Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: backpackers, backpacking troubadours, music, Richmond, sister, troubadours
Mmk, I don’t want to push down the Intimacy Project post or anything, but I just had to tell you two stories. One isn’t really a story. The other is.
The first happened probably two nights ago. I’d just gotten home from a fairly rough hangout and Virginia wasn’t home and I didn’t want to just sit around on my ass in front of the computer. On the ride home, I’d seen this guy a few blocks away holding up a sign saying, “ANYTHING HELPS.” I’d seen this guy before. He was a part of the backpacking troubadours wandering through Richmond lately. When I saw him, I immediately thought of the vegan pasta in my fridge and my birthday money. I knew exactly where the majority of the backpackers were stationed, right by the ATM. I packed up a good deal of pasta in a tupperware container, warmed it in the microwave, grabbed a fork, and set off for the ATM.
I got out twenty bucks and actually considered giving them fifty, but as I walked away from the ATM, some kid asked me for some money for fighting drug abuse by school-age children, and I guess if he’s talking about pot, then fuck that shit, but I can rarely say no, so I gave him five and then walked over to stand a couple of sidewalk squares away from the backpacking troubadours.
I was nervous as fuck. I’m really intimidated by anyone new, but these were people I admired a good deal. I mean, you can first identify them by their backpacks and all-over brownness. They are grody in a way that I love. They have dogs on worn-out leashes with bandanas around their necks. And let me tell you, these dogs are not depressed to be backpackers. They are overjoyed. The backpacking troubadours care about them. The backpackers take them on walks all the time and they love the dogs in a way that most suburbanites cannot understand.
I should also explain that the backpackers are troubadours because they all have some form of an instrument and they play on the streets to earn their money. You see a few guitars, a musical handsaw that is bowed (yes, like amiina and yes, it sounds incredible and yes, Matthew the handsaw player does let other people try it out) and an alto saxophone and singers and a shaker. And they are determined.
I stared at them from a couple of sidewalk squares away for a few minutes, too timid to approach them, but they definitely saw me staring, so I couldn’t chicken out. I walked away and slipped a fifteen into their open saxophone case and they asked, “Would you like to hear a song?!” I replied, “Yeah!” They asked, “What kind of song do you want to hear?!” And I said, “A good one!” So they started playing. I felt awkward standing in front of them for the serenade, so I sat down with them like a few other interested passers-by had. Their sign said, “Dog In Hospital. Anything Helps.”
I stayed for a few songs, which they played energetically. I watched them try to woo passers-by, but it’s hard for them to even get college kids to stop because most are apathetic or maybe shy like me, and most don’t want to part with their money. Sometimes they get frustrated with the people who ignore them, but mostly they just keep playing.
Between songs, they sometimes asked me questions. What’s my name? Where am I from? Do I live here? Do I go to school here? I offered up the pasta, which Matthew, Adam the guitarist, and a few others happily ate with many compliments and shared a bit with one of their dogs. What am I going to school for? Am I vegan? Adam was vegan for a long time. Matthew scooted over to sit next to me and asked me more questions. “You know, that sign is true.” Turns out, one guy’s dog is in the hospital. He contracted Hepatitis A from eating some fish so his eyes are all yellow and he’s in the hospital and they don’t know how much his treatment will cost until he’s actually done in there. How old am I? Have I ever been to Pittsburgh? Philly is Matthew’s town because the black ladies love him. One of the dogs who wasn’t in the hospital came up and gave my face a good licking. Secret: I don’t mind when dogs lick my face, but I never know what to do.
They played a song about a pretty girl who they wished had dirt on her face, hair on her legs, greasy hair, and a stench about her. They sang about fighting the government. They sang about being houseless but not homeless. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Eventually, they began to stand up, I assumed to leave, so I shook some hands and left feeling mighty happy, but also a bit sad deep down. It wasn’t because I pitied them, but it was more because I wished I could have helped them out more by giving them a place to sleep and giving them more food and giving them more money. And I kind of envied their lifestyle. Fighting the system. They’re doing something. I’m just sitting here so comfortably. They have everything they need and nothing more, and they have all the friends they could ever want. The only reason I’d have a hard time taking up their lifestyle is because I have a problem asking for help. But I could learn to play the bells and join another pack of backpacking troubadours. Someday. I’ll start planning now.
The other thing I wanted to say is that I’m proud of my sister, Alexa. I swear she must read this thing.
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