Chapter 6 - Telegraph Days, Plate 1 - The Avenue Crew
Belcher was huge. Standing next to little Agnes he looked like a human mountain..
He was an old biker from Oakland mellowed by age and that weird, Pseudo-Zen thinking you find in the Bay Area.
We didnt have a lot in common. I bought a motorcycle once. It rained. I sold it the next day.
He didn't talk much but when he did he made sense. And he was funny. That's a blessing if you gotta stand next to a guy all day.
He lived out in Richmond with his "Ol' Lady". To this day I don't know if they were married. They also had a teenage daughter, or I should say, a teenage dependent they treated like a daughter. I don't where the kid came from. I know that Belcher wasn't her real father nor Belcher's Ol' Lady her real mother. I had a sense that she was collateral damage from one or the other's murky, biker past. A silver lining from some dark cloud perhaps. But they're a happy family now. To Belcher's credit he takes good care of 'em and that's all that counts, right?
I met him when I was doing caricatures for quick cash out in a shopping center in Albany. He had been standing behind me for a while watching. He was killing time while his Ol' Lady did some shopping. When she returned, He asked me if I would would do a family portrait, "3, together?"
"Why not?" says I.
They all sat down, Belcher, his woman and the girl. All of them together; calm, confident and so comfortable with themselves I was immediately seduced.
To hell with caricature, I was going to draw a portrait of these people. I tossed my black Sharpie and grabbed my Eagle 314s. I got deeply into exploring every nuance of their faces. They had this ... special character.
When you do portraits, you have to look at people in a way that would normally be considered rude. It's intense and very intimate. People react to the experience differently. But that's a whole 'nuther story. Suffice it to say, Belcher and his brood were different right off the bat. They just sat there and looked back. Like American Gothic except with bikers.
The portrait took two hours. They never complained. They hardly even moved. It was as though they understood.
It was one of the best pencil drawings I'd ever done. We drew a crowd, me and my accidental models. When I finished, people actually clapped. I just gave the drawing to Belcher. I didn't charge him. Getting twelve dollars for a drawing like that would have been obscene. Besides I felt he and his family had given me a lot more.
Under any another circumstance I would have avoided these guys like the plague. Shows you how much I know. We became friends. Belcher was a Vet on disability - he wouldn't talk to me about that either. I asked him to help me with security once on a particularly busy weekend and it just turned into a regular thing.
My street stall was a good gig. I only worked it four days a week. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 12 to 6. Id bring in lots of cash and Telegraph Avenue, while not seriously dangerous, was a street you had to pay attention to. Belcher knew the Bay area and its street life like the inside of a Harley cylinder head and having a six foot, ten inch, three hundred and fifty pound biker around seemed to have a neutralizing effect on the street urchins that pilfered and pestered the other merchants. He was my one-man, walking Brinks truck.
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