept me calm and gave me a peace that passes understandin'.

People like you got money enough for vacations, travel and what not and you got money for them therapists and all that. We ain't got none of that. But like I said, I ain't done much ramblin' and wild cattin' since Marilyn came here. I had to stick around no matter how bad the itch got to take off. But nowadays, I can come and go as I please an' it keeps the pressure from buildin' up makin' me want to leave. Bein' with the Lord and His people has made all the difference in the world for me.

Doc and Marilyn now have Excellent Posters to Promote Their Venues

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 10:49 AM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas
It's quite interesting how things can change in a matter of days, let alone over two years.One thing that has impressed me is that now Doc and Marilyn have classic looking posters that are used to promote the events that they are playing at. This is a long way from when I first met them and they were playing on street corners and Marilyn would pass the hat. Me: Doc, these posters that you guys have are fantastic! How'd that come into being?  

Doc: "Well, it aint all that much to it. That guy what gives us things from time to time, Billy, from down south, got hold of a artist who makes 'em for us. Marilyn gets the info, an' then she calls it in or texts or somethin' an' he makes 'em up. Then she takes them somewheres an' gets 'em printed at her friend's job. She also sends them in a eletter to different people what likes us an' they pass 'em to they's friends or somethin'. They DO look pretty good, I gotta admit.

"That guy does a real good job an' Marilyn frames 'em an' decorates the walls with 'em. It brightens up the room a bit. Plus it reminds us places where we played an' gives us good memories.I like 'em and other people say they like 'em. That guy what makes 'em made up a bunch of different ones an' then just fills in the name an' date or something like that. Marilyn knows more about it than I do.  

Me: They look really good, Doc. Kind of old school. They remind me of something from out of an old movie or something. I don't quite know, but I like them very much, and they're definitely eye-catching. They also suit the kind of music that you and Marilyn and the band play. If I see the poster, it makes me expect something that is different, old school and interesting. They would make me want to go hear you!
Doc: "I heard other people say things like that, too, Tondy. I guess it's a good thing. Marilyn gets 'em, then emails 'em and prints some, and other people what gets 'em emails 'em and twitters them or whatever that thing is called an' sends 'em to they friends on they phone. I don't know all the ways they do it, but it works an' they ain't usin' paper for most of them and Marilyn says it saves trees.

"I say it don't really matter 'cause all the trees they make paper out of is planted by the paper companies what intended from day one to make paper outta them, an' they's always plantin' more, so they can make more paper. They don't just go out into the woods with chainsaws an' cut down everything they see. They grow 'em special for that. But usin' phones and computers to send them posters out is a good idea what Marilyn had and is faster and cheaper, too. You can count me in on that idea, Tondy."

Doc showed me a couple of dozen or more posters from various venues that they have played. The posters look good, the venues are better than they were a few years ago, and it is interesting how someone can go from playing on the streets and passing the hat for a few pennies to having a band and playing regular venues on a regular basis. He said that there's more he needs to tell me, but it can wait until later. I do think that he has an inborn sense of timing and pacing. I thought that the first time I heard him playing out on the streets, working the crowd, building his presentation to a pitch and then passing the hat. 

When I first heard him with Marilyn, and saw that she had that same sense of presentation and timing, as well as being better looking than him, I figured something good might come of it all. I can see that it clearly is working well for them.