Red Beans and Busk, New Orleans, Day 1

I’m baaaaack!

After an absolutely absurd nearly aborted but not quite absolved abstinence from busking, I went out for a nice standard amount of time on Monday, 2.7.11 in New Orleans. As I hope I’ve conveyed I’m REALLY REALLY HAPPY to be back out there. Good God it’s been eons. Hi Laura who doesn’t read this!

I arrived in New Orleans after a very enjoyable Greyhound ride, despite all the hullabaloo that led up to it. No crying babies, no virulent passengers… yet somehow a hard time sleeping. I noticed a couple things on the trip – first, the demographic isn’t just poorer folks. It’s poorer folks and internationals (a Korean, two Poles, a Cuban, a Spaniard, a Mexican, etc. etc.). The Polish in particular fascinated me. I was convinced they were speaking Polish but didn’t want to offend by asking but wanted to speak Polish to them but felt shy and they muttered so it sounded sometimes Czech but I never heard a ř sound and I knew it wasn’t Russian but hey it could have been Ukrainian or something…

I ran into them yesterday on Decatur Street. They’re Polish, from Bydgoszcz. :). Made me very happy. Back to the bus, I mention it because I was able to practice my not spoken since Poland (what!?) Spanish aboard- translating the announcements and just joshing about random things. I felt very worldly. Or something. When I arrived at the bus station I chilled with the other delayed-in-Gainesville passenger while I waited for Mindy and Kevin, after which we romped about the French Quarter a bit, with beignets at Cafe du Monde and lunch at Coop’s Place – where I unconscionably splurged on a meal with a case of reverse guilt – I didn’t want to make them pay for me and I knew they might offer to if I refused to eat something so…

Later that night apparently there was something called the super bowl. I cleaned dishes and stuff while the housemates watched that. Towards the middle I watched the brown thing get tossed about while really oversized men gorilla-ed at each other and the crowd with replays of their injuries until the green and yellow side won. Happily this was the side the house backed.

I’d intended to busk on arrival in New Orleans but on Mindy’s suggestion held off for the next day. Appropriately the sun shone bright and 60 degrees on Sunday and fled behind 20 mph winds and mid forties on Monday. But I toughed it out like a dumb boy. I only got the mildest of colds, too. Days n’ Daze, the band I played my first CMC gig with, recommended I ply my trade at Royal Street, where they’d made a killing when they passed through. I found a likely spot in front of a store called Forever and went inside to ask the shop owner if I might play outside. She was absolutely floored by this simple courtesy – usually no one asks here.

New Orleans passersby are all warm and positive. Not a single exception on this day. Each woman looked up with a tentative, broadening smile, each man affirmed me with a firm, appreciative nod. I find the traditional gender institutions much more firmly entrenched here amongst the older folks. Aside from that, however, the town feels distinctly un-Southern as I know it from Georgia and Bama and such. A whole vibe of it’s own with a European plan and Aristocratic soft southern fillings. Kind of like peach cobbler inside a tarte.

I began with From Dawn to Busk. Why not? I got some friendly responses but people didn’t really warm to me until I got to my super happy section – Here Comes the Sun et al. Halfway through this song, day overcast and clouds threatening cheerily above, a lady across the street conducted a voiceless conversation with me replete with shrugs, points up and quizzical glances. After I finished I explained I figured I might sing it to try it bring the sun out. Well, it peeked out four times for maybe two seconds each time during the entire pitch. By the time I got to I’m Yours an unlikely couple (indie hipster types who hate all things that have become popular) hung about to listen to I’m Yours in a little alcove across the way. They chuckled to my follow up Ue Wo Muite Arukou before waving as they passed on.

Tips came slow, but as far as America goes they felt quite excellent and heartening. More impactful to me were the “Keep it up”s and the thumbs ups I’d so dearly missed. Now I was freezing my microscopic little butt off the whole while. I wore my peacoat over track jacket and long tee but that cut none of the wind that literally numbed my fingers. Unlike the Northeast where I got jeers for warming my fingers with short breaks these New Orleans folks conveyed sympathy. One elder Chinese couple’s kind words prompted me to sing them Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin but alas, no further reaction from them.

Now to the highlight. Always one, eh? As I sang Leaving on a Jet Plane for a troupe of old people down the street who turned without passing me, two young dyed-hair girls stopped shyly nearby. Between the second chorus and third verse the shorter, spunkier one, Devin, asked if she could give me a hug. Why of course! So I stopped a moment, shifted my guitar out of the way and gave her a hug. Asked “Where was I?” “Leaving on a…” “I know! oh!” and finished the song as she tipped me. They hung around a bit but still a bit far away and so after another tune I asked if they wanted to make a request. Devin bounced up and requested Brighter than Sunshine for her friend Danielle. Unfortunately I forgot lyrics, though I tried the first verse anyways. It’d been awhile.

Devin and Danielle apparently had been engaged in a conversation about buffer time and delay in hearing recorded songs, so my human jukeboxness delighted them. They followed up this fail quickly with Where is My Mind. Two amazing beauteous things transpired then. First, an older woman stayed and listened alongside them for my now non-falsetto Cmaj transcription Pixies cover. Listened, shared glances with them, payed my voice a compliment and left a tip. Second, the two girls cried. Praps it was the cold. No matter the impetus I found it beautiful. Is that chauvinistic of me? Silent tears running down smiling faces hurried down by the biting wind. We sang Such Great Heights together – I chose a wrong key (F#maj) so they could sing along while I sang in bass (happy Brent?)

My new friends stayed for a long while. Nearly to the end of my pitch, standing beside me without obstructing traffic. Offering a light and then the rest of a beer to a homeless man sharing my corner. Three well American Apparel dressed girls sat on the curb across the street to eat their convenience store sandwiches and listen. They neither tipped nor met my eyes but at that point I didn’t care. I was alternately rather happy and rather cold. I could hardly feel the tips of my fingers at that point. We sang Hurt Together. A woman joined the chorus of Hallelujah as she passed before us. Devin requested I Can Tell that We Are Gonna Be Friends to dedicate to Danielle – oh so sweet. They left after I sang them Your Song.

I wrapped up with a set of oldies mostly sung to refresh them and end on a comfortable note. Two men plopped themselves across on the curb after the three skirt and blouse girls left, and one clapped for me after The Boxer. Somehow I knew he’d tip me so I stayed to wait. I sang Streets in London for the poor I saw everywhere (and beside me), and even considered giving to that homeless man. In the end I just said bless you and thanks for the company. My Let it Be elicited an “I love that song!” – the perfect send off.

A bit dreary in a cheery way, right?

A short demographical note. Three asian girl/white boy pairs passed me. Each of the girls pointedly turned their faces away from me (and often from their boyfriend who they placed protectively between). On my walk out of the quarter I passed a busker heading in to set up, a bohemian looking man with a plump black clad girlfriend. He asked me where might be good to play and I told him. He asked “Do you smoke weed?” “Nope.” “Really? And you do this? Wow!” “Yea I’m pretty straitlaced actually.” “Wild.” He set off to be more of a panhandler type, meaning to accost people as they left the convenience store. I’d discover the next day a cop wrote him a ticket for some stupid charge like “obstructing the path.”

In the library starting this blog post immediately after I saw a couple that passed me on the street earlier and waved at me. They didn’t recognize me. I sat on a computer reserved for teens and no one said a word.

Earnings: $16.80, ~1 hour 50 minutes
Song of the Day: Where is My Mind – The Pixies

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