I ended up busking in the afternoons in Florence for most of the week that I was there, charging up and doing research in the evenings, and then playing guitar and watching a western almost every night. I’m not sure if I mentioned it in the blog, but when I was in Lawrence, KS, I stopped at a Walmart and found a DVD in the five-dollar box that has 20 great westerns on it, so I had to get it. Most of them have John Wayne or Lee Van Clef, but there’s quite a few of them where I don’t know any of the actors. Anyway, when I’m of a mind to watch a movie I just make sure the computer is charged, put up all the blankets and towels around the windows, and then post up in the back of the van wherever it is I’m planning to crash that night. In Florence I moved from McDonald’s to the Safeway parking lot down the street, with a couple other RVs. There’s really not much to do in Florence; most of the population is retired and spends their time fishing and walking around old town in the afternoon, and most everything closes around 8pm. There are a couple bars that stay open, but I was trying to save money, so I didn’t go to the bar until Friday night when I played at the Bay Street Grille. Overall, it really wasn’t a bad week; busking is great, westerns are awesome, and on Thursday I broke a string while playing on the street, so I took the rest of the afternoon and explored the dunes. It was kind of nice because it was a weekday and I was the only one out there; I felt like I was wandering through the desert or something. When I got to the top of the first dune, I saw one of the two natural freshwater lakes in the park at the bottom of the hill, and off to my left I could see the ocean on the horizon. I had half a mind to hike to the coast, but it’s always further than it looks, and it was already after four by the time I made it to the top. So I went down to the lake instead, which was full of surprisingly warm water. I bolted down the hill in giant leaps, taking running starts and then launching myself off the edge at the steepest parts. That’s the only way to go down a dune if you ask me. It’s almost like flying for a brief second, and you can cover twenty or thirty foot expanses with one jump because of the angle of the hill, without having to worry about a rough landing. The only things I had to worry about were sand in my eyes and the wind taking my hat on the way down. The sand there was like powder; just really fine off-white grains that didn’t even stick to my feet as I was exploring the dunes. Or at least it didn’t stick until near the end when I waded out into the lake for a while and came back with wet feet; then it stuck like cement mix. They had a diving platform out in the middle of the lake, and I got the feeling that this must be a pretty popular spot in the summer months. After I the sun had gone down, I worked my way back to the van, and started to drive out of the park, but then realized that there were RV campgrounds everywhere, and I could probably find a place to take a hot shower. Sure enough, I found a campground in Loop B that had a couple showers, so I got cleaned up before heading back into Florence. It was beautiful; I had the showers to myself and the water pressure would have blown me over if I didn’t hold a power stance the whole time. I went back into town feeling quite refreshed, and then decided to call it an early night since I had a show the following evening. So I went straight to my temporary home at Safeway and passed out heavily til morning.
I slept in and then went back to old town to play on the streets for a little while; I had a couple songs I wanted to practice so that I’d be able to play them in the evening. It was cloudy out and threatening rain, so people were sparse and I only made a couple dollars while playing, but it was still well worth it. I had a late lunch and then charged up at McDonald’s one last time. I made sure to get directions to the next place so I wouldn’t need to stop again in the morning. Then I went to the Bay Street Grille and had a couple dark beers while waiting for my set time, and then played a two hour set for the handful of people who were there on a rainy Friday night. It was a pretty good show though, and I ended up doing fairly well with tips and everything. The restaurant closed down around 11:30, and I decided I should probably just crash. I was halfway to drunk and could have kept going at the bar next door, but my plan was to play at the Saturday Farmers Market in Eugene the following morning, so sleep sounded like a better idea. I crashed in the Safeway parking lot one final night and then woke up before seven because of the beer, so I filled the tank and went eastward.
It was about an hour and a half drive to get to Eugene, and I was there by nine in the morning. My directions took me straight to the farmers market, which was downtown, and I got out and took a good long walk around the city before stopping back to grab the guitar and such. Eugene is a pretty cool place and I met three or four other musicians on the streets, one of them who just went by “Grandpa.” When I started setting up at the market, a guy with a beard came up to me and asked if I had signed up for this spot, and I told him no, I’d never been here and didn’t realize that there was a sign up sheet. So he directed me to the information tent and watched my stuff for me while I went and signed up for a musician’s spot. I got to the info tent and talked to the guy that was manning it; apparently there were four places that were designated for musicians to play for one-hour time slots throughout the day. You could sign up as many times as you wanted, so I signed up for Site 3, where I had been setting up anyway, and then signed up for another time slot at Site 1, where there had been an old guy singing the blues when I first walked up. It was as easy as that. I went back and played for about an hour where I had left my stuff, and then when my time slot was finished I had a little over an hour to hang out before I was set to play again at a different spot. So I dropped the guitar back at the van, moved parking spots so I wouldn’t get a ticket, and then took a walk around the market. It had grown far busier since the early morning, and all the booths were fully set up now. I asked some pretty girls if they had the time, and they just pointed at a giant clock on the bank across the street. I blushed, and then realized that I had about an half an hour till I was set to play, so I started meandering my way back to the van and crossed paths with Grandpa again. He recognized me from carrying the guitar earlier, so I had a good conversation with him about busking and life, and he said he’s been doing this for a living for the last thirty years. He was posted up on a corner right by a parking garage, just one block away from the farmers market. Most of the people who went to the market parked in this garage, and he had a spot right at the bottom of the stairs. He said this had been his Saturday spot for decades now, and he got there early every weekend to stake his claim. He smiled and waved and made comments to almost every pretty girl that walked by, and he even had a duck call that he was using to attract attention and make people laugh. This guy had some character for sure, and when he played, he had a really strong baritone voice as well. After twenty minutes or so, I told him I had to go grab my guitar and play at the market, and he told me I should light one up before my set, to which I laughed and then went on my way.
I got the guitar and then walked back to the market, and this time I had the spot with the most foot traffic. I played for over an hour and tried not to repeat any songs from the first session, and I ended up filling the guitar case and selling a couple CDs. I thought it was kind of cool actually that it was organized by the market; this keeps musicians from stepping on each others toes and gives everyone a fair chance to set up and play. When it was all said and done, I packed up and headed back towards the van, but stopped again when I got to Grandpa. He said he was getting ready to call it a day, and that if I wanted his corner, he’d give it to me for the rest of the day. He said he’d rather I get it than some junkie that’s selling newspapers to pay for his habit, and being pushy about it. So I told him I had to get a sandwich from the car first, but I could be down to play for another hour or two. He said he’d hold the spot until I got back, and then started packing up his stuff. I went and got my sandwich, hit the restrooms, and then posted up at the third spot in Eugene since I’d showed up only five hours earlier. When I got back to the corner Grandpa was all packed up, so he picked up his stuff, smiled at me and said “knock em dead, kid,” and then walked off down the street.
Now the market itself and the garage nearby are two entirely different spreads for playing music. At the market, people are gathered in close proximity, checking out fresh produce and cheese, pumpkins, corn, homemade honey, woodwork and other types of art at the stands nearby, and as a musician you help to provide the soundtrack for browsing. In other words, the crowd is already gathered, and you just add to the atmosphere by providing music. At the parking garage, people are passing on their way to and from the market and other places downtown, and the longest gathering of a crowd is when they’re waiting for the crosswalk to change. As a result, when you play a song, its not uncommon for most people to only catch twenty or thirty seconds of it before walking by. And I think that is the reason Grandpa had a duck call; he would talk to almost everyone that passed, and kind of pull them in for a minute or two; a little bit different from just providing music. The benefit of that spot was that it was covered if it rained, and it had really good acoustics, especially for the harmonica. I took the opportunity to play a bunch of songs that I don’t play very often so I can keep them in my repertoire, and there was a guy sitting on the stairs texting when I played some songs from the 90’s, and afterwards he got up and threw a twenty in the case before he walked away. I didn’t stop playing until it was after five in the afternoon and the market was all closed up. All in all, I made about seventy bucks during the day, and that was plenty to get me down to Ashland for the next show.
After playing, I went and met a couple at a restaurant to purchase an old phone from them. I had found it on craigslist, and we’d been communicating via email for almost a week, so this was the final step. It had been sort of a mess to get it all together, but we finally connected up on Saturday evening. I got the phone, and went straight to a Verizon store, and unfortunately it turned out to be too old to reactivate, not because it was in bad shape, but because it was made before cell phones were wired to make emergency calls whether they are in service or not. Basically I was told that it is now illegal for Verizon to activate the phone because of the cell phone laws that are currently in place. So I sent another email to the woman from whom I had bought the phone, let her know what they had told me, and asked if I could maybe trade it for the other phone they were selling. She was more than willing to make a trade, and felt bad for giving me such an outdated phone. I bear no grudge at all, she couldn’t have known that was an issue, and I was just trying to get a phone that I can get to work. She told me they were leaving town in the morning, but they were going to stop at Denny’s around 7:15am, so if I could get there by 7:45, she would trade out the phones and give me my money back. I’m not really an early riser, and without a phone, I don’t have an alarm clock either, so I decided to just park at Denny’s and sleep there. Miraculously I woke up at 6:40 and slowly tried to wake myself up. At 7:30, I was sitting in the front seat putting on my sandals to walk inside, and they walked up to my door with the other phone. I talked to them for a couple minutes, gave them a CD and thanked them profusely, and then lied back down in bed. I was kinda dozing a little bit, and then I got another knock on my door. I leaned forward, and it was that same couple again, and they had brought me breakfast! I couldn’t believe it; after all the mess to get the phone, try the phone, trade out the phone, and twenty-six emails back and forth, they came and brought me breakfast in bed! They wished me all the best and then headed out on their way, and with a hot breakfast in front of me, I couldn’t just go back to sleep. So I pulled out the computer and found that I had free WiFi from Denny’s, and I watched some good old-fashioned Sunday morning cartoons. I don’t know how old I’ll get in the big scheme of things, but I hope I never get too old to enjoy things like Bugs Bunny and Speedy Gonzalez. Anyway, I had a fantastic Sunday morning, and then I went to try the other phone at a Verizon store, but it wouldn’t work either. I knew it was a long shot cause it was a Cingular phone, and so it didn’t even bother me when they said it wouldn’t work with Verizon. I stopped to charge up at a Starbucks and put the word out, and have since found a couple phones that will work for me, but I’ve gotta find a way to get one sent to me in Oregon. I’ll figure it out this week, but either way I needed to be in Ashland for a show this Friday, so once again I followed the sun and went south. It was a three and a half hour drive straight down the I-5, and I got there just in time to hit up an open mic. There was some really good talent at this open mic, and they had an upright piano that got plenty of use for a Sunday night. I stayed out far too late, hanging out with a bunch of locals, and then at the end of the night I passed out nearby at a Holiday Inn parking lot. That was last night. We’ll see what adventures the new week brings..