Healing through story

Mannequin Monday – The Driver and the Passenger

Mannequin Monday – The Driver and the Passenger

collage phots of mannequin heads

Welcome back for another Mannequin Monday. Today we dress the blank form, the empty page, with art and image. Writer/artist Austin Kleon inspired me with one of his recent blog posts. He focused on artist David Hockney’s photo collage Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2.

I also add writing of my own, my attempt to create a word collage reminiscent of Hockney’s photo collage.

This Week’s Story

As referenced by Austin Kleon, the website for the Getty Museum features a short explanation by David Hockney on how he came to create the Pearblossom Highway photo collage. The artist in Kleon looks at the collage element. For me I see parallels to writing in the Hockney collage.

David Hockney, The Guardian

Hockney says of his piece, “I’d had three days of driving and being the passenger. The driver and the passenger see the road in different ways. When you drive you read all the road signs, but when you’re the passenger, you don’t, you can decide to look where you want. And the picture dealt with that: on the right-hand side of the road it’s as if you’re the driver, reading traffic signs to tell you what to do and so on, and on the left-hand side it’s as if you’re a passenger going along the road more slowly, looking all around. So the picture is about driving without the car being in it.” 

Hockney’s description reminds me of the different approaches writers take to their work. One, the planner, zeroing in on outlines, details, how-to. The other, the “pantser.” The one who flies by the seat of his pants, discovering the story as he writes. Both approaches are, of course, valid.

Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2. Getty Museum

And for a writer, looking at a story from two different points of view always makes for good story. Look at your scene from the POV of a car driver. The one in control. The one who steers the story, the movement. And the passenger. The one with the opportunity for wonder, for seeing the peripheral. The one who can take in the beauty, or the decay, surrounding the scene.

Hockney’s photo collage sets it all up for a writer. On one half is the driver, the steering, the signs. On the other, the passenger taking in the view. The desert scenery, as well as the trash on the side of the road.

My Current Writing

Inspired by David Hockney’s photocollage Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2, I wrote a short story about a driver and a passenger moving south on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu. Two different perspectives. The driver focused on traffic, speed, time constraints, plans. The passenger, alive only to absorbing the surrounding scenes. A word collage of sorts. The driver: alert to traffic, schedule, facts. The passenger keying on beauty, color, the scent of ocean air. Please enjoy the story.

South on PCH

Late morning, Saturday in April. Malibu, California. Sky an electric shade of blue.

Driver: Waits at red light to enter Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). He’s making a left from Malibu Canyon Road to go south. Thumbs drumming on steering wheel. “Always a long wait for this light.”

Passenger: A broad green lawn rises to Pepperdine University on her right. Santa Monica Mountains loom behind Pepperdine. “Ever go on campus?”

Driver: Watching for his green arrow. “No.”

Passenger: “I read the students were upset about the shelter in place order during the last wildfire.”

Driver: Gets his green arrow. Turns left, moves into left or two lanes heading south. “This lane moves faster along here.” A speed advisory sign ahead flashes his speed as 50 in a 45 zone.

Passenger: Points to ball fields on a bluff between PCH and the ocean. “Looks like a great place for a baseball game.”

Driver: No reply. Watching the brake lights ahead as he comes down the hill into Malibu’s Civic Center. “More red lights.”

Passenger: “That’s the celebrity Colony over there, right? Smaller than I expected.”

Driver: Gestures to his left while he waits for the green light. “Used to be a great taco place there. Howdy’s. And a real lumberyard. Got some MDF board cut there. Other lumberyards won’t cut it. Too much dust.”

Passenger: Nods. Stares at Malibu Lagoon on the right. Where Malibu Creek runs into the ocean. Slides her window down and breathes in the ocean air.

Driver: Moves ahead. “Surf’s up today. Look at the traffic.”

Passenger: Sees cars with surfboards tied on their roofs double parked, waiting for a spot. Surfers pulling on wetsuits. People walking on the sidewalk. Off the road, down on Surfrider Beach, surfers crowd the water like a spray of black watermelon seeds. Beach umbrellas dot the sand. Further out, kayakers paddle by.

aerial view of PCH at Surfrider Beach
PCH Malibu. Santa Monica Daily Press

 Driver: “Damn, another red light.” He runs his hand through his hair. “I hope we’re not late. It’s still a long way to Santa Monica.” 

Passenger: “The entrance to the Malibu Pier is really cool.” She watches people stream onto the pier. “So deco.”

Driver: Stares at a mob of pedestrians crossing PCH. 

Passenger: Sees brightly colored beach towels, sunglasses, fishing rods. Little kids in tow.

Driver: Gestures to a fast food Jack in the Box on his left. “I hope we get there early enough to eat. I skipped breakfast.”

Passenger: “Uh huh.” Spots a man holding a tourist book and a camera.

Driver: Watches the traffic light intently. Foot hovering over the gas pedal. As he pulls away from the pier, he watches for cars in the center median waiting to make turns. Always tricky through here.

Passenger: “What’s out on the pier?”

Driver: “Not much now. Just fishing and hanging out. Used to be a Ruby’s restaurant out at the end. It’s closed.”

Passenger: Spies a shuttered restaurant along the road. Muses. Great location for a restaurant.

Driver: Alert for erratic traffic. Small beach houses crowd the side of the road boardering the beach. Cars parked in every available spot. Cars crammed into tiny driveways. Cars waiting to make turns from the center median. He is only vaguely aware of the concrete barriers and the steel mesh draping the rock walls to his left. Rockslides are common.

Passenger: “These houses…I’d love to live here all summer.”

Driver: “Lots of them are rentals.” He moves to the right lane as they approach the walkway over PCH. “This lane will move faster from here down to Santa Monica.”

Passenger: Gazes at the now-visible beach. Some sunbathers dot the beach. A few yellow and red umbrellas. Little kids wade at the water’s edge. She lifts her gaze. Dolphins! Five, ten? Swimming north, parallel to the beach. Fins glistening in the late morning sun. Another deep breath. Salt air. A hint of sunscreen on the breeze.

Driver: Watches the road carefully. Brake lights blaze. Traffic is slowing. “Shit.”

Passenger: “It’s cool. They’ll wait for us.” Her eyes are riveted on the dolphins. The ocean. The sky.



  1. Tom Magill

    It reminded me of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – a powerful examination of how we live and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Again, a journey with two people, a father and his young son on a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, to complete the Chautauqua spiritual journey, It’s not where we go but how we go that matters and what we decide to focus on during the ride! Great work Bob!

    • Bob Gillen

      Thanks Tom! I am looking forward to viewing Mickey B…

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