Archives: #OrangeShow

10,000 Smiles Per Gallon

It was my first book signing for my children’s book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I was terrified. Which was kind of silly, because all I had to do was set up a table at an elementary school holiday market. Nevertheless, I felt nervous and unsure. So, I did what any mature author would do … I begged my mother to be my sidekick!

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

Cathey & Randy at the Wilchester Elementary Arts Market.

As Mom and I parked in the school’s unloading area, I was surprised to see an artcar in the lot. It was covered with every glass object, trinket and phrase you can imagine, and I’ve since learned that it’s called “A Little Bit of Nonsense.” Mom helped me lug my case of books inside, and the first person we met was a 6-foot-4 bald man wearing tie-dyed clothes and antlers on his hat!

“I’m Randy Blair,” he said, walking over for a handshake. “I have a very hot wife, wanna see?” He opened up his wallet to show off a photograph, and a huge orange flame snapped out. Ha! That’s how I discovered that—in addition to decorating and driving one of the most spectacular artcars I’ve ever seen—Randy also does magic tricks. And he makes and sells jewelry. And he’s a chef. And he runs his own private catering business, “Five Loaves and Two Fish Catering.” And he’s a father to five kids, a husband to Wanda, a cancer survivor.

Randy Blair is a big tall bundle of interesting! But that day, he was the person who made me feel comfortable about selling my new artcar book. He was my first buyer that morning, too. He bought a copy and stepped back over to his own sales booth to read it alone. I had no idea what he thought of it, and his opinion mattered to me. Not only was he a REAL artcar driver, but also he was the FIRST “cartist” I’d ever met in person.

After awhile, Randy came back over. “You know what? You wrote my life story! I’m just like Arthur Zarr!” He went on to explain that (like my Arthur) he never intended to build an artcar, but it accidentally evolved over time. For some 20 years, Randy was a chef in corporate America, forced to wear a required, conservative, plain uniform. In 2001, he started his own catering business, which allowed him a new level of freedom. “I’ve always been very creative and very visual, and it started seeping into other areas of my life,” Randy says.

Take his vehicle, for instance. Randy’s first artcar was an old green Honda CRV. He decorated the interior dashboard and let people sign the roof of the car with markers. Soon after, he bought a pair of crazy tie-dyed chef pants that he wore with his white jacket. Over time, Randy’s plain chef’s coat was replaced with a colorful one dyed by Don Bingham, owner of Tribal Grounds in Houston. “First my car started changing, then my clothes started changing,” Randy laughs.

The amazing “A Little Bit of Nonsense.”

When the aging Honda’s engine finally died, Randy bought a brand-new candy-apple red Toyota Yaris. (I’ve always thought that artists had to buy an old jalopy as a base to build an artcar. Wrong!) Immediately after buying the Yaris, Randy started decorating the interior, and—like my book’s character, Arthur Zarr—he began to get noticed. “People would tell me, ‘Your car is so cool on the inside!’” Friends recommended he enter it in the Art Car Parade; so, he showed photos of it to some folks at The Orange Show—the group that hosts Houston’s Art Car Parade each year—and the rest is history.

Like Arthur Zarr, Randy knew his car needed more oomph to be ready for the parade. He bought a kiln and started making “fused dichroic glass” as a hobby. These colorful, shiny objects made their way to the outside of his Yaris. By the time he drove it in the 2009 Art Car Parade, the exterior was completely covered with objects. That first year, Randy won first place for daily driver and first place for participant’s choice. The following year, he won both categories again. And just like my Arthur (and me!), Randy made a whole bunch of new friends along the way.

Randy’s “A Little Bit of Nonsense” artcar now has multiple layers and significant height to it. He drives it daily because he loves making people happy. He says viewers often ask him if the weighty objects affect the mileage he gets per gallon of gas. He answers, “It doesn’t matter how much weight I’m adding, because I’m getting 10,000 smiles per gallon!” Those smiles are addictive, he tells me, and it’s why he keeps driving his artcar.

Just one of Randy's many artcar quotes!

Just one of Randy’s many artcar quotes!

I agree with a phrase that’s printed on Randy’s car that says, “The sweetest fruit is at the end of the skinniest branch.” I had to get out of my comfort zone to reach my fruit. To write and publish my children’s book. To put myself out there. To risk rejection. When I speak to students at elementary schools, when I sign books for children, or when I see someone smile at my book cover—I know it was worth climbing out on that bendy limb.

 

Be Amazing.

Note to my favorite book reviewer, Paul McRae: Yes, I spelled artcar as one word. For you. 🙂

Arthur Zarr By The Numbers

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Promoting my children’s book has become a favorite pastime!

This week—May 3, 2016 to be exact—marks the six-month anniversary of the launch date of my children’s picture book, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car. I thought it might be interesting to celebrate the occasion with a breakdown of numbers and other fun facts.

NUMBERS:

  • 783 = total number of books sold so far
  • 100 = number of books donated to schools, libraries, and contest winners
  • 95 = number of books purchased by customers online through Amazon.com
  • 40 = number of pounds that each case of books weighs
  • 41 = number of readers who posted five-star reviews on Amazon
  • 1 = number of times I’ve been interviewed on a NPR station (Thanks, Kate Archer Kent, formerly of Red River Radio!)
  • 8 = number of newspaper or magazine articles about my book
  • 5 = number of schools I’ve presented to
  • 1,000,0005 = number of schools I wish I could present to!
  • 1,400 = approximate number of children who have heard/seen my presentation
  • 5,000 = number of giveaway bookmarks I ordered
  • 10 = number of Indie book shops and other stores that sell my book
  • 23 = number of states my book buyers come from
  • 21 = number of months it took me to write and publish my book
  • 29 = number of art car parades Houston has hosted since 1987
  • 1 = number of art car exhibits inspired by my book so far (Thanks, Northeast Louisiana Children’s Museum and Melissa Saye!)
  • 1 = number of bearded men driving a Santa Claus car I’ve met (Hi, Bryan Taylor!)
  • Countless = number of art car daily drivers and other new friends I’ve met as a result of writing this book.

FUN FACTS:

  • Canada = country where my book was printed
  • Venezuela = purchase made from the farthest away
  • Roswell, New Mexico = most interesting city represented by a buyer (Hmm, aliens?)
  • Patsy Stamps Graham = name of person who thinks she bought the first copy of my book (Thanks, Mom!)
  • John Cooper = name of person who actually bought the first copy (Sorry, Mom, but I’m finally admitting that he beat you to it!)
  • Connie May Bingham = name of person who made the first online Amazon purchase
  • Jason Rounds = friend who drove the farthest to attend a book signing event (Jason and his daughter drove 1 hour from Texarkana to Shreveport). Two of my relatives, Shawna and Amanda Cotten, did the same!
Front page of the Houston Chronicle's neighborhood section!

Thank you, Houston Chronicle, for the front page Community Extra article!

THANK YOU, to Bill Megenhardt, for your amazing illustrations and wonderful collaboration. And, THANK YOU, to everyone out there who helped make my publishing success possible. I appreciate every book purchase, every Facebook like or share, every re-tweeted Twitter message, and every friend or stranger who showed up at a book signing event. I appreciate all the creative art car artists who have welcomed me into their fold.

The thing I’m the most proud of is that Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car has inspired so many children to open up their imagination in countless ways. I remember the boy from a Houston school who said, “Mrs. Nickell, I went straight home after your talk and wrote and drew my very own art car book.” I feel like I’ve left a small mark on the world, and it’s been a life-changing experience for me.

Be like Arthur Zarr … be amazing!

 

 

If These Scars Could Talk

I remember a story I overheard or saw on television as a child when I was about ten years old. It was the 1970s, before lasers were available to remove tattoos. The story I heard was about a woman who wanted a heart-shaped tattoo removed from her derrière. Apparently the doctor incised the heart tattoo and stitched up the wound. The scar that the excision left was in the shape of a capital letter Y. I remember thinking to myself, “She better marry someone whose name starts with a Y, otherwise her husband might get jealous!” Something about that heart-turned-into-a-Y-shaped-scar always intrigued me. That woman had a story to tell!

In the third grade, a broken femur set me on the path to scardom!

At age nine, I earned my own first noticeable scars when I broke my femur. My parents bought a small Suzuki motorcycle, and they’d take us kids out for rides on a piece of country property that our family owned. I was too young to ride the motorcycle alone, so I climbed on the back and hung on behind one of my father’s friends. It was an accident; Emile certainly didn’t want me to get hurt. But, a piece of barbed wire was dangling in our path, and it snared the wheel, yanking the bike onto my leg. I still remember the pain and the long drive to the hospital. The orthopedic surgeon inserted a metal pin through my leg to set me up for traction. After six weeks in the hospital, six weeks at home in a body cast, and several weeks on crutches, my femur finally healed. Over 40 years later, I still think about that accident whenever I see the small scars on either side of my right leg where the pin was.

SCARS = EXPERIENCES:

Most of us don’t like scars. Right? If you Google the word “scar,” numerous plastic surgery and dermatology websites for scar removal pop up. Apparently there’s a lot of money to be made in getting rid of our scars. Everyone wants beautiful, flawless skin that’s free of freckles, moles and wrinkles. But, if you think about it, scars equate to experiences. Every scar has a story. Without my stories—and my scars—who would I be? The memory of spending much of third grade in traction has stayed with me all these years. I remember feeling trapped in the body cast (i.e., itches I couldn’t scratch, places I couldn’t go, embarrassing moments I couldn’t escape). I remember being afraid to have the cast removed, because it kept me safely cocooned for so long. Later, my broken femur story inspired a college English essay, and the professor cited it to the class as “an example of an A+ paper.” My broken leg also led me to draft a children’s chapter book based on the experience (yet to be published).

I acquired other scars over the years, too. There’s a small one on my knee from a cut I received in a high school car accident. I think of my friend Linda when I see that scar, because she was in the car with me. The car was totaled, but Linda and I were okay. In adulthood, two cesarean section deliveries left a thin zipper across my lower abdomen. My sons are the result of those childbirth experiences, and the scars remind me of bringing Mason (25) and Will (16) into the world. There’s also the one on my back where I had a benign skin cancer removed. The basal cell carcinoma was likely the result of childhood sunburns, and that scar brings back memories of a particularly hot family beach trip to Corpus Christie, Texas one summer.

EXPERIENCES = GROWTH:

Despite rupturing my Achilles tendon, I found a way to attend my recent book launch events for "Arthur Zarr's Amazing Art Car."

Despite rupturing my Achilles tendon, I found a way to attend my recent book launch events for “Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car.”

My most recent scar is fresh! Still healing. It runs up the back of my ankle, due to having a ruptured Achilles tendon surgically repaired two weeks ago. I was on a snow skiing vacation in Telluride, Colorado for Spring Break. I guess I was skiing to the right while a young man turned too fast to the left. Our skis crossed, and I flew out of control into some trees. It was a frightening experience, and I immediately felt intense heat throughout my ankle. I thought it was another broken leg bone, but I was wrong. It turned out to be a 6.5-centimeter tear in my Achilles tendon requiring immediate surgery.

This latest injury has left me dependent on family and friends. I cannot do much for myself, and it’s important to keep the foot elevated to prevent swelling. Since it’s my right foot, I can’t drive a car for a few months. I’m fortunate to have a husband, sons, parents, sisters, and friends who don’t mind taking care of me. I dislike being dependent on them, but I’m learning that the Beatles were right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.

My scars aren’t so bad. They tell a story. They’re a literal skin road map of life that allows me to retrace my varied experiences. They reveal a sense of adventure. The scars also point out that I might be a bit clumsy! I don’t know yet what my new ankle scar looks like, but I’ll find out in a few days when the doctor unwraps the soft cast. I’ll laugh if it’s shaped like a capital letter Y.

Tell me about your scars!

 

© 2018 Cathey Graham Nickell