Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Remembering the Tan Man

During my Oread odyssey (1984-1985), my college roommates and I threw wild parties at our mansion on Tennessee street. We hired bands like The Dancing Bears and bought kegs of beer for our thirsty friends and their thirsty friends. It was open house and the pinnacle of our Oread party experience was the moment one Saturday night when a shirtless middle-aged man in a leather jacket stopped in for brew. He was the Tan Man, a Lawrence legend if there ever was one. We had arrived.

"How was the party?" someone asked me at class the following Monday. "Pretty good," I replied, "the Tan Man was there." That's all one had to say. There was no need to gauge a party barometer beyond that statement. The appearance of the Tan Man said it all and here's why.

The Tan Man was not a social creature. Oh sure, he spent part of each school day at Wescoe Beach catching rays, and he wasn't the grumpy sort. But the Tan Man didn't make the scene after dark. He loved the sun and he worked nights. Another famous Lawrence personality, The Olde-Hipeye, also put your party into high status with his patronage, but Matthew was a night owl, a frequent visitor to evening functions. His attendance said less about the magnitude of your gathering than the sight of this gentle man, who rode a bike donated by the K.U. class of 1981.

John Schneider, AKA The Tan Man, disappeared from his concrete sun perch in the late 1980s. I wondered what happened. His back was beyond tan, it was the color and consistency of a well basted turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Did he die of cancer or perhaps leave town for warmer climes? Praise the Lord and pass the sun screen. The Tan Man Lives!


Anonymous said...

OMG...I was on campus at KU today for a field trip with my 8th grader, and I actually thought about the Tan Man! I wondered if he was still alive, still tanning. I thought about telling all of those 14 year olds about him, but I knew my words could not do justice to the legend that he was, and to his strangely important role in my personal experience while I was a student there. He was like a reliable old dog that you could count to be there every time you came home. We all knew that, short of a blizzard (and even then maybe), the Tan Man could be seen virtually every day, baking his leathery skin to the brink of combustion. It was oddly comforting. Even my memory of him today makes me smile, thinking of the days when life consisted of just a few simple things like friends, booze, and oh yeah, a little education.

Julie Tait

David Fisher said...

I was a student at KU 1970-1975, and again 1979-1981. I often saw the TanMan (John Schneider, now 63) riding his bike on Tennessee or Kentucky streets. I never spoke to him. I recently received an alumnai newsletter where he was featured (and also in the Lawrence newspaper). He is alive and well, and back in Lawrence....although somewhat anonymous as he wears a shirt more often than in the past. Anyone remember the Red Lion Inn (Hello, my dear, Hello my darlin')?? Good, cheap food, if you knew where it was.