Saturday, March 31, 2012

Everything Is Replaceable

There is an exhibition game going on at Tiger Stadium; admission is free...
I once had a "friend" who, along with a partner,
ripped me off for everything I owned, except the cereal that they didn't like (Grapenuts) and my computer desk (bulky and weighed about 200 pounds).
Looking for a "silver lining" in the situation, I came up with the fact that one of his philosophies, which he passed along to me was: "Everything is replaceable."
What he meant by that, and what resonates even more strongly in present-day America is:
If you up and leave Baton Rouge, for example, and have misgivings about moving away from the excellent library at the college and the store right down the street and the free bus lines, and the places to busk at night where there are drunk college kids, and the people that you meet and become friends with, well, don't sweat it.
You can go somewhere else that has an excellent library at the college and a store right down the street, maybe a free bus line, etc. and within 6 months, you will have attracted new friends that remind you so much of the ones that you left behind that you will talk to them the same way and they will respond the same way and you will find yourself saying things like "You would love "Joe" in Baton Rouge; you two would hit it off right away; you guys are just so alike, he's even a Deadhead!"
There would be "a Burger King right across the street from a Wendy's" (or reasonable facsimile) and the food would taste just like in Baton Rouge...everything is replaceable.
That tidbit of wisdom, (in exchange for all my possessions) was about all I took away from "befriending" that guy. I have yet to replace him with another friend who will steal all my stuff, but I believe that they are out there...
Another thing I learned from him is how to recognize him when I see him -the guy would take his cigarettes with him when he went to use the bathroom in my apartment when we were the only two there...
"I'm not going to steal your cigarettes, John, I've got my own pack!"
"I know, it's just...I have issues with trusting people..."
That was a huge red flag that, at the time,  I was too blind to see... 
My Point
My point is that I am determined to move on, before I (or especially Howard) get too "comfortable" here.
Last night, armed with only the 5 dollars that the lady had given me in the parking lot of the Circle K that morning, I went out at sundown to busk somewhere.
I wound up sitting with Howard and getting tanked up a bit on Milwaukee's Best Ice beer, spending the 5 dollars in the process.
(Howard has started to drink beer pretty regularly now. Before, I had only seen him drink once, in all the time I have known him. He claims that a 24 oz. can of Miller High Life a day helps to keep him "regular.")
I then sat at a spot nearby where Leroy, the local busker, has purportedly been seen playing, and started my case out with a few coins, one of which was a Mardi Gras coin, big and shiny.
About an hour of playing produced only 3 dollars (from one guy) and I took a break, spent one of the dollars on another beer, and went to the sleeping spot, where I lied down. It was about 9 p.m.
I felt like I was going to drift off to sleep, but then weighed the odds of my being able to wake up after a short nap, induced by beer, and be in the frame of mind to go back and busk some more. I didn't like those odds. I also thought about being on the on-ramp of Rt. 10 the next (this) morning, disgusted and with 2 dollars in change on me, trying to go cross country...
I forced myself up and went back and sat even closer to the spot where Leroy purportedly plays.
One guy threw me two bucks, and then a young guy, who said he was from Fort Wayne, Indiana came and sat next to me and told me that he could sing, and that he could especially sing Tom Petty songs.
I did a Tom Petty song which starts with the line "She grew up in an Indiana town..." and the guy from Indiana sang it and then put a bunch of ones in my case.
I Hear Leroy
I stopped playing and could swear that I heard an acoustic guitar being played nearby.
Sure enough, there was an older black gentleman playing guitar about 50 feet down the sidewalk from me.
I approached him and tried to introduce myself.  "Hey, man, I didn't even know you were here; I wouldn't have played right over there if I had known..."
He was a bit smug so, I just wished him luck and started to walk away.
I had a notion and turned back to him and asked "Hey, do you want to jam on a tune?"
"No!," he said. "I don't jam with no one, I'm the star of this show!" Then he went on to imply that he had some kind of political clout which allowed him to busk there, as if it were some great privilege, as is the whole community has embraced him as their local musician and has elevated him to the stature of "busker in front of The Chimes Bar," and that I was being pretentious to think that I had a snowballs chance in hell of jamming along with him.
A girl standing nearby said "Leroy rocks!" as if to punctuate what he was saying, even though I'm sure she couldn't hear what it was.
Leroy had what looked like about 10 one dollar bills in his case, and sounded a bit drunk as he played 50's R&B songs. Someone put a buck in his case and said something complementary, to which Leroy replied "That was from the heart; from the heart, man!"
I decided to retract the courtesy of not playing 50 feet from him, and returned to the spot 50 feet from him, where the guy from Fort Wayne was still sitting.
"That guy kind of had an attitude with me"
"F*** him," said the guy from Indiana. "You sound better than him, I want to hear you play some more"
I played some more, and soon matched the 10 dollars in Leroys case.
Then the guy from Indiana said "You're the coolest dude that I've met so far down here" and gave me 20 bucks, which had "leaving town money" written all over it.
I went to sleep, planning upon getting out there today, off Rt. 10 with a sign that says "Texas," and busking by the side of the road alongside it.
I understand that a guy from Fort Wayne doesn't come along every night and hand you 20 bucks. Without that, I would have netted only about 12 dollars.
Blown Reed?
This morning, I discovered that one of the notes on my harmonica (drawing the "6" hole) does not sound. I had thought that there was something missing on certain songs, but since I play by ear at this point, I didn't pinpoint the problem until this morning.
I unscrewed the outermost screws, but couldn't undo the inside ones, using my only tool, a pocket knife. I'm not sure what I would have done had I gotten it open. I was half expecting to find a breadcrumb jammed under the reed or something.
I will have to play tonight (if I do) without the benefit of that one note. My other harp won't fit on the neck harness thing, as it appears to not be designed to.
I might stay one more night, since it will be a Saturday night, and push my luck a bit with Leroy and his political power. 
I don't know if he will start trouble if he thinks that I am going to make a habit of playing opposite him. I did tell him last night that I was just passing through town, and even threw a dollar in his case, since I had made about 32 of them.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tiger's Bust

...Like Disneyland (if you replace the giant friendly  mouse with a bunch of puking students) 

Tigers "bend" was actually Tiger Land (I wish that people would learn how to pronounce English -would have saved me from walking around getting blank stares as I asked for directions to Tiger's Bend).
And; it sucked. Like a Hoover on steroids, it sucked...
I finally found it, after walking two miles, following directions, such as "Down that way" and stopping at a Circle K, where the dude behind the counter said "Dude, just stand by that pole out front and the free bus will come and take you right there.
The free bus came and I got on. There were two other people sitting across from me, a young black couple.
At the first stop that the free bus made, at an "off campus" apartment complex, the bus loaded up with rowdy students; all of them white, none darker than the one guy, who may have had a little bit of Hawaiian in him. I couldn't help watch, out of the corner of my eye, the black girl watching her black boyfriend out of the corner of her eye, as the white girls streamed onto the bus and he watched them, out of the corner of his eye...she folder her arms across her chest; and seemed to be fighting the urge to tap her foot.
The bus arrived at Tiger Land, which was kind of isolated from the rest of the campus, being situated in between corn fields by some railroad tracks, on the outskirts. The tracks would became more and more tempting to me as the evening progressed.
It was like the noisy end of Bourbon Street in New Orleans; except college kids seem to be broke in these depressed times; pissed off at the world because they are broke in these depressed times, and using alcohol to escape the stress of being broke in these depressed times and ready to take out their angst by yelling "You Suck!" at a musician.
All of the clubs there, in a row, were drowning me out wherever I went, except out in the cornfield.
"All you can drink" specials, seem to be the rage, in these depressed times -pay 20 bucks, drink all night...this made for a lot of kids who probably scraped up the 20 bucks (by raiding their sofa cushions of its pennies) and who took the free Tiger Lines (purple, of course) bus there; where they drank too much and developed nasty dispositions, out of anxiety over "how are we going to party tomorrow night, now that the sofa is bare"
Have any of the geniuses who run those clubs ever balanced the equation: All you can drink + immature college kids = X? ...but their not driving...
After an hour of walking around and having one guy's friends restrain him from coming after me, as he yelled "I'll kick your ass on the guitar, I'll smoke you on guitar, dude!" I went to wait for the very next free bus out of there, after having spent myself down to just the pennies in my Crown Royal bag/weapon (to go with the pepper spray in my left hand) and was treated to the sight of a girl who was oblivious to the fact that one of her breasts was hanging out of her dress, because she was too busy puking...
What Do You Expect For Nothing?
Southern Live Oak tree
The free bus driver told me that she didn't go anywhere near Chime Street, which is where Howard and I had chosen to spend the night, under the canopy of one of the Southern Live Oak trees, which border a lacrosse/soccer/frisbee/tanning field. We would be well hidden there, and it was convenient to shopping for a morning energy drink, and near a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant, an establishment which has supplanted McDonalds as Howard's breakfast provider. "Their breakfasts really aren't that bad..."
I mentally prepared myself for a long walk back to that spot after receiving this bad news from the free bus driver; but; in keeping with the tradition of bad directions, which is alive and well in Baton Rouge, it turned out that the free bus driver had badly overestimated the distance from her northernmost stop on Highland Street to Chime Street (what do you expect for nothing?) and, after taking a few steps in a northerly direction, I recognized the tree which Howard was already asleep under. I joined him in slumber land.
We got up around 3:30 a.m.,after feeling raindrops landing upon us, and moved to the foyer of an Episcopal church, which was right across the street, and slept until daylight, when Howard got up to fetch his coffee, breakfast and newspaper, and I went off to get an energy drink (off of my food card, since I was down to a handful of pennies). thus avoiding Howard's morning question of "How'd you do last night?"
I had exactly zero cigarettes (and the ground was wet, so, there wouldn't be any smoke-able half smoked ones on the ground). I felt the onset of that "totally broke" feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I walked to the Circle K near Chime Street.
I dreaded Howards morning question more than anything; embarrassed by the prospect of having to tell him that I hadn't made a dime, and that I had spent my last one on beer, to numb myself to the anxiety of living in these depressed times, and that I was out of cigarettes, and one broken string away from falling into a hole, the likes of which I haven't been in since before I moved to New Orleans.*
*Mobile, Alabama, August, 2010: Flat broke with a guitar which was missing one string and which had strings which wouldn't stay in tune -an instrument which had been given to me by a friend (Scott the paramedic) after mine had been stolen. (See "They Stole My Guitar" from 8/2010)- I wound up making 80 bucks that night, with that guitar -it was "Beerfest" night in Mobile -and buying a new one the next day.
I will technically never sink to a new low, as long as I have the harmonica; even if all my strings break, except one. 
Saved By Zero
I had the song "Saved By Zero," by The Fixx, in my head as I walked towards the Circle K. I was wondering if I could be strong enough to not wimp out and use the inevitable morning question from Howard as an opportunity to whine and complain in such a way as to prompt him to give me money. I don't think it is right to postpone the karma that I bring upon myself by my actions, especially when those actions are spawned by my weakness for tobacco and alcohol.
Plus, he had given me 5 bucks the day before.
I got an energy drink, and then left the store. As I walked across the parking lot I saw, on the ground next to the drivers side of a car, nearly a whole cigarette, which was still lit.
I walked over to it, just as a lady was coming out of the store. As I was picking it up, it became evident that the car belonged to the lady.
"Is this yours?," I asked her, thinking that she may have just thrown it down because she couldn't bring it in the store, intending to pick it back up and finish it.
"Do you need a cigarette?" she asked, as she was opening her car door. "I'll give you whatever is left in my pack."
Her pack only had one left. "I'll buy you a pack. What kind do you want?"
"The cheapest, Pall Malls would be fine, thank you so much"
She emerged from the store and handed me a pack of Pall Malls and a five dollar bill.
"Here, get yourself something to eat," she said.
"Wow, I guess I'm glad that your pack didn't have a few left!"
I thanked her (profusely) and told her a bit of the story of my ill fated trip to Tigerland, the previous night.
"That's the new generation for you," she said, before wishing me luck and driving off.
On the way back to the Episcopal church, ready now to field The Morning Question, I ran into a black man, who was in the parking lot of Serranos Bar and Restaurant.
I told him that I was looking for a spot where I would be able to play that night for tips. I mentioned that someone else had told me that there was an older black gentleman who busked in the area, but that that person hadn't seen him in a while.
"Oh, you mean Leroy. Yeah, he plays over there, right at the Circle K."
Leroy
I thanked him and then went to find Howard so we could go looking for a Starbucks, which we found, and the Troy D. Middleton library, on the campus of LSU, where I now sit.
The Starbucks couldn't take my gift card because they weren't technically a Starbucks, but the nice Asian girl gave me my coffee for free, after I had made her giggle by requesting that she put 6 ice cubes in my coffee, to bring it down from 190 degrees, to about 120, and then added "If you put 7, I'm going to know, and I'll make you re-do it!"
Me, A Tiger?!?
Tonight, I will try to set up and play around the general area of the Circle K, provided that Leroy isn't already there..
Before that, I might just pop into the Financial Aid Office, here at LSU and ask them if it is possible for a 49 year old homeless man to go back to college, and maybe have Obama foot the bill...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

...I Drink And Jam For Bread...

 On this 29th day of March...
More on (not moron) Howard

Do You Know Any Grateful Dead, Off Of The Europe '72 Live Album??

I left this Bluebonnet Branch Library and walked, with Howard in tow, to the junction of Perkins and Bluebonnet Road, not quite a mile, where our paths forked; mine, towards the beer store for my first two brews of the day; Howards, to the KFC, where I soon joined him, sipping discreetly from out of my backpack, while he ate a two piece "dark" meal with sides of mashed potatoes and green beans, after paying $5.99 for it.
"Kentucky Fried Chicken is expensive," said Howard.
"Was it good?"
"Yeah."
"I guess it's made exactly the same, weather you get it in Baton Rouge, or in China, eh?"
"Well, in China, it's the best fried chicken" (He was an English teacher there for years)
"They probably start with better quality birds there, up to Frank Purdue's standards..."
"No, I mean that there are a lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken wanna-bes there, but they're all garbage, KFC is the best one, hands down..."
We then got to talking Economics, after he said that he had an undergraduate degree in that discipline.
Then, he told me that he has a daughter, aged 34, unmarried, in San Diego, who was having a hard time "getting started." He said that he had money invested and that he has willed it all to her.
The guy is sleeping under bushes instead of enjoying a comfortable retirement, for the sake of leaving his daughter as much money as possible. The plot thickens...
I wonder if, after his divorce in '87 which he told me about, he set up that trust just to spite his ex-wife and keep the money out of her hands...I wonder if he plans upon dying soon...I'll have to ask him.
Busking Barnes And Noble
But, what does any of this have to do with street music?
We then went to the Barnes And Noble, where Howard went inside and sat down to read from the periodical rack, and I sat in front to busk, nervous about weather the management would leave me alone, as they had done at a Jacksonville, Florida location, back in 2009.
After 10 minutes of playing, a teen aged black girl walked over and said "You sound nice" and put four quarters in my case, on top of the two dollar bill, which I had seeded it with to start.
This was a moral victory, an ice-breaker, and a psychological boost came with the knowledge that I was going to make something that evening. I was playing "You Are So Beautiful," the Joe Cocker song which fits the G harp like a glove.
I continued to play, not seeing a whole lot of people going in and out of the store. I thought I was sounding alright, and was kind of mildly surprised that the few who did pass within earshot didn't throw me at least some change.
My disposition was teetering on the brink of becoming nasty and myself breaking into an improvisation on the theme of "kiss my ass, you rich f***s!" but a little voice in my head said: Stay positive, sound your best, do it for the love of music, be grateful that you don't have to clean oil out of a barge all day for 50 bucks...give them a chance to hit you up on their way out... 
I did just that, actually learning some new tricks in different keys on the harp as I went.
A group of three young black kids stood and listened. The oldest, a girl, asked me how long I was going to play for. She wanted to go home and bring back her brother, who was learning the guitar, to hear me play.
Night fell -no sign of her brother, and the parking lot began to thin out a bit.
I didn't see anyone around, but I kept going, trying my hardest.
A college girl (if her LSU shirt was to be believed) came around the thick column which I had positioned in front of me (to disperse the sound left and right rather than out into the parking lot and off into space) and, smiling, put a dollar in my case.
Then, shortly thereafter, anther one did the same.
Obscurvulators
Then a young man came from out of nowhere and threw a dollar. Then another young lady.
There were six of them, in all, by the time 8 p.m. arrived and the store entered its last hour of operation. I got the idea that they didn't want to stand in front of me to assess my music, in case I sucked and they would have to either feel like they were being rude by just walking off and not tipping; or would tip me begrudgingly to avoid that feeling. They hid out of sight and made their determinations as to weather or not I deserved a dollar, and then approached...I have seen this many times before and I must give it a snigglet-type name.
Let's call it: Obscurvulation (Obs-CURVE-yule-A-shun) verb; the evaluation of a performance from a spot hidden to the performer, as a means of freeing oneself of all karma associated with personal interaction.
Howard arrived at around this time, and with the store only open another hours, I decided to knock off.
After telling him about the 7 dollars that I had made, saying that it wasn't bad, given the amount of people out, he handed me five dollars.
Earlier in the day, he had said "So, you need to make about 12 bucks a day, just to keep going, huh?"
I told him that, yes, over the course of me keeping my "books" over the past 4 or 5 years, that was a reasonably accurate figure. He must have remembered that.
I went to get one more drink after my jam and some cigarettes and still had some bread left over.
Tiger's Bend
We slept behind a restaurant which specialises in craw fish, reminding me of just how little distance we have placed between ourselves and New Orleans, since leaving there 7 days ago.
We were behind a row of hedges, separating us from the parking lot and its lights, at the top of a grassy slope which descended to a pond. The pond had ducks and fountains blasting water up from two different spots. On the other side of the pond was a rather large house, with all kinds of stuff in its back yard, trellises covered with flowers, lawn chairs, and about a 16 foot motor boat. The pond was just about large enough for that.
We both reported having slept well to the sound of the fountains splashing.
I went to Starbucks, where I got a coffee and read some. Howard went to Radio Shack, to get a battery for his hearing aid; which will have the effect of helping me rest my vocal chords a bit.
I talked to a young man who was sitting outside of the Kentucky Fried Chicken, wearing its uniform, after I had checked there to see if Howard was already there (I'm sure he will be there).
He was a black guy of about college age, who had a lot of tattoos, most notably an entire passage from the bible on one forearm. I asked him if he were an LSU student.
Let's Get Out Of Here And Find Ourselves A Street Musician!
He wasn't, but was able to answer my inquiry as to weather or not there was anything similar to the French Quarter on the LSU campus, where there were bars, clubs, restaurants -drunken college kids with money, basically....
He told me that there was indeed such an environment and that it was situated around the junction of Highland Street and Tiger's Bend ("LSU" Tigers bend, I assume).
He even told me that there was already a guy who busked in front of a certain restaurant there and had been doing so for a while; inferring that it would probably be alright for me to play in that area tonight, just not at his spot...
So, I will bend my path towards Tiger's Bend, by taking the #47 Highland Road bus, which the tattooed young man indicated as being the one to take.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Everything's Better With Bluebonnet On It

I am at the Bluebonnet branch of the Baton Rouge library,
after having asked one of the librarians in Scotlandville: "Where is like the rich part of town, where everyone drives Lexus' and Mercedes' and goes to Starbucks for their frappicinos, toting their children along, who all attend private schools, take violin and/or ballet lessons and who will watch me play with a fascination commensurate with the fact that they have never seen anything like me in their entire short lives, and whose moms will hand each of them 10 dollar bills and say "Put this in his guitar case...that's it..."
I told her that, bless their hearts, the people in Scotlandville have been very generous, and that, in an allusion to the biblical scripture about the lady who, in giving her only farthing, gave "more" to the poor than the rich person who gave more to the poor, said that they have actually given a lot of themselves, just by throwing me a dollar...
That being said, I'm out here in "tasty meadows" fishing for some serious cash tips before the cops here realise that they have never seen anything (here) like me in their lives; and decide that they have seen enough.
The Bus Ride Here
The bus ride here took almost an hour. We are WAY on the other side of the tracks; this ain't no Scotlandville, nor Kansas, Dorothy...
We are where the squiggly looking design is, in the lower left hand corner, having come from near where Rt. 190 crosses the Mississippi River, in the top left hand corner.
We rode through the LSU campus, passing by all kinds of schools of agriculture, nursing, dentistry...
"Is this LSU?," asked Howard.
"No, this is Baton Rouge High School, Howard. LSU was that three story building back a ways; the one with the American flag hanging over its only front entrance..."
But, I didn't say that.
I am learning to translate his questions by putting "This must be" in place of "Is this?" so that, this morning for instance, when I was peeling off layers of clothing, all he was really trying to say is "You must be getting warm," and "This must be our bus," when that huge vehicle stopped in front of us and opened its door.
My Brainstorms
Being in a strange land, apart from making me wonder how I am possibly going to sing King Arthur a song, has sharpened my wit, along with causing me to moderate my drinking to about half of the French Quarter levels, and to think more strategically. After all, I am thinking for two a lot of the time.
I got the idea of selling some of my food card money to Howard, so that he can give me cash from his retirement benefit debit card, and I'll pay for his food; at a reduced rate -giving me a few bucks and saving him on his Pepsi and Cheetos, which comprises half of his diet.
The other thing that dawned upon me at dawn this morning, in Scotlandville, was a memory from the past of the places where I have "hands down" made THE most busking money; consistently. And that is on the off ramps of the Interstate highways -the same spots where the grass has worn into a patch of dirt by people who stand there and hold signs, hoping that the people in cars waiting at the red lights will roll down their windows and stretch out an arm, holding money.
The response that I have gotten in Saint Augustine and Jacksonville, Florida has been enthusiastic. I remember getting 65 bucks in one hour in that former city, standing at the junction of Interstate 95 and Rt. 16, at which point I knocked off. I could have stayed longer, but I wasn't feeling greedy. Another time, I made $108 in an hour (but that was an anomaly based upon one lady giving me a hundred bucks...), then returned to the historic tourist section, where my buddy Larry was lamenting having made only a hand full of ones off of those "tight" tourists.
One guy, who spoke to me throughout the whole minute that he waited for the light to change said, "Every morning I see the same guy holding the same sign that says 'stranded.' He's been 'stranded' since I moved here almost a year ago! At least you're offering people music instead of just standing there!"
More than half of the people who honked their horns and held money out the window said something similar.
I had pushed that aspect of busking out of my mind, though, because ultimately I only did it when in dire straits, always feeling a lack of satisfaction on an artistic level as, most of the people couldn't tell if I was playing The Rolling Stones OR Dire Straits. I prefer to be in a club or bar with an excellent sound system, so that the subtleties of music and lyrics at least have a chance to be appreciated.
But, someone once said "You gotta do what 'cha gotta do to survive"
This library is 3.5 miles from the Rt. 10 off-ramp; not exactly out of my walking range, but it does present the problem of what to do with Howard. I'm not going to walk that distance with the sound of his shoes scraping the ground falling further and further behind me, until I have to stop and wait for him to close the gap of 50 feet to catch up with me -with his tongue hanging out.
I think that he is too proud to not try to hang with me, or to admit that he needs to rest. I don't want to kill the guy.
The Bluebonnet Swamp
We are maybe a mile from The Mall Of Louisiana, where, out the bus' window we saw a Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Lexus' and Mercedes' in the parking lot, and "Oh, wow! A Kentucky Fried Chicken!!" to the delight of Howard (-said he hasn't seen one in "forever").
I think that we will attempt to walk there, I will attempt to busk at the Barnes and Noble and failing that will go into Starbucks and offer to pay for peoples coffee with the gift card which The Lidgleys from London sent in their Christmas parcel and which still has 18 bucks on it, in exchange for a lesser amounts of cash. The times that I have had to resort to that in the past, many people just handed me money and told me to save my card for a rainy day...hence the 18 bucks still being on it...
One of several things could happen this afternoon and evening.
I could make money busking at Barnes and Noble, after we walk the mile to get there (I will hold a carrot in front of Howard's nose by repeating "The Colonels Chicken; The Colonels Chicken...to keep him going). 
Then we could find a place to sleep right around here, perhaps in the Bluebonnet Swamp -just kidding.
Then I could play the Rt. 10 ramp in the morning, with a sign that states that we are trying to get to Texas, perhaps killing two birds with one stone (three if Howard drops dead along the 3.5 mile walk to get there) by making some money and getting a ride, to boot.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Busted Flat In Baton Rouge


 Feeling as faded as Howards jeans...
  • Day 5 of being "stranded"
  • More Friendly Cops
  • What Next?
Last night, I played for almost two hours at the Chevron on Scenic Highway...
It being a Monday, I was happy to have gotten the 7 dollars or so, which I had, though half of it came from the guy who owns the store...
It is almost as if he is a patron of the "arts" (at the risk of sounding pretentious) and he has been nothing if not supportive.
He gave me a couple of meat pies after I finished playing and was on my way to the bus stop.
I would have played past 9:30 p.m., and probably made more money if I wasn't in a rush to catch the last bus back to the railyard.
If I knew what I know now, I would have saved the fare, played until midnight, and pushed the idea of train hopping out of my head entirely.
They wouldn't let Howard ride for the 35 cent Senior Citizen rate, because he didn't have a card, issued by the terminal downtown.
I'm pretty sure the cards are issued so that the drivers don't have to wait for senior citizens to dig their IDs out of their wallets (you know how slowly their crooked, wrinkled fingers move) while there are 27 people behind them, caught in a hailstorm, waiting to board.
This was not the case. It was the last bus of the night, and Howard and I were the only two people on it. The guy had plenty of time to card him and still make it home in time for the start of Tuesday Night Mixed Martial Arts Fighting on some cable network; or whatever.
It would have been probably a blessing had we missed the last bus and had to sleep in the spot near where I am allowed to play...I would have gone back and played some more and probably woken up this morning with more than 4 dollars and change...
But, we got back to the railyard, with the information in our heads that a train would be arriving after midnight.
We went into the hanger type building.
Howard lied down and went to sleep.
I went into an anterior part of it, which was dusty and had the remains of what was once probably an office, where I made a recording of guitar and harmonica on my mp3 player, using its built in microphone. The recording ran 4:27 in length.
This was long enough to attract the attention of some young "travelling kid," who appeared at the entrance to the hanger type building with a flashlight and told me that he had heard the guitar and that he too played guitar, but not recently because his girlfriend had smashed his the night before...wow, will you introduce me to her??
Trains showed up at around the specified time and Howard and I wound up settling on a grain car which was part of a train which was sitting on the only track which went across the river and to points west, according to the young railyard worked, whom I had talked to Monday at noon...
We slept the night on that car, which never moved.
In the morning, Howard was sitting up and reading "Tess," by Thomas Hardy.
I sat up and started reading "The Return Of The Native," by Thomas Hardy (my job is not to master the coincidences in life, only to shed light upon them) as, we seemed to have come upon the same discount rack in the library with the same literary tastes.
Soon, a debate started to rage between us: What are the odds that the train would take off while I was running to the store and back for cigarettes and whatever Howard might want i.e. a Pepsi and a bag of Cheetos (half of his diet)?
The train then settled matters by lurching a couple times and starting to back slowly in the direction of New Orleans.
"He's backing up beyond the switch, so that when he pulls forward in the direction of Texas, they can switch him to the main track," I wishfully thought out loud to Howard.
I got off after it came to rest, and started to walk in each direction, looking for a better car; one which might hide us completely from the eyes of rail cops along the way, like an open boxcar.
Surprise, Travelling Kids!
I came upon a group of travelling kids, made aware of their presence when their bulldog started barking. I surprised the dog as much as I surprised the travelling kids and as much as the dog surprised me. Think it'll move today?" I asked.
"I hope so, that's why I'm on it," answered the travelling kid, making me think, for a second that I had asked a "Howard" type of question...No, I'm sitting on it because I'm hoping that it never moves; I want to get a job and settle here in Baton Rouge, making this my apartment; moron!" would have been a response that I deserved. Maybe Howard's rubbing off on me.
The Gap For (Travelling) Kids
He was wearing what they all seem to wear. Brown cover-alls, the color of brake dust and thus "easy to keep clean" -everyone knows that white is hard to keep clean- ripped in all the same spots, which don't even make sense, taking human anatomy into consideration -never seem to be the ones (knees, seat, pockets) that working mens jeans typically wear out.
These appear to have been intentionally and strategically ripped to make them appear tattered and to expose the same brown denim undergarments, which are part of the uniform...Where do they get these clothes, I meant to ask them; at The Bum Rack, or The Gap For Travelling Kids?
I think that the clothes, as well as the dogs and the signs that say "Traveling: anything helps," and the grease smudged on their faces; grease from the road which looks more like mascara than any grime that I've ever encountered on the road -which they haven't been able to wash off because all their water has gone to quench theirs and the dogs thirst in this journey through this arid (except for beer) world;
I think it is all a rouse, to evoke sympathy from people and keep the kids drunk and stoned cross country...just my opinion.
Then, a guy came and told us that we were trespassing. He asked me if I was indeed the guy with the guitar whom he had warned last week not to come back on the yard.
No, He looked more like this guy...
He turned to a rail worker, an older black guy whom I had spoken to the day before and who had seemed helpful and friendly at that time and asked "Is this the guy with the guitar?"
"Yeah, that's him," said the railworker who had been friendly and helpful the day before.
"Last week?!? I've only been here a couple of days!," I said and looked the guy in the eye, wherupon he conceeded that it had been the day before and not last week -different guy; one whose guitar is now smashed, probably...
We almost went to jail for lying to the guy after he was ready to just let us walk off the yard. He let us just walk off the yard.
We found ourselves in front of Memorial Stadium, where we sat for a while, while Howard re-packed his stuff.
A guy pulled up and explained that he was the railroad "inspector," and offered to buy us lunch, after asking if we were hungry.
I have learned to "alway be hungry" when asked this question, whether I am hungry or not.
He said that his job as an inspector has entailed attending scenes of carnage after some travelling kid for example, gets his brown cover-alls pinched between two couplings when a train unexpectedly lurched into motion, and is dragged hundreds of yards down the line by an ankle over the ties and gravel, scraping his skin down to the bone as his bulldog trots alongside, barking at the train, as if it is suddenly the big enemy, but then winds up licking at the blood of the raw exposed flesh after the train finally comes to a stop, and, finding it pretty tasty, gets carried away and is just cracking a femur bone which is protruding from the strategic tear in the travelling kids coveralls to get at the marrow, (even mans best friend is "only human" and has a basic weakness for flesh, when you come right down to it) when our friend, the rail inspector arrives on the scene and has to take pictures of it all.
He said that his only concern was not to see Howard and I in the same predicament. He was retiring in a few years, and had seen enough hobo fatalities to last a carreer. He seemed sincere.
He told us to wait where we were and that he would return with burgers, fries and drinks...
We waited where we were.
Ten minutes later, four East Baton Rouge cop cars arrived, with officers stepping out of each and asking us how we were doing and if we had ID on us.
I thought of the apparent heartfelt sincerity of the inspector when he voiced his concern for our safety and our comfort and how, even his tone of voice was compassionate. I thought that if it was all faked, and he was just trying to get us to remain at that spot until the officers had time to arrive, then I had seen just about everything and would probably be suspicious of people for the remainder of my days. I was reminded of a guy who once showed me a crucifix on a necklace that he was wearing and avowed "I'm a Christian, man, I don't steal!" before he ran off with my money, never to be seen again....
We placed our hands on hoods of cars, and were searched. We told them that we were really just trying to get out of there -nothing against Baton Rouge nor the LSU Tigers you understand, but- and go to Texas; words which have worked magic in the recent past.
They were seriously appearing to debate upon our fate when the inspector arrived and stepped out of his official vehicle, holding bags of fast food and drinks, introduced himself to the officers as the chief or superior or county inspector and explained that he had brought food for us, and would he be able to just place it down by our stuff, so that we could eat it when they were done with us.
They were soon very done with us. One of the officers informed us that Seargent Burn decided to "have a heart" and that we wouldn't be going to jail (we would be sitting by Memorial Field, chowing on bacon burgers and fries) -unless of course they found us again in the rail yard. So, we are going to have to be very sneaky tonight, indeed! [that was a joke]
We now have the very considerable problem of getting out of here without using trains, unless they have Amtrack written upon them.
This isn't the worst hell in the world. We have found a library, place to sleep, place to busk and convenient shopping right across the street from where we sleep. We are often the only white people in immediate sight, here in Scotlandville (as I look around this library the same holds true and probably will until Howard gets here) but it doesn't feel dangerous.
They might assume that we are some kind of federal agents or that something is wrong with us in general because "What the hell they doin in this part o' town?! Dey up to som 'in!!"
The Plan
The plan is to stay here longer, because it is familiar. 
I will busk as much as possible over the next four days, after explaining to the owners of the convenience store what is up (they gave me a couple of meat pies last night and another free beer, so I consider them sympathisers, if not allies) and try to come up with Greyhound money to go at least as far as Larramie or Lafayette, where we might be able to improve our train hopping percentage to .250 should we actually catch one to Texas...
I now go to the Greyhound site to see how much I actually have to busk up in order to go anywhere.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The News From Baton Rouge

I missed a day of blogging, because of the Sunday that fell last week.
The Scotlandville, Louisiana library branch is not open on Sunday, for everybodies information.
Saturday night, I busked at the convenience store, which is in fact The "Sunrise" Store (previously referred to in this blog as "The Sunrose Store" because; not to point fingers, but they need to practice their "I"s from the alphabet...theirs is too fat in my opinion -looks like an O.
I went there and played for about two hours, with an hour break in between, to read some of "The Confession", by John Grisham. Howard was meanwhile sleeping at a spot which he/we found, not far from there.
"I Had To Get This"
I made about 20 bucks, with a highlight being a stocky black guy in almost a Hawaiian shirt, who held his video camera on me during a song, and when his buddy came out of the store and approached him, he excused the delay by saying something like "I had to get this!"
He probably "had to" because, on such a successful night, on more than one level,  I was celebrating in between sets with some of the exotic brews, not found in New Orleans, like Shlitz "O.M.L" Malt Liquor (they had a lot of other kinds of "bull" in that city, but not O.M.L., go figure) and I got to feeling good and even gave a skinny, older black man a cigarette AND a dollar (-in quarters, somehow making me feel like I was still being chintcey [pronounced "chintcey"]) and eventually went into "the void" where all I had to do was imagine good music and it somehow made its way to my fingers. Being tipped helps...
I think some of the Greats, like Miles Davis, who warmed up for a lot of his performances by shooting up heroin, would say "I know what you mean, brother..."
I don't know if it's one of the "self delusional lies" (or whatever the AA book calls it in chapter whatever) that an alcoholic typically tells himself..."I do better, after I've had a few, it loosens me up..." but the proof is 99% of the time in the pudding -the pudding that I put back on my head when I'm done playing.
I think that I've reported seeing a 20 in the tip case and having no idea where it came from, at least a couple times in this blog....
I say that success was on more than one level, another being entwined around the fact that, at the Chevron on Scenic Highway in Baton Rouge, on this particular night, I saw only one white guy, myself not included.
That didn't dawn upon me until a pickup with a Georgia University plate on the front pulled up and a white guy got out, around 11:30.
As a busker, I actually do "segregate" my songs, but not on predictable lines. Aside from "My Girl," by some black group, I generally avoid playing anything that anybody could ever have called "colored" music when playing for black people.
It could be percieved as pandering, like breaking into "Danny Boy" because some Irishmen are approaching...give me a break, do you even have a clue as to how much great Irish music is out there? More than "Danny Boy" in case you didn't know...
What up, my nig?!?
And, you are going to sound "white" while trying to do it, so be very carefull. A Japanese girl singing the "brews" is cute. A white guy trying to do something from black culture, without really knowing what aspect of the song really resonates with them (It could be the "Hey, hey hey hey!" in "My Girl" -leave it out and you've ruined it and embarassed everybody...for example) is folly.
I segregate them into other intangibles, like the "swing" of them. If I can get myself feeling the groove of "Not Fade Away," by Buddy Holly for example, I find..(and did Saturday night) that it connects somehow with "every race and creed" -and Buddy Holly wasn't exactly ever confused with a black man, even when compared to Vanilla Ice.
This is a whole different topic for another day...
Still Stuck Inside Of East Baton Rouge
Howard and I are still in Baton Rouge. This is like, "day 4"
After having done pretty well Saturday night, evey dollar having been a blessing because the store could have easily refused to let me sit in front and play, Howard and I woke up on Sunday morning.
I decided that this would be a good day to try to start heading west, which we did, by first going south to a railyard which, I had it upon good information from an older black guy whom I ran into, was the place to hop a train out of.
We got there, after having suffered excruciatingly, waiting for the bus to come by on its Sunday schedule, which is a mere skeleton of the weekday one.
We didn't see any railyard workers, and I was a little leary of talking to them (after all, what did Howard and I NOT understand about "Private propery, no trespassing) even though the older black gentleman said that they would be helpful.
It turns out that we could have used some help.
Back To Go
I woke Howard, after the rumbling vibrations and horn of the train had failed to do so, and spirited him and myself onto the back of a grain car, on the first train of the evening which pulled up.
The train brought us only about a mile, into another yard, one which we were eventually kicked out of by the rail cops, before we moved another inch.
It was a gentle kick, though.
We had both fallen asleep, to be woken up a couple hours later, by a couple of flashlights held by a couple East Baton Rouge cops, and a couple of voices loudly instructing us to keep our hands in sight and to get off the car but to do it slowly.
I'm not sure how we were spotted initially, though Howard had been pretty visible to the guy that came along checking each cars brake lines, under a heap of blankets and with his feet practically hanging off the end of the car.
They were friendly looking cops, one a white guy in his mid thirties, who looked like you could go bowling with him, and the other, a younger black guy, who looked like you could go jogging with him.
I was allowed to retrieve my backpack "slowly!" from the cubby hole where I had stashed it, and in which I kind of crouched, trying to keep out of sight, before realizing that anyone would see Howard anyways.
They brought us to their vehicles, got our IDs and then two of the rail workers actually gave us a ride in the back of a pickup, outside the yard and then told us where to go to catch a train that would be there in about an hour.
We were there in time. The train came and stopped with a grain car right in front of us. We got on. The train pulled forward and then backed up, depositing the grain car that we were on, along with a few others on a side track. It then took off for Texas, leaving us sitting there
This morning, after we realised that there was no engine attached to us, we went to a nearby convenience store and got some provisions, which we consumed. "Do you like hard boiled eggs?" Howard asked me at one point, when I was peeling one. At least his mind is as sharp as ever....
I finally just walked onto the yard around noon and approached a couple of yard workers, who were as informative and helpfull as the older black gentleman had said that they would be.
12 Hours To Kill
They said that, a little after midnight tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, there will come a train which is the only one which will go across the Mississippi to points west.
This gave us 12 hours to kill. I decided to split my time between blogging and busking at the same convenience store for a few hours. Howard decided to follow me, falling further and further behind me as I walked.
I finally suggested that he take the bus. It's only 35 cents for senior citizens here. My fare is $1.75.
I told him that I was planning upon walking fast.
I stopped at a store for a while and then talked to some other train riders, who were flying signs on corners, and was actually able to pass along to them the information about which track was the one, and only one, that would take them west. This should have given Howard a head start.
I resumed walking towards this library. I couple of black guys in a pickup asked "Where you goin' guitar Willy?" They were on their way to the recycling place just down the street and gave me a ride there. Along the way, we passed Howard, who was walking slowly down the sidewalk in this direction. He must have taken the bus but gotten off way too early. Maybe the thousand acre Exxon Mobile refinery across the street from a certain bus stop looked like the library to him and he got off, I don't know.
I like the guy, but I think he might be almost ready for a nursing home but just has nobody to "intervene" to that end. 
I hope to make enough to get a gallon of juice and maybe a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, stuff them in my bag and then take the bus back to the railyard.
Maybe Howard will tell me that he has had enough and that he is going to take a Greyhound back to his million dollar mansion in Colorado and that this homeless stuff wasn't as much fun as he thought that it would be...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Call Scotlandville Yard!

  • Howard Misplaced

  • 6 Day "Drought" Ends

  • One More For The Road

Last Night, I had a little "scare," after

I Misplaced Howard.
After I left the library, I went to the convenience store, where I was readily allowed to busk in front of the store.
It was very noisy, as the heavy traffic on the street seemed to reflect off of the underside of the sheet metal over the pumps and right at me.
Howard remained at the library for another half hour and then walked up, after I had just begun playing (I had stopped for a few minutes to sip down a beer -behind a building and out of sight, because this in not New Orleans and "the police will give you a ticket," according to someone that I talked to, after I walked up to him with an open beer in my hand out of force of habit after 7 months in New Orleans).
I had a two dollar bill in my case, which I had started with, along with the first money that I have ever made in Scotlandville, Lousiana in the form of some change.
Howard stood for a second, looking at the money in my case. He must have thought that I had been playing for the whole half hour since I had left the library and only made two buck and change.
He left to go take a nap at the spot where his bag was hidden.
I played for about an hour and made about 11 bucks, battling the noise with the harmonica.
One black guy asked me to play some B.B. King.
I don't really know any (which translates into: I don't know the words to any of his songs past "They call it stormy Monday, and Tuesday's just as bad..." of course I know the 3 chords) so I played The Sesame Street song and blues-ed it up. I got a buck off one of his friends, via him.
A Little Annoyance
Then, Howard and I walked down to a truck stop which I had found on Google Maps to be located right down the street from us, about a half mile.
I felt blessed to have found the three key ingredients that I was looking for, a McDonalds, a library and a truck stop all in one convenient location. When I saw that the train tracks ran right by the truck stop, which was called the "Mr. Lucky S" truck stop, I thought that we had really "lucked" out.
Arriving at the truck stop, though, I was informed that I really needed to be on the other side of the Mississippi River, in West Baton Rouge, in order to get a ride to Texas, due to the way the roads were laid out. I guess every driver who stops at the Mr. Lucky S, is headed the opposite way.
I then thought about asking people in pickup trucks to transport Howard and I across the river.
Then Howard said "I'm tired; I'm going to go lay down," and off he went, after I suggested that he at least do so by the railroad tracks, in case a train stops in front of us in the middle of the night with an empty boxcars door gaping open at us.
I had "no choice" but to follow him. I couldn't just leave him behind (despite the little demon that was hovering over my left shoulder telling to to do just that).
Then a train stopped about a half mile down the tracks, its headlight winking at me and glimmering off the tracks.
Had I been alone, I would have at least walked down there to investigate, maybe talked to the conductor who might have said "I'm going to San Antonio, there's an empty car about 12 back, do you need some water?" which isn't out of the realm of possibility (its the rail police that you have to worry about, the crew members are your friends...).
But, I wasn't alone. I had a friend whose walking speed would double the time it would take to go and investigate, and who was already snoring.
I started to get a little annoyed and to kick myself for taking the guy along with me.
I decided to take a long walk and do some soul searching.
I left my backpack with Howard and took my guitar along after putting the harmonica in the case. I knew that my long walk would take me past the convenience store, and I might wind up busking some more, especially if encouraged by the owners.
I was gone about an hour.
When I got back to where I had left Howard and my backpack, there was nothing there, no Howard, no backpack with all my worldly posessions in it. Vanished! Kaput! No trace of them!
I knew that I had the right spot because I recognized the ant hill ("You might not want to lay down right there, Howard") that he had started to throw his blanket on top of before I suggested that he move a few feet over.
Then, I was more than a little annoyed. I was kicking myself and yelling out loud "I should have NEVER took him along!"
I wasn't sure what to make of it. I knew that the odds of him moving after he had fallen asleep were slim. I figured that some other agent was involved in moving him. Could we have chosen to lie down on the property of some top-secret, highly classified Federal building (disguised as a stockyard full of cows)?
Had the cops come along and questioned Howard, and became highly suspicious after Howard said "This isn't my backpack, its my friends, he's not here, he took a walk?" ...denying ownership of the bag, eh? ...can't wait to search it thoroughly at the jail...
Mystery Not As Great As Problem
The mystery wasn't as great as the problem, though.
The problem was, I now had nothing but the clothes on my back, which were going to be of little help on a night forecast to be 45 degrees. I thanked God that I had taken my guitar along, and stuffed the harp in the case.
...Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be...maybe I'm supposed to start with nothing but a guitar and harp and one set of clothes and 25 dollars and nothing else and find my way to California, using only my musical skills....is this the time to call my mother in tears and beg her to wire money because I'm stranded in Scotlandville, Louisiana?
I did what I always do in those situations. I prayed.
I re-thanked God for leaving me the guitar and the harmonica, and for having given me a place where I can play; all night if I want to.
I am inside here, right now, typing away...
I was approaching this library. Something told me to go around to the back of it. I did.
There was a loud racket coming from a huge heating and cooling type of unit, which had a barbed-wire fence around it. It was chained shut with a padlock. I could notice a difference in temperature when I was standing next to the fence, which was only about 10 feet high. There was heat coming off of the unit. The barbed wire was the flimsy kind with two links twisted together at the top.
I decided that if I could put one foot on the chain and padlock, I would be able to get over the fence without ripping my wrist open and requiring 7 stitches, like I did when I was 7 years old (the scar left was in the shape of the number 7, too, but I digress). I was freezing my ass off already and it was only 10:30 p.m.
I put my foot on the chain and the padlock and started to put my weight on it. The lock popped open and the chain released and hung there, swinging. It hadn't been locked, only rigged up to look like it was locked, maybe by a lazy guy who hates having to carry keys around.
I went inside the enclosure and walked around the unit. It was quite sophisticated with boxes and pipes and valves and hoses and even electrical wiring. Atop it were grates covering fans facing skyward. Following the heat source, I found two pipes about 9 inches in diameter and set about 5 feet apart to be almost too hot to hold my hand on...almost.
I crawled under the unit and managed to position myself so that one hot pipe fit the back of my hoodie-covered neck, and the other hot pipe was right where I could wedge one foot under it, so that it lay across my instep, and the other foot over it, so that my Achilles heel rested atop it. The middle of my body was cold at first, but, I could actually feel my blood warming up with each circulation past my neck and through my brain and then back down through my feet. Thank you, Jesus...
I woke this morning around sunup, still hugging the pipes and comfortable.
Thank You, Howard
I was planning upon flagging a police officer down to ask them if they happened to have scooped up any 67 year old men from any cow pastures the previous night, but, I had to use a restroom first.
I went to the Jack-In-The-Box, and there was Howard, scoffing down a sausage biscuit and a cup of coffee and reading the sports page, like he has been doing every morning since I met him.
"Yeah, the bugs got to be a little annoying, so I moved. I didn't want to just leave your bag there, so I took it with me and hid it real good in the bushes"
It was still there. I have all my stuff back. The End.
Epilogue: "Losing" all my stuff allowed me to really take inventory of everything I have and I think I appreciate it more now. Thank you, Howard...