June 17, 2016, or thereabouts. It was a dark and stormy night…but it didn’t start that way. I hit the road from Topeka, KS and pointed the car toward Hays, KS on the rather straight stretch of I-70 that has the ability to hypnotize if you don’t steel your mind and seek the detail in the beauty of the plains that are visible from the interstate. The land is not as flat as rumored as the Flint Hills rolls by. Past historic Fort Riley a more recent crop of giant windmills has grown to stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions. The weather was great, the windmills danced gently in their energy generating ballet, and the music on the radio, Pearl Jam at Benaroya Hall in 2003, made for a relaxing almost meditative drive across the plains. Kansas is a beautiful, if hot and muggy, place in the middle of June.
I arrived in Hays as a thunderstorm sparked like flickers from a striking flint. Local painter, Matthew Miller, greeted me from his front steps and offered me a stout beer to celebrate the Summer Art Walk in Hays, KS. I hadn’t seen him in a few years and was overwhelmed by the inventory of paintings he’d completed in the intervening years. The paintings leaned against the walls, some 4 or 5 paintings deep. He’d been busy and the genius of some of the work was undeniable. You know it when you see it. And if I had the money, I’d have loaded up my vehicle for the return trip. Matthew Miller’s art features on the cover of two of my books, Eight and The Rejected Works Vol. I.
We set up for the art walk in a rather casual manner considering the thunderstorm that kept building and rolled slowly our way, much out of character I discovered in talking to some local friends of my friend. The painter hammered nails on the wall in his rolling gallery, a tiny house he’d built himself and christened, The Buffalo House. I set up my table beneath a slightly disabled camping canopy twisted by the wind in a thunderstorm the previous year. As the wind picked up in Hays, the canopy betrayed its Achilles’ heel and struggled to remain upright at all. (note to self: get a new canopy frame)
And then the rain. It rained like it hadn’t rained in months, my new friends in Hays said. It sounded like pennies falling on the canopy and we hastily placed cinder blocks and bricks as weights to hold the tie-down ropes and keep the canopy from lifting off like a hot air balloon. The hour of the art walk was upon us and had been for nearly 20 minutes when we decided to take shelter in The Buffalo House to consider dismantling the canopy and moving all bookselling operations into the corner of the rolling art gallery. The wind proved too harsh and the radar on our phones suggested this storm would be settling in for the night. We dismantled the book tent and loaded most of the stuff into my vehicle and took the books into the warm belly of The Buffalo House.
Kudos to the people of Hays. The storm did not keep everyone from the walk. At turns the capacity of the Buffalo House’s belly was stretched and distended to hold more than it was likely intended for. It made 10 people appear to be 100. Everyone was electrified by the art on the walls and maybe a little by the storm. We’d be alright as long as the storm didn’t drop a twister on us for as you may have guessed, there’s no basement at The Buffalo House.
It was a great night full of fun conversation and interesting people, many of them artists in their own right. I was able to connect with new people and sell more books than the weather would have let on. My friend was able to sell some of his paintings as well and the dark and stormy night was truly a great setting for a good story.