Austin, Live (Indoor) Music Capital of the World, Day 3

I skipped out on Saturday in favor of a very creative, worthwhile day indoors, writing songs, learning new ones and generally being musical. My enthusiasm comes in waves, now I feel excited about music again, when for a little while it felt a bit of a drag.

Sunday in Austin was the Livestrong Marathon. I waited until the buses ran again before heading back to 6th street, which I’d read turns into a pedestrian mall on the weekends. Not so. Congress street and the immediate surroundings were blocked off for the marathon, however, so I set up a few blocks East, catching the steady flow of people hobbling to their cars. The passersby downtown not of the post running variety remained snooty and hipster as ever, with one girl calling out “Come back at night it’s way better” with a roll of her eyes in a most condescending disaffected tone and a large round mound of a man with long thin curly hair with the most spiteful glances.

The marathoners naturally carried no money, but they lit up with a burst of energy on hearing me – which made me very happy in turn. Their spectators reserved their attention for their newly accomplished relatives and friends and so my most avid listeners ended up being those safe from tip-guilt – those stuck in traffic. They rolled down windows, smiled at me, spoke to me, took videos and photographs – the post marathon re-routing confusion led some to linger in the same position for as long as three songs. One adorable trio of wrinkly old people swooned to The Boxer, while another trio of young men smiled broadly with assertions they “would tip” if they weren’t in their vehicle and requested a song, and a SUV full of college kids sang along to Torn.

My tips came from females of various ages – as young a young child watching rapt to Here Comes the Sun and thus being given an additional dollar to tip by her father aside from the initial 25 cent token. Two teenage girls stood (different events) by me for photographs, one exuberantly and close and the other shy and far. Both tipped – I’ve found that photographers never tip unless in the photo, too. There’s something strangely narcissistic about that, no? Most telling of all the tips, the only man to tip me did as I had a brief break to drink from my honey water. I told him “Thank you! That’s very generous, I haven’t even sung anything for you yet. Would you like to make a request?” and he demurred with an “Anyone with the courage to stand out on the street in this town and play for tips deserves something in my book.”

Yes, I sang across from the sign. :). I don’t think it helped.

After a quick stop at the central library (I think the one building I’ve visited in every town so far is the main library), I walked up to the main drag, Guadalupe, which is the University Ave. of Austin, with low lying shops and eateries right at the western border of the UT campus and played through sunset beneath the overhang of a CVS pharmacy. The cashier requested I stay near the entrance to his door “where I can hear you,” quite a friendly opposite to the supposedly tolerance demanding newagers. In a flip of the morning trend (and general trend) all my tips came from men this pitch. By this point my voice already wavered some already, but happily my first tip came from a nice guy going to work in the Chipotle next door who emptied his little manila envelope of coins into my case and he sang along with me his request Sunday Morning. The girls seemed either shy or threatened, which I suppose isn’t strange. I am rather imposing and overly gregarious. As befitting the example set by their elders in all countries, the Asian students (especially the girls) ignored me most pointedly.

I noticed, also, a strong correlation between loneliness and tippage. Groups never yield tips and solo strollers always at least patted pockets. One of these groups consisted of three freshman types with DSLRs trying to take snap a photo surreptitiously but shamed into scurrying past with heads down when I smiled towards them. A girl also called out from such a group no-tip safety “You sing really well” when she passed heading South (she passed twice more), which I found ironic as I’d just sang a decidedly mediocre She’s So High chorus. Aside from a plethora of shy smiles, my only interaction with the extra X chromosome occurred when a very kind woman tipped me who couldn’t “make a request because I have to be somewhere.”

Guadalupe Street is host to a extremely high number of panhandlers, which helps my cause none. They tended to linger near me in their hippie filth-hair and hypocrisy. A couple of these not-college-students provided me with the nicest compensation, actually. A sweaty older man who’d introduce himself later as Mack, a guilty looking man sitting on the parapet on the other side of the cafe to my right and watching/listening much of the pitch and finally a set of three different men in quick succession who opened the best and worst parts of the pitch.

A slow stuttering young man sporting that slack jawed vacant tic prone expression of either the mentally impaired or drugged out (but very polite and harmless seeming at the same time) came by and stood dumbly by my side for the better half of a song before struggling through “I just want to hear your music.” I sang him I Just Don’t Think I’ll Get Over You. While I sang he counted out coins – mockingly I thought at first, in the way youth and rich folk often jangle their change filled pockets with jeering looks at me when the pass – but this seemed only a symptom of his simpleness. Before the final verse he announced he had “Two dollars and five cents.” At the end he divulged it’s transformation into “Two dollars and fifteen cents” and surprised me by dropping the coins into my case. He lingered a while and just before he left another young man emerged from the CVS and plopped himself heavily against the wall to my right with a “I could really use a song right now.” He tipped me pre-emptively and I sang him a couple of originals on his request.

As soon as I returned to covers (whenever I get an audience, though it may be long into my pitch and I was about to leave, I feel guilty and stay too long), a stumbling drunkard waddled towards us. In each hand he held a five gallon bottle filled nearly to the brim with some amber liquid I couldn’t distinguish between beer or urine. Both captain the same esteem to me, anyways. He set these massive jugs right next to my guitar case, luckily slosh free, and volunteered his services for singing along, despite “I don’t know lyrics, man……” I felt trapped.

Deus ex machina saved me in Poland and other times before, and once again it swept in, with the form of an altercation, unexpectedly. Another vagrant passed and said some harmless comment our drunkard took umbrage to. As he stumbled over to catch up and pick a fight, I apologized to my smoking song-needing audience and packed up as swiftly as I could manage, fearing the confrontation would escalate and not wanting any part in it, especially what with Texas’ gun policies. The smoker took no offense, wished me luck and after a glance over his shoulder at the two hobos swaying angrily at each other with loud slurs (of the inter-sound variety and not the racist) told me, “I think that’s a great idea, man.”

Earnings: $23.16, 2.6 hours
Song of the Day: Sunday Morning – Velvet Underground

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