"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Santa Cruz Sunday Streets

Downtown Santa Cruz is a lively, funky, colorful array of all kinds of people.  There is a strong street sub-culture here - people who either live on the streets voluntarily with their dreads and dogs, or just spend most of their days there, playing music, making art, skateboarding, or playing chess.

What I notice in this street culture is a lot of love.  Never have I felt unsafe, afraid, or ogled at.  Homeless men have smiled sweetly and told me to have a wonderful day.  Young women with heavy backpacks have told me that they like my boots or my hair. Bikers smile and wave when they see me on a bike as well.

Today, I took a few small steps into this world, as more than just an observer.

I rode my bike downtown from my current couch surfing home with the intention of doing some writing at a cafe.  As soon as I locked up my bike, I noticed my favorite busker walking and playing his guitar.  (Busker: a street musician who makes money)  I'd seen this guy several times and have always been drawn to him.  Perhaps because he's just so cute (he can't be more than 19 or 20).  Perhaps because he's quite talented.  Perhaps because he reminds me a bit of my first husband when we met back in college.

I walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.  "Hey," I said.

"Hey," he smiled back.

"Are you about to busk?"

"Yep.  But now I'm just walking and singing - sometimes I like to do that."

"Could I maybe sing with you sometime?  I've been looking for someone to accompany me singing downtown because I don't play any instruments."

"Sure!  I love to sing with other people."  I waited for him to ask my name or when we might practice or such type details.  Instead he said, "How about right now?" and then he began playing Any Way You Want It by Journey.  So what else was there for me to do?  I joined in.

Chris and his guitar
After a few songs together, we finally exchanged names and a bit of biographical information.  Chris is from Hawaii ("That's why I look so tan," he said).  Instead of going to college, he decided to travel the world.  He just came to California after two months in London, and is now working for both the Sierra Club and Taco Bell, and busking in all of his spare time.

We sang a little more.  When I knew the words, I joined in vigorously.  When I didn't, I "oohed" and "aaahed" and tried to harmonize.  My favorite part was when the little kids would stop and dance in front of us, completely devoid of self-consciousness.  We made one dollar and 46 cents.

Chris introduced me to several of his friends as they came up to say hello.  One was a mentally handicapped man in a wheelchair to whom Chris gave the remainder of his cigarette.  Chris called him "Ninja," and the man smiled.  We greeted each other with a fist bump.

Another was Twist, who hung out with us for awhile.  Twist ran away to Santa Cruz when he was 15.  Then he fell in love and married a Hare Krishna girl, had a son, and moved to the West Virginia Appalachians.  Now he's back in Santa Cruz (sans wife and son), practicing Hinduism, and loving people up on the street.  He has tattoos of both Hindu gods and cartoon characters on his arms, and has hawk feathers stuck in his hat and wristband.

After a bit, I said goodbye to my new street friends, and they told me to come find them anytime.  On my walk to the cafe, I heard a little voice behind me saying, "Hey!  Hey stop!  Come back here!"

I turned around and looked down to find a small girl with watery brown eyes, an antler headband, and a painted nose.  "Happy holidays," she smiled and held out a candy cane, obviously pleased that I had listened to her demand to stop so she could foist holiday cheer upon me.

"Thank you," I said, and took the candy cane.

"I'm Rudolph!" she yelled more loudly than necessary.

"I see that," I laughed.

"Can you tell that I'm Rudolph?"  she asked, worriedly.

"Yes of course," I assured her.

She smiled in relief.

I came downtown to write about other stuff, and this is the blog entry that happened to me on the way.  Happy Sunday, y'all.

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  1. Yes some street culture can be very safe and loving, that's why I have gotten sucked in so many times!

    Now I want to just be apart of more non-profits and give to the community more.. I mean you're giving entertainment when a street performer but you are still usually mooching off of people. I have a mixed view on it. If you are a good enough performer that people really want you to keep performing and you do make money it can be an amazing creative outlet, and so can barely making it off of the funds. But when you get to forcibly asking everyone for money then you are wasting your potential. I guess it really depends on the individual! I loved street performance culture esp in Europe

  2. In response to exitflamingo, I live in Chicago and it can get difficult sometimes walking around when so many people are asking for money. To them, I'm just honest, I don't have any cash and I flash a friendly smile. When I do, I love to help out the people who play music. Especially now at Christmas time, when I come up from the "L" and there's a sax player busting out a classic Christmas song, it puts me in such a good mood. I appreciate him being there and I try to show it with a few bucks.
    I also have to comment on that little girl, how stinken cute is she?
    Sounds like you are taking it all in and really enjoying where you are at, which is a feat compared to most of us at this time. I'm jealous.

  3. I certainly agree that if you are going to be playing music and asking for money, you should be good! I would hope that my voice is a gift to those passing by, not a nuisance. Also, I think an important distinction is that if someone is performing, they are accepting donations for a sort of "service," as opposed to mooching, which is just asking for money while giving nothing in return.

    Chris, the busker that I played with, was fun because he often doesn't even put out his guitar case. He plays for the joy of playing. Being currently homeless, I sing both for the joy of it AND the money, because this girl needs a roof over her head soon!

    Yes, the little Rudolph is a-freaking-dorable. I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home.

    Finally, exit flamingo - I think you're new to my blog, no? Welcome!!