‘Man in Van’ on recession story odyssey
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: People have been reacting to this recession different ways. When 29-year-old Aaron Heideman got laid off from his job at a paint store, he says life really hit a wall. He moved into his van and he got to thinking about how other people were handling things too. So on July 1st he started driving around the country in that van — collecting stories about the recession for what has turned into art project. Aaron, it’s good to have you here.
Aaron Heideman: Yeah, thank you.
Ryssdal: It’s not often we have to ask somebody exactly where they are when we get them on the radio. But where’d we track you down today?
Heideman: I’m in Pittsburgh today and I’m collecting stories from people affected by the recession. I’m just trying to hear from as many people as I can. There are a lot of different people. There’s actually a guy trying to wave me down right now.
Ryssdal: What’s your day been like? Day in and day out, do you go out and people just come up and tell their stories?
Heideman: Pretty much. When I pull into a town I kind of find the central hub, the downtown area. Try to find out where the foot traffic is. And where I’m going to get a lot of different unique perspective from people in that city. And most of the time I’m able to have my roll of Tyvek paper next to my van where I can let people write their stories on the paper or on the vehicle.
Ryssdal: For those of us who don’t know, what exactly is Tyvek paper?
Heideman: Tear-proof, water-proof paper. It’s kind of the same sort of material they use for like FedEx packaging. But I have a roll, it’s 5 feet by 50 yards. And it is pretty much, there’s still room here and there for more stories, but it’s covered from one side to the other.
Ryssdal: How are you paying for this? I mean you have to do something to get by, don’t you?
Heideman: When I started this, I had $300 in my bank account and I just said, ‘you know what, I’m going to just do this.’ I had actually purchased a whole bunch of t-shirts, as many as I could afford. I’ve been selling t-shirts, not nearly as much as I would hope. But a lot of people, they just love what I’m doing and so they throw me 10 bucks, 20 bucks. It pretty much all goes to gas.
Ryssdal: There must be an amazing number of sad stories out there.
Heideman: You know, I heard from a guy in South Carolina. He’s a realtor. He was making $100,000 a year. This year he’s only made $6,000. He was out celebrating his 28th wedding anniversary with his savings. He really hasn’t made much at all this year. But he didn’t want to think about it. He just wanted to spend the night celebrating with his wife. He just wanted to think about what he has.
Ryssdal: What’s next for you and this roll of paper after Pittsburgh? You’re going to put it in an art exhibit, I understand?
Heideman: Yeah, it’s an art contest. It’s a big deal for Grand Rapids, Mich. They have a $250,000 grand prize. There’s 1,200 artists involved. I’m just one of them, but figured this would be a really good opportunity to express what I have to say, which is everyone else needs to have an outlet. There are so many people in need of that. People just need a voice.
Ryssdal: Aaron Heideman — living out of his van, traveling the country, collecting people’s stories of this recession. Aaron, thanks a lot.
Heideman: Yeah, thank you so much.
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