It was on a street near downtown, near the university, and I was going from here to there, absorbed in the things of the day, looking but not especially seeing. On my right, walking the same direction as traffic, was the man. A young man he was, dressed after the Bohemian style, and carrying more than a few musical instruments on his back and in his arms.
The drums were wrapped around his neck like a cape and he held the guitar like the fearless whitewater explorer might grasp the paddle. He walked as one knowing where he was going, on a mission, in a hurry, to some beat in his head.
But where, and why? I’ve moved music gear many times, but usually from car or truck directly to location. Load the car here, unload it there. But never have I walked up the street, wearing it all like a coat. Was he heading to some backroom jam session? Was he seeing how he could do at the pawn shop, having just emptied his closet of every last thing? Or was he returning what he borrowed, finally, after all that time?
Was he embarrassed? When I’ve walked along the road in our car-oriented society, and it was obvious that I was not doing a workout, a jog, some elective activity to keep the reaper at bay, I’ve felt awkward. What, lost his license? Doesn’t have a car, has to take the bus or walk? Lose your chariot you lose your status.
Or, if we traveled back a thousand years, was he simply a minstrel, strolling the countryside, free as a bird, heading to court to entertain the king, or to a town faire, offering up entertainment for coins?
The truth is that the most important information about the walker remained hidden under the surface of his drum heads, guitar strings, and shakers. They encased him like mirrored sunglasses, and I could only glance at his life, the surface of it, like I would a waterfall, or a couch that fell off the back of the pickup into the street and onto the shoulder of the road. It’s there, but I don’t know why.
And what do we really know about anyone, the depths covered over by the debris of time, our stories stuffed in the little canisters of the mind where only a few have ever visited?
Like the fiddler I met on the street the other day, playing for coins tossed into his open case, there are stories and life to find somewhere under the his feet, under the sidewalk, down where the earth remembers our footprints. So where did you grow up? And when did you start playing? Is this tune from Appalachia or Scotland? And what did you say your name was?
Me? Oh, I’m just walking alongside traffic, my random accessories strapped to my body, the artifacts of life tuned to the next moment they might sound, might speak, might find a way to love or lose. If you see me, wave. And I will, too. Ask my name and I’ll do the same. Tell me the story of that instrument, and that one, and that one, too.