I’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the images created during street painting aren’t really pictures. They’re more like scattered and silly feelings.
Not even the professors can stand in their way. They feel it coming too — when the politics students look longingly through Meredith’s tinted windows to the white-washed sidewalk below, or when young pharmacy professionals rush through a chemistry lab to run along the painted street. And while instructors might snap their fingers or say sharp words, they can’t really be mad about what their pupils are thinking — maybe because they are thinking about it themselves.
Student leaders sketch the squares for hours while the anticipation grows. First-year students eye the growing crowd as they walk to class. They’ve been hearing about this event since September, and even before that. They’ve heard the eagerness in a veteran painter’s voice when he tries to explain what it’s like and can’t quite capture it because he’s already forgotten his audience, lost again among the vibrant colors. During street painting, Drake’s colors expand far beyond blue and white.
Something comes over you when you step on the squares. I always feel like I’ve found something I didn’t know I’d lost. It doesn’t take long to get caught up in the mess, and even less time to become part of it.
It’s a freedom to run around the backyard as much as you want, screaming and yelling as loud as you want while elders watch from afar, smiling because they remember what it was like. It’s being a child without being a child, a perfect balance of responsibility and recklessness.
Rumors of a “streaker” inevitably surface. Although people will laugh about it, they keep darting their eyes, not entirely sure it won’t happen.
Personal boundaries vanish. Handprints appear on butts, bellies and boobs and nobody seems to care — why would they? There is no malicious intent.
The upperclassmen see people they don’t see often, and they run to each other in laughing groups, slapping wet hands that leave visible marks of green, black and yellow. Their mark stays with every person they meet, and the underclassmen might well wear it many times during their remaining Drake years.
First-year students stick out. They’re the ones with thick layers of painted hair that won’t come out for weeks and sleeveless clothing they’ll regret wearing when they unintentionally rip the hair off their arms in the showers near Olmsted or the cold Herriott hose.
The resident assistants sit by the residence hall doors and watch like hawks, keeping a vigilant post against the colorful collegian that intends to slip through their clutches. The painters think they’re jealous of the fun, but that isn’t the case. Just like everybody else, they’ve got a job to do if Relays is to be successful — and they do it well.
Then, it’s a mad rush to the showers for the hot water that doesn’t last long. People really start screaming, pushing and shoving, but it’s still all part of the fun. Blue, red and pink flecks adorn the shower stalls of a countless number of homes lining the side streets that stretch away from Drake, portions of paint that didn’t have quite enough time to dry before their shivering hosts leapt fully clothed into their baths.
The aftermath of street painting fades quickly. Broken sandals are thrown away. Lost keys and cell phones are brought to Olmsted. The trampled grass returns to a normal shade of green.
Street painting is a wonderful madness. Despite the chaos, somehow the street always gets painted. It’s beautiful, in a way, and one of the best representations of Drake. Our student body isn’t perfect. We often struggle with our schedules, make bad decisions and fall down on our faces. Yet the squares always look magnificent, year after year after year.
The trunks of the trees are still speckled with yellow, gold and brilliant, unnatural indigo. Maybe the squares beneath the new layer of paint are still there, in some way.
Walk along the squares and breathe in. Look at the marks on the tree trunks, read each and every square.
Go back to a time when you wiped a brush across another person’s face. Think about how they affected your life. Smile at how easy it all seems now.
Pass the brush. Leave a swatch of paint where it won’t wash away.