1001 Black Men #957


On the New York Subway, April 2016.


I love riding commuter trains, whether its BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, the subway in New York City, the T in Boston, or the Metro in Washington, DC. I like it because riding public transportation is often easier, especially if you don’t enjoy circling the block in search of parking. It also provides me with a block of time in which the wi-fi is either spotty or nonexistent, so I can do nothing but read or listen to music.

The main reason I like commuter trains, though, is because riding them makes me feel like a grownup. That might sound peculiar, coming from someone who is less than two months away from turning 50.  But, if  you grew up on Long Island, like I did, it might make a little more sense. You see, when I was a kid, the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) was primarily a commuter pipeline, shuttling working men (and I use the word men quite literally) from the bedroom communities of Long Island to their offices in Manhattan. Unlike its bigger sister, the New York subway system, which really, truly served the masses, kids usually only rode the LIRR on fieldtrips to Manhattan; and when we got on board, we were surrounded mostly by men in their business suits, briefcases at their side, reading the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on their way to work. For me, riding the LIRR into Manhattan, carrying a briefcase, reading the paper, and looking very important and serious was what adulthood was all about. Because he worked on Long Island and not in The City, my dad didn’t take the railroad, but, every morning, after reading the paper over breakfast, he would pick up his briefcase, put on the last piece of his suit (the jacket), and head out to the car to do the other thing that felt really adult to me, drive the Long Island Expressway to work.

Luck would have it that I’ve never lived more than two miles away from any place I’ve worked, and so I’ve never really had a commute of any kind. Maybe that’s why I can romanticize the idea of depending on public transit. It still feels to me like the people who pick up their briefcases and hop on the train to get to their places of work are having one of those singular adult experiences that I have not. This is not to say that, living in the Bay Area and seeing the stress and the cost of commuting, I actually want a longer ride to work. I know how good I have it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Still, it’s fun to hop on the commuter train and feel like a real grownup, every now and then.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #956


Here’s another portrait from outside the Honey Bistro Restaurant. While the brother in the previous post drew my attention because of his audacious style of dress (fake fur on a not-particularly-cold day), I was drawn to this guy’s nerdiness. It felt so very relatable, Indeed, looking at him with his glasses, his double chin and his Eisenhower jacket was a little like looking into a slightly warped mirror.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #955


The last few posts were portraits I made in New York, and now I have a couple from San Francisco. I was walking down one of streets on the edge of SOMA and I saw this man sitting on the benches outside the Honey Bistro Restaurant. The backpack, fake fur hat, and fake fur coat posed an interesting challenge, in that I wasn’t sure I could easily capture their texture in a simple line drawing. I contemplated using comic dots or cross-hatching, and then I realized I’d prefer to keep the figure simple and monochrome.

Ajuan Mance,

1001 Black Men #952


On the last day of our spring 2015 trip to Brooklyn, my partner and I took a few hours to go up to Harlem, have lunch at Manna’s Soul Food and look for some of the street vendors who used to be so plentiful around 125th St. As we strolled around the neighborhood, it became clear to us that the once-lively street vendor culture of Harlem had greatly diminished by the demographic and economic changes in the community. The man in this drawing was one of the few vendors still left on 125th street, and when we stopped to admire his cleverly designed Black power- and Black history-themed t-shirts, he greeted us with the usual inquiries about where we were visiting from and whether or not we’d been to the City before.

Over the next 20 or so minutes, he regaled us with fascinating stories of his family, his struggles, his encounters with law enforcement, and his lively and spirited mother (who he clearly admired). I could probably have enjoyed another 20 minutes of stories, if I hadn’t been so worried about getting to the airport on time.

He most certainly had a lot more stories to tell. I hope I run into him again, some time. He was an amazing man with a warm and welcoming spirit, whose experiences had left him not embittered, but empowered and incredibly resilient.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #951


Here’s another portrait from Gunther’s Ice Cream, Sacramento. The man in this drawing was sitting across from the man in the previous drawing. Their ice cream cones were long gone, but they showed no sign of leaving. It was the kind of very hot Sacramento afternoon on which the only thing that really made sense was to sit down and move as little as possible, until  well after the sun went down.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #950


Outside Gunther’s Ice Cream, Sacramento, California.


Pretty much every place I’ve ever visited has its own required ice cream pilgrimage. Some places have more than one. Are you familiar with this phenomenon? Pretty much every place I’ve ever visited has at least one ice cream store that the local residents regard with the same reverence as a religious shrine. (Actually, for the right person, an ice cream parlor is a religious shrine.)

In Sacramento, one such place is Gunther’s Ice Cream, located in a low-slung, wedge-shaped building at the intersection of Franklin Boulevard, 3rd Avenue, and Castro Way. Like most ice cream shrines in the summertime, Gunther’s had a line of customers that stretched out the door. The lined moved quickly, though, and the customers seemed perfectly willing to tolerate the long queue. Apparently, in their estimation, the ice cream was worth the wait.

While I generally avoid this particular treat, my partner worships ice cream as a god. Whenever we travel, she samples the local offerings; and so I take  her opinions on the subject of which parlors are good and which parlors have room for improvement  quite seriously. Gunther’s may be pleased to know that my fabulous partner thought their ice cream was delicious. In all honesty, I could easily see her coming up with excuses to go to Sacramento just to try a few more Gunther’s flavors.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #949


I wish I could remember this guy’s name. He was really nice, and he had a great smile. Also, he was friends with my partner’s friend, T-Mark, and so I knew he had to be a great person. We ran into the two of them at an art exhibit I was participating in at SOMArts, in San Francisco. It was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t know T-Mark terribly well, and he’s more my partner’s friend than mine;  but he’s one of those people who always has a warm smile and kind words to share. When I think about the public perception of Black men as tough guys who’s emotion range extends from stoicism to rage, I feel sad for those people in the majority–actually, I feel sad for all those people outside of Blackness–whose negative stereotypes of African American manhood will prevent them from ever having the benefit of the warmth, love, and friendship of a guy like T-Mark or the friendly smile of a guy like his friend.

Ajuan Mance

1001 Black Men #948


Here’s one last portrait from my trip to the Claremont branch of the Oakland DMV.

Now that I’ve discovered the sketchbook solution to passing the time in the waiting area, I’m actually looking forward to my next trip to the DMV.

Of course, some might suggest that I make an appointment and avoid the line entirely; but that would require a level of organization of which I am not currently capable.

Ajuan Mance

An Online Sketchbook @8-Rock.com