By David Hutton, The StarPhoenix
Originally Published: Saturday, May 26, 2007
"It's like x's and o's," said Hicks, his voice grizzled.
His right hand draws quickly while his left manoeuvres the white board. When he glances up to chat or answer a question his hands keep moving, like clockwork, the work slowly coming in to view, as if he's drawn it a million times, as if the end result was never in question.
Hicks finishes the body, then the sails, then, for good measure, an anchor in the bottom left corner.
Voila, a Sailor Dan original - a sail boat, the same drawing you've seen a hundred times in Saskatoon, in kitchens, bedrooms, basements and living rooms, behind shop counters and being held up by Dan as he panhandles in front of this store and that.
Everybody knows Sailor Dan. At least that's what everybody tells you. There's even a group on Facebook, the social networking website, dedicated to him called Friends of Sailor Dan, which has more than 900 members trading stories, memories and sailboat sightings.
"I'll never forget seeing Sailor Dan running across Broadway in leather chaps and a leather vest and then the next day he was in full sailor garb . . . he's such an awesome guy!" says one post. "We picked him up once and took him to a party. He ate all of our raw hot dogs and then left," says another.
When Hicks sees the site for the first time, his bad vision forcing him to squint at the screen, he's astonished.
"A guy like me has all these friends," he said, smiling in disbelief. "It's like waking up and it's your birthday."
At a concert at Lydia's pub earlier this month, the frontman for the Apostles of Hustle started describing a guy he'd seen outside before the show. Before he could finish the anecdote, the crowd yelled out, in unison, "Sailor Dan."
In Saskatoon, "there really isn't anybody that does what he does," says "Kiwi," Dan's close friend, Kerwin Hein. "In Toronto or Vancouver, lots of guys are doing what he does. In Saskatoon, he's a novelty, he sticks out like a sore thumb."
Along his regular route, down Eighth Street to Broadway Avenue and back, he receives nods and hellos from the workers of almost every store. At the PetroCan gas station, one of his more frequent stops, some of the staff consider him a good friend.
"If I went somewhere else," Dan says, "nobody would know me."
"Every day's a holiday," Dan said. "That's why I never leave town."