New Haven, New Haven, Day 2

I had a good feeling about the day (11.7.10), despite the fierce cold and wind. I headed out after a leisurely breakfast in time for one pitch before church, back at the same great spot in front of the British Art Center. For the first time in a good while I had a couple songs to debut on the street and this gave me that initial jolt of excited energy.

Upon arriving I wasted no time opening up and all. The cold had effectively thrown all my strings quite out of tune, however, so I stood there a minute or two tuning. During this time a young couple with a kindergartener waited patiently for me to start. They’d passed a dollar to their child and hugging told him in that endearing, encouraging parental tone, “We have to wait till he starts.” Such displays of affection amidst the rushing to and fro of most passersby gives me much hope (and makes me want my own kid).

Even my seed money was noticed by a tall, unkempt man, who remarked, “Good idea!” I played a few slow songs. The child tipped me and they stayed for the end of the first song to clap and shuffle on. My tall companion stayed around the area for quite a while, obviously enjoying my music and later telling me I sounded great with the acoustics provided by the overhang (a natural amplification that made me audible even to passersby across the street, one of which was Kelvin). He went up to one lingering older couple emerging from the museum to tell them, “He’s better than anyone I’ve heard around here.” and other such platitudes to which they agreed. They tipped me. Having such a spontaneous ally kept me going despite the weather.

Now the weather was truly absurd. I ended stopping after about half an hour because my fingers were literally numb. The temperature was tolerable, but the awning which granted me the beautiful acoustics also created a strong wind tunnel effect. Between alternate songs I’d spend a few moments cupping my hands before my mouth to warm them a bit. Passersby responses to this action varied from a commiserating, “It’s cold, huh” to an entirely unsympathetic and somewhat mocking, “Yeah, play me something.”

This wind created a dilemma for the tips. I’ve wondered if the currency of America affects tips – as dollar bills are already bills and generally people are loath to part with paper currency. Regardless, the wind wreaked havoc with the tips and even blew my ten pound case about. One woman tipping me dropped the tip and the wind intercepted the bill and blew it a good twenty feet away before it landed on the street. She very kindly chased after it, coming back and telling me “Got it!” triumphantly. After that I devised a new stratagem to show the green. I clipped a couple bills in the middle pocket where I keep my capo where they’d be weighted down by the lid yet exposed enough to flutter attractively.

The previous day a group of high schoolers had wandered back and forth around the area, tipping me after they heard my Hey Ya – fascinated, perhaps with my youth? Today I was joined under the awning by a large, maybe twenty or so, group of Asian youth. They passed me as they met behind me, then passed again on their way out. I felt strangely proud to be there, then, and they reciprocated that intuition as many of them tipped me as they passed off, mostly coins accompanied by astonished gapes and awed smiles. I got the distinct impression they admired me for my bravery in busking. It felt good.

In periods of less wind people gathered shortly on the walls behind me, sitting or leaning against them as they listened. Some tipped, some didn’t, I didn’t mind. Towards the end I was joined by the “Shakespeare Lady,” New Haven’s self-professed street poet who quotes verse for tips. I didn’t welcome her company, however, as she very loudly introduced herself at all the passersby and thereby chased them away from the both of us. Think about how you would deal with the situation – pursued by an aggressive street poet you’d run off quickly. If you wanted to tip the musician you’d feel put upon not tipping the poet so you’d tip neither. Etc.

I took a break when I couldn’t feel my fingers any longer just inside the British Art Center. Sadly, I have to admit that this was my first time entering the place, art major notwithstanding. I still saw naught but the interior of the bathroom. On emerging I tried a pair of songs, with the Shakespeare Lady still roaming the grounds. She even tipped me a quarter for one, which dropped my resentment of her to a bit of shame (though I stand by my initial reaction). The temperature had dropped and twilight had genuinely fell – something about the taste of the air – so I moved on. On the way to Elm City Vineyard I passed a pair of women who’d smiled and paused encouragingly earlier. They apologized for having no cash as I passed them, telling me “great singing.” I told them, honestly, that I didn’t mind.

Cold with warm people

Earnings: $13.00, 35 minutes
Song of the Day: Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

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