The store was sold out of the card, so Bill hustled off to requisition one from storage. But not before introducing me to Sonya, the cherubic, middle-aged, African-American woman behind the counter. "He's working on a book about Hopper," Bill whispered conspiratorially as he left. Sonya flashed a winning, serene smile that bore his exuberance with the patience of a mother towards her child.
When I asked her about the Hopper, she sighed, "I have to confess, it's not one of my favorites. It's more like in a big city. I used to live in Chicago, but I moved back here. In Chicago, you’ll be walking downtown and you know you're annoying people who are trying to walk faster. They don’t say anything, but you can feel it. Muskegon has the best of both worlds. People are friendlier here, but it still has a lot to offer culturally."
Bill came back not only waving the card, but also towing a spry, gray-haired woman he had recruited to be part of the project. She weighed me through big, slightly skewed glasses, which she gingerly adjusted with the tips of her two middle fingers.
"Hi," she croaked and announced her name in a voice redolent of ash and gravel. "Micki. I moved here from Detroit and worked in this store for eight years. What do you wanna know about Hopper? I love his work, and New York Restaurant is certainly one of the more popular works here. When it went to a show in Japan, it was chosen for the cover of the exhibition catalog. All of my children have prints of it, and they live now in Denver and California. I think everyone can relate to his paintings. The things are recognizable, and he puts you right there. You can imagine that you are in his paintings. You can imagine what the man and the woman in New York Restaurant are like."
"Is there a place like that in Muskegon?"
"No. There used to be. It was called 'On the Avenue' and had big windows, with the café curtains and a banana tree plant and a fireplace. But you don't see those places any more."
I thanked her for her time and paid Sonya for the card Bill had fetched. Then, I set off to get a feel for the town.