The train to Denver, once I finally got on it, felt like home. With a nicer Lounge car attendant, two floors and great company – it was like the train trips I took across the country a few years ago and the reason I prefer them over planes or cars. Ironically, we left the station over an hour late… if only they’d had the same engine problems the previous day, eh? I introduced myself to some young skiers and we sat together by the only other young people on the train.
A large Amish family occupied half of the lounge car, so my new friends and I squished into a couple of seats facing the window. I passed my guitar around to Gabe and Colin and even to a completely sloshed man sitting a seat to our right, Don, who spent most of the time babbling away to us about music and how one needs math to do medicine. Over and over, the same thing. Later on he came by our seats and trapped me in conversation for a good twenty minutes, admitting once that “I’m an alcoholic, I drink a loooot” between his repetitions of old musicians’ names. Towards the end of the night we saw him passed out in on a table in the lounge car.
Now the first few days – the first week, really – in Denver I didn’t even consider busking. As I noted in a song post, earlier, the temperature proved a bit ridiculous for that, and for the few days where it crept above fifty, promises of twenty mile an hour gusts promptly killed my enthusiasm. I hardly left Maria’s house at all. The occasions which prompted such leavings consisted of visiting Dan, seeing Harry Potter with Dan and Maria, or going to one of the most incredible bookstores I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in. It’s cooler than Powell’s in Portland. Portland, incidentally, seems to be a fantasy writer’s paradise. My new favorite fantasy writer after Terry Brooks, also from the Northwest, is Portlander Brent Weeks, whose book The Black Prism is simply excellent.
I finally tried a pitch on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which I spent at Dan’s place with a drove of others and excellent food (especially compared the the pasta and tomato sauce meal Maria and I consume for dinner each night to save money). The only place anyone could think of playing was the 16th Street Mall downtown. I left (11.27.10) around 12:30, but couldn’t decide for the life of me where to play on that long street. Every block had a busker or two, all quite horrible (not quite Chicago bad but close). The mall was decked out for the Holiday season with pianos in the middle islands for anyone to play and speakers blaring Christmas music every other block or so. Salvation Army bell ringers posted themselves at most intersections… busy place. My indecision fed on itself, too, as after I’d finally decide on one location I’d find it newly taken by a busker or bell ringer. My first spot met such a fate – I didn’t notice the guitar player down the block or the piano directly across from me until halfway through I’m Yours. Afterwards, I apologized to the guitarist, who hardly acknowledged me, head down and scruffy looking slumped against a parapet and moved on.
Eventually I settled on a pitch under a tiny awning, recommended by a guitarist who’d just stepped out of the free mall shuttle to look for a place to busk, himself. Earlier in the day I’d run into another busker who was advocating for Children International. It seems, indeed, that every one and their mother plays guitar in Colorado. I played all my knockout surefire songs to test the waters, and I was met by utter failure. Two thirds of my tips came from one nice black man who deliberately and kindly pressed a set of folded bills into my case, doubling back as I sang Scarborough Fair.
I often write of how the kind interactions are the most meaningful to me, but there’s a certain point at which the money issue becomes un-ignorably salient. Throughout the pitch my passersby were unfailingly kind – no sneers, no advances, no intimidation but smiles and singalongs and cocked heads – but the lack of tips really got to me. Probably the profusion of buskers in the area contributed to that. That said, I will detail some of the interactions that on a warmer, brighter day would leave me feeling the pitch was a success.
As I began Somewhere Over the Rainbow the Free Mall Ride Shuttle stopped at a fresh red light to let people out but the driver kept the doors open until the green light came on so that people could listen to me. That did make me beam – or maybe a foolish grin, a grin that proved infectious as I saw it creeping up the faces of the bored-looking passengers in the bus. Most of the passersby mouthed along to my covers, but one particularly enthusiastic group of youngsters sang loudly off key with me to Leaving on a Jet Plane. Another set of forty somethings hung about in my peripheral, listening, for a good while with smiles. Many parents, bucking the trend of enthusiastic children and strict elders, gave me encouraging glances while their children pulled them on.
After my thoroughly depressing pitch, I holed away inside the nearby Barnes & Noble to finish The Black Prism. On emerging I noted more guitar toting buskers warbling away to their strumming (one great, all the others horrendous) replaced the previous street musicians – flautists and trumpeters taking breaths between every shaky note of a christmas carol. When I returned to Maria’s, I felt determined to book some gigs – I’m loosing too much money in the unfriendly States.
Earnings: $3.00, 40 minutes
Song of the Day: Scarborough Fair – Simon & Garfunkel