I took my wife and son down to the Riverside Art Museum over the weekend for Mother’s Day, almost on a lark. I’ve been with my wife for twenty years now (married for 12) and my son is 10; that’s twenty years’ worth of conventional valentines gifts and 10 solid years of conventional Mother’s Day presents which, after a while, kind of lose their impact. This time around, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary and take my family to see something beautiful.
We arrived at the same time as the woman here in the above photo. Her name is Cindy (or perhaps Cindi) Herrera. She’s a local and seems to spend some of her weekends riding about on a bike outfitted with a cart that happens to be loaded up with three typewriters. Three clunky, ancient, impossible to efficiently use typewriters.
Immediately, we were drawn in. For some odd and wonderful reason, my kid (in an era of tablets and Youtube and other various wastes of time) is nearly obsessed with typewriters; every time he passes one in an antique store he wants to run his hands all over it and press the keys to see how they work. He has an incredibly mechanical mind and something about being able to see the physicality of the typebars raise up out of the machine to strike the paper at the press of a button demands his attention.
I asked her what it was all about as my son investigated. She offered a lovely smile and said that it was a little project she was working on. She would set up shop somewhere likely to get some good foot traffic, write various questions at the top of the paper on each typewriter, and ask passersby to come respond to these questions. The questions could be anything. “Tell me something important from your childhood”, or something similar. She said, “You don’t get to delete or revise what you write. Whatever you set down is what it is, forever, typos and all.” Apparently, she was compiling everything she collected into either an art exhibit or book, but I regret to say I can’t remember what the ultimate finished product would be.
I have since tried to find some kind of social media presence for Cindy or her project but have failed to get anything remotely close outside of a similar project being run in New York. I’d love to know more about what she’s doing and what the finished product will be.
Ultimately, I’m hoping you who read this will share this around, perhaps help it to go a little viral (at least among the locals in Riverside, CA), and get a response from Cindy herself.
I loved the idea behind what she was doing and assured her that we would be coming back out to contribute after we had gone through the museum (she wasn’t finished setting up when we arrived and needed time to get everything situated). She thanked me and waved as we passed through the door.
After the museum (which was delightful yet had nowhere near as much impact on me personally as the typewriter project, as you’ll see) we came back out to meet with Cindy. All of her prompts had been established and she was already seeing some healthy foot traffic. There was a man and woman standing in front of one of the typewriters on the left side of the cart. The woman was typing out a passage clumsily, using only her index fingers. I can’t recall the details of her face, only her teeth, which were bright and gleaming in the sun as she smiled. The man, who I assumed to be her husband, stood behind her, smiling as well but more reserved.
In the meantime, my wife, son, and I looked at some of the other prompts to see what the subject under discussion was. On the center station, a question read, “What can we do to improve relations in the local community?” This was a generic question as far as I could tell; my son and I both rattled something out, equally generic and not worth mentioning.
I looked back up at the station on my right and saw that the woman and man from before were replaced now by my wife, who was looking down at the sheet. The two who were there before her had gone without me noticing. My wife only stared, not moving to write anything.
I came to stand by her and read the question on the paper.
“Describe something from your history that had a major impact on your life.”
Under this was the following.
“Dear cancer, you saved my life and made me enjoy the things i
have in my life.
What are you grateful for?”
– Unknown Survivor
Both of us felt as though we couldn’t get enough air. My wife took a few steps back, put up her hands, and said, “Well, what do you write after that? I got nothing.”
I couldn’t take my eyes off the paper. It just sat there looking back up at me; challenging me. I’d forgotten what the original question at the top of the paper even said. I just kept re-reading that last line.
“What are you grateful for?”
I put my hands on the keys; took them off. I blanked my mind, put my index fingers on two keys, and then wrote the first coherent though I had.
“She said ‘Yes’.”