Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly” is a collection of four Harvey Pekar stories, in his usual comic book style. They are not all about Huntington, West Virginia; Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly” is merely the title of one of the stories.
The first three of the four are biographical pieces about people Pekar happens to have met and decided were interesting enough to write about. As usual they are “ordinary” people, rather than the rich and famous, celebrities, etc., and as usual ordinary people turn out to be anything but once you scratch the surface and give them an opportunity to tell you about their lives.
Hollywood Bob is the life story of Pekar’s regular airport limousine driver (and owner of the limousine company) in Cleveland. In their trips to and from the airport, Bob tells Pekar all about his criminal past. From that unpromising beginning, he developed into a very hard and dependable worker in regular jobs, and then a skilled entrepreneur who built a business from scratch. He also tells Pekar some anecdotes about people he has driven in his limousine. (He wasn’t too impressed with Miss America; he had the impression she was looking for a sugar daddy.)
He’s an interesting and in some ways inspiring guy, though his story loses some of its luster when he shares some of his conspiracy theories (though Pekar expresses no skepticism when he does). You see, he has a “friend” in the FBI who sent him “secret” material revealing how a cabal inside and outside the government has engineered the deaths of anyone they perceived as threatening their plans for a one-world government, including President Kennedy and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
Oh well, I guess his eccentricities only make him all the more fitting for a Pekar book.
Tunc and Eileen: Their Ups and Downs is about two people Pekar has gotten to know: a Turkish immigrant and a Jewish woman. They indeed go through many ups and downs, including living in various hippie communes and alternative communities, surviving a bitter divorce and other traumas in earlier relationships, engaging in political activism, and navigating through career instabilities and money problems.
Neighborhood Spark Plug (and My Buddy) is the story of Steve Presser, a man I found quite appealing. He, like Hollywood Bob, is a local Cleveland entrepreneur. He’s the kind of guy who really puts his heart and soul into a business, not as a way of making as much money as possible, but because the business he has chosen is an expression of his values and is his way of adding some positive energy to people’s lives.
He throws himself first into running a classic diner. To find just the right place, he doesn’t limit himself to the Cleveland area but is open to anywhere in the country. It’s not a matter of relocating elsewhere to run the business; once he finds exactly what he wants he has the entire building transported to Cleveland. Then it’s a matter of decorating it precisely how he wants, and in general bringing it into line with his vision, no matter how many hurdles he has to overcome (e.g., the fact that the company that’s supposed to transport the building turns out to be completely crooked), and how much he has to work.
Then he creates a vintage toy story, just a really pleasant, fun, nostalgic place that spreads a little joy to visitors of all ages.
As I say, he’s a pretty cool guy. He has a lot of initiative, and he’s willing to do whatever he has to in order to bring his ideas to fruition and to build something that’ll be a warm and enjoyable environment for people.
The final item in the collection is the title story Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly.” This is the most autobiographical of the four, more like what most people probably associate with Pekar.
Pekar has a presence in the first three pieces as well, as he in part tells those individuals’ stories by way of their interaction with him (in contrast to Unsung Hero, another Pekar book I wrote about recently, which has virtually zero Pekar in it), but this last one has him at the center of the story.
In this concluding adventure, Pekar travels to Huntington, West Virginia to deliver a talk at a book festival. He spends some of his time with a nice couple that runs a comic book store and is making a small indie film of some kind (which he agrees to make a cameo appearance in). He has to chase down the people responsible for paying him for his talk, and they react like there’s something uncouth about his bringing up money when he’s supposed to be an artist.
It’s fun tagging along with Pekar as he interacts with various Huntington eccentrics and such. It’s not like there’s some sophisticated plot, or a lot of really exciting and unexpected things happen, but it’s interesting in the way that real life is interesting if you stop and pay attention to it.
That’s what Pekar does; he helps you to see and appreciate all the normal, and not so normal, little things going on around you in life, and especially to appreciate the people, doing the best they can to make their way through life just like you are. In Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly” he does this at least as well as in the average Pekar book; in fact I felt like this one may have been a little more on the money in that respect than some of his other books. I’d certainly recommend it for Pekar fans, and for that matter it wouldn’t be a bad first book for someone curious about Pekar and wanting to get a sense of his work.