The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Gone With The Wind…however unadvisable this was. March 15, 2008

Filed under: busking,Fridays,street performing — ramonalvarado @ 12:34 am
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From The National Weather Forecast:

STRONG WINDS HAVE DEVELOPED ACROSS THE FORECAST AREA THIS
AFTERNOON AS EXPECTED. WIND SPEEDS SO FAR HAVE REMAINED AT
ADVISORY LEVELS OF 30 TO 4O MPH BUT STILL HAVE A POTENTIAL TO
REACH WARNING LEVELS OF GREATER THAN 40 MPH SUSTAINED BY LATE
AFTERNOON AND EARLY EVENING. WILL KEEP EXISTING HIGH WIND WARNING
IN PLACE UNTIL IT EXPIRES AT 9 PM LOCAL TIME. BLOWING DUST IS
BECOMING THICKER BUT DUE TO THE WESTERLY ORIENTATION OF THE WINDS MAY NOT REDUCE VISIBILITIES TO MUCH LOWER THAN 2 MILES. THE DUST WILL DIMINISH AS THE WINDS DIMINISH THIS EVENING. BUSKERS STAY HOME REGARDLESS OF HOW STUBBORNLY POSITIVE YOUR INCLINATION TO PLAY MAY PICTURE THE DAY. IT WILL BE AWFUL. REPEAT: IT WILL BE AWFUL.

If I could add anything to this, besides the obvious last paragraph, it would go something like: No shit mister satellite!  I just didn’t think that the weather cared much about the before noon/ after noon arbitrariness and when I got out of my house it was still bearable.  Once I crossed the border there was no lazy breeze like on wednesday but rather just a full blown garbage and dust gust. I still tried it for some reason, or lack thereof, actually. It was awful. My guitar case kept shutting closed, the lucky dollar kept threatening to escape into the atmosphere and people, like the many random garbage items, just passed flying by. Even behind their  rather tight squints I could read their estranged gaze saying to me: “WTF are you doing here, didn’t you read the weather report?”- No, I didn’t but I could tell you more or less what it said.

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Day 19

Friday

Amount of money made: $ .5 cents 😦

Time played: 2 songs

Exchange rate: does it really matter?

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Fitter, Happier, More Productive… March 1, 2008

Filed under: Fridays — ramonalvarado @ 2:47 am
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I was nervously excited yet there wasn’t a way for me to overtly express it as obviously as I once did with frenetic pedaling when on a bicycle. Full speed-an amazing and mind boggling 18 mph- I surfed my Goped amidst the cars in central El Paso. Maybe my turns and zigzags were slightly more anxious, maybe my head was stiffer all the while, maybe I gave a few more fingers or yelled a few more obscenities to cellphone driver drones; maybe I did all of that at the same time, many times, at every a single swift  of my wobbly Goped but I wouldn’t know. I was nervous.

I arrived at the downtown area where I surfed past the streets at cruising-speed but because of the narrowness of the lanes, the smallness of my being amongst the buildings and the ant-like illusion of the crowd I just felt faster, action-style faster. I arrived, I parked and I walked through the border. It’s funny but you can really smell it as soon as you are right halfway past the Rio Grande. A mixture smell of smog and lard flows towards your face as you walk down the bridge. It smells as it sounds as it tastes, like the language: spicy, spacey, spoty but also quite diffused…lardy.  Something between a taco and a cloud.

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I have this vision of an image being swallowed by a vacuum. That’s how it felt when I opened the guitar case on the sidewalk. Everything shut up as if absorbed by that hollow in the heart of my instrument. It was a beautiful day but I couldn’t play for that long. My fingers and throat need to readjust to the task.

Day 17 

Friday

Amount of money made: $5.57

Time played: maybe 1 hr.

Exchange rate: 10.6o pesos per dollar.

Being back: let me check my MasterCard…oh, yes, priceless.

 

Buskin’ it solo (My cowboy motto) December 16, 2007

Filed under: Fridays,the people — ramonalvarado @ 12:04 am
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new hat

I decided to do the same thing again, a quick stop at that open shopping area next to the market, with the cantinas and the vecindad-looking brothel at La Paz street and then go to the front of the shoe stores around the corner on Velarde Street, a very famous downtown shopping street if you were raised in Juarez, and then end up at the Museum area, right at the corner of Juarez Avenue and 16 of September. As I walked south on Juarez avenue I said good morning to Don Alacran who responded with an unexpectedly enthusiastic “Buena suerte!” (Good Luck) which made me feel really confident.

I thought that the first place was a good busking place because of the attention one gets but I realized that the money isn’t that good. I never count what’s in my hat until I get to the money exchange store but I could easily discern a small amount after I did my set. I do an 8-10 song set depending on the noise and the vibe, and it amounts to almost 40 minutes of music. Doing three different spots puts me at two hours of actual playing which can be kind of exhausting if I don’t take breaks. So I think that that first set I do at La Paz street could be better spent either at a different busking pitch or at any of the two other ones. 

After this I went to the Velarde pedestrian alley and played my set without any particularities. The money and the people there make the other spot look futile. I place my tripod and myself right next to the inner side of a street bench, so there is a space between me and the businesses behind me. The owner of the very small shoe store behind me now says hi in a very respectful and distant way, but always with a smirk of approval which makes me feel welcomed there. This is the only place where I have managed to pick up a crowd, even if small, of on lookers. It still makes me nervous but I try to focus on my guitar. I usually get great comments and a sort of curiosity about my songs. “Who’s song is that?”- “Mine…”-”Wow…really?”

When I finished my set I was walking north towards the Museum when I saw Ulises talking to some young people. He had his guitar with him again. I stopped to say hi to him and he told me that he had been at the Museum looking for me. I told him that I had followed part of his advice and ventured deeper into the downtown area. He asked me if I was going towards the museum and he invited himself too before I could answer. As we walked a few steps he approached a bench where a lady was sitting. She had ear muffs and a scarf and gloves and a thick jacket on her. Ulises just went to her and told her “Let’s go”. She looked confused and he explained to her that I was a friend from El Paso, that I played at the museum and that he was going to join me for a while. He introduced her as his wife, from Veracruz, on the opposite coast of Acapulco, where he is from. That explained the astronaut approach  to the weather, I guess. So we walked and talked a little about the busking business and how he just came from busking at the bus system and made six dollars in just about four trips. When we got the museum he started playing some songs and then I played a couple of mine but I realized that he’s not that great of a partner forbusiness. I cannot accompany him because I don’t have the musical ability and he cannot accompany me because he refuses to tune his guitar with mine. His answer: “if we all tried to tune to somebody else’s instrument nobody would be doing anything”. I ‘m not sure I follow his logic, or if there is logic to follow at all in his statement, but I wasn’t going to argue with him about how I tune to a Wurlitzer organ. The other thing is that he doesn’t seem to finish up the songs, it is like he is just teaching me, so it wasn’t really working right. People passing by thought we were just jammin’ for no apparent reason. In the mean time his wife was walking around, because he told her to “go explore” . When she took off he turned to me and he said that she’s was like an idle cat that needed to wonder off in search of warmth. After a few minutes it got too cold for him because of the shade and he decided to go so he said bye and went away to work somewhere else. I was relived to a certain extent, he’s a great guy but I rather busk alone.

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As soon as he was gone I started a set but my fingers were so cold that there were certain songs I couldn’t do, so I just stuck to the fast ones. It was a good day at the end, I even received an envelope with some dollar bills plus a catholic prayer icon of some sort. I guess it was a part of some body’s charity strategy for December.  You might notice the change of hat from the pictures, this is a Russian winter hat that I bought in Moscow, slightly over suited for our winters, but useful nonetheless.  On my way north on Juarez avenue I saw the brother/sister duo of accordion and cup, I said hi and wished them luck. The girl smiled.

Day 11

Friday

Amount of money made (border crossing subtracted): $19.76

Time Played: 2h

Using a public bathroom: .30c

Actual gain: $19.46

Exchange rate: 11.05 p/dollar