As part of our portrait series, we’ve decided to add little two-line captions to our paintings and sculptures of combat veterans. We hung the show yesterday, and on the wall near one sculpture/painting combination, we put this label: “Between sessions posing for his portrait, he attempted to set a record collecting stamps for the McMenamins passport from all 53 locations in less than 24 hours—he concluded it’s impossible without a helicopter.”
Once in a while sculptor Christopher Wagner and I did audio recordings of a session as we worked on our two-media portraits of combat veterans. Some of the most entertaining clips came from Jack O’Neal, a senior enlisted Army psychological operations specialist who also served as a translator in Iraq.
Jack is a tinkerer, a constant rethinker. We portrayed him with one of his inventions, a glove to help bicyclists make visible hand signals at night—very Portland, we thought. Jack said he was sick of almost crashing into cyclists after dark when he drove his car, so he made a glove for the left hand that presents different flashing arrows depending on which direction the hand is raised, whether out to the left for a left turn, bent up for a right turn, or bent down to signal “stop.”
“Wait,” Chris asked. “You’re not a cyclist?” Nope, said Jack. He just saw a problem that needed to be fixed.
That combination of creativity and tenacity seems to permeate his entire life.
Jack told us one day all about his aquaponics work, which he learned how to do in Afghanistan. It’s essentially a fish bowl that grows food. “I’ve got basil, cherry tomatoes; I’ve got green beans, just off one little goldfish,” he said. “You can do tilapia, trout. Next time we’re gonna do trout. I like the trout taste.”
Then came the conversation about McMenamins, an Oregon company known for turning historical buildings into pubs, hotels and theatres, saving them from demolition and turning a profit across the state. This time the tape recorder was rolling when Jack told us about the company’s “Cosmic Tripster” passport (a term he said he dislikes because it makes holders of the passport sound like drug addicts). He and his wife traveled to every McMenamins location this past summer, acquiring stamps in little books that the company sells for $25. When they finished they got a bunch of prizes, including a six-night stay in one of the McMenamins hotels.
Problem: Jack had just gone swimming and ruined his fully-stamped passport.
Solution: Try to get all the stamps in another passport in under 24 hours, setting a McMenamins Cosmic Tripster land speed record in the process.
“I wanted to do this anyway, so it kind of works out for me,” he said. “I’ve already started planning the route, and I think I’d have to start in Bend around 7pm. If you hit the Bend locations, you drive down to Roseburg, and then you start working your way up I-5 and get as far as you can—I think if you can make it to the McMinnville one before they close down and get those stamps, I think you could be set up for the next day to have a successful day and get it completed before 7pm. But with some of my initial calculations, we’re looking at having to drive like 85 miles an hour the entire way. But if you’re working with somebody, you basically have a navigator, the guy filming it, the copilot. He can do multiple roles…”
Maybe the way to go would be with two vehicles, he said, one as cop bait. Also, he had to plan to tackle the treasure hunts at certain locations. An aspiring Cosmic Tripster has to do a “photo hunt” at Edgefield, for example, to prove he was there.
A friend of his is an amateur filmmaker who would help crew the adventure, film it, and Jack could do a Kickstarter campaign for a rental car, fuel, and food during the attempt.
That campaign didn’t happen, but the attempt did. Jack ended up going solo on the road, driving all over Oregon to get stamps (I didn’t ask how fast), but he came up short and admitted he’d just have to travel faster to get it done. Next try, he’ll have to add a good helicopter pilot to the crew.
Between Here and There, a two-media portrait project that I and Christopher Wagner have been brushing and carving into all year, goes on display tomorrow, November 7, 2014, at Good Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The series is funded through a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.