Costas Schuler is The Pen Guy.
The artists caravan from the campgo-round and pick up more people who think a blank car is boring. They drive around the Bay Area, from Amoeba Records to Amoeba Records. No trip through the Castro this year (sorry, Freaks, but your fellow SFer's scheduled a peace march and our Art Car artists didn't want to pull participants away from that worthy cause-- we'll hopefully catch you all next year).
I caught up with the group at Schultz's Art Colony. One car in particular caught my eye. "The Pen Guy." How do you decide on something like that for your Art Car? For your statement of individuality? For your escapism persona? "The Pen Guy." He's probably a Nut.
Here he is. He doesn't look like he's missing any cards in his deck.
In fact, after dark, when those of us who still have two feet in the real world are thinking about bed, I find out he's ready to camp on the side of the road. In Oakland. "Come home with me," I tell him. "Okay," he says.
Costas follows me home. On the way he calls his wife: "Honey? I'm not coming home tonight. I met this guy. I've got a place to stay. He's a good guy. He's got kids and everything. Yeah, okay, I'll call you every hour so you know I'm all right, but I tell you, he's a good guy."
There's a parking space right in front of the house. I begin to wonder about this guy's karma. "Hey, a front room full of shoes. This looks like my house," he says. I show him the guest room, what's in the fridge, I make sure there are blankets on the bed-- "Oh! And plastic sheets on the bed! This really IS like my house!"
In the morning, we make sure he has some chores to do, and we have a chance to visit.
Faced with commuting 90 minutes each way to his dot-com job, he decided to work whatever there was nearby instead. "I sold cars, I was an up-seller at Costco, I did all kinds of crazy things. Whatever it took." He has a friend in the promotional items world. "Pens! Everybody has pens!" Costas tells me he browses the library to find stuff he doesn't know. On one visit he found Harrod Blank's book about Art Cars, and was instantly inspired. "What could I do for a car? What is important to me? I love pens! I'll make a pen car! I'll be The Pen Guy!"
He says he got up before dawn not long after and started gluing pens to the car. "I had to get them on before my wife woke up."
I ask him if he needs to get to church this morning. "Not this week," he says. I ask him about his church. "I was never very religious, growing up, and the Bible Thumpers really turned me off. I felt they were just looking for notches in their belt." When he found his Spirituality, it took hold. Met his wife through church and everything. "I'm on the worship team at my church, but they know I'm doing this Art Car thing this week. Here's the thing: I'm not a preacher. I figure I am just supposed to go out and love people. Just love them. And humor is a great way to get to people. The barriers come down, and you can just be with people. It's really great."
He left home with $10 and half a tank of gas. "At the gas station, I said to the guy, 'Can you give me an extra $10 of gas? I'll get the money to you, I just don't have it right now.' And he did! This whole trip has been like that, from making the car, to having the little kids on the street chanting 'Pen Guy! Pen Guy!' when I drive up, finding this group, even finding you at the party so I had a bed to sleep in, this is all just great. Just great. I'm looking at the cars, and I'm sayin' 'I saw that one in the book! And that one!' And here I am with these people!"
Yeah, The Pen Guy, being an Art Car artist is really Just Great. Welcome to the community.