The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Not quite yet… January 10, 2008

Filed under: busking,street performing,Wednesday — ramonalvarado @ 1:34 am
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tin tanmision de guadalupe

So I waited all day at home yesterday for the owner of that guitar to arrive, I had my mind set. I woke up very early, made myself a cup of coffee, scribbled down a full set of ten or 11 songs and played it full volume in the kitchen. After finishing it up with a bang I released the strap from the guitar (that much is mine), sat the guitar in my tripod and dutifully cleaned it with some kind of weird wood oil that we use in furniture. I also retuned it properly with that 500 lb tuner of mine, because I know nobody won’t once she’s home. In other words I petted the guitar with that condescending cloth of prideful deliverance that says “here, you can have it back but she’ll never be the same.” I mean I could almost see myself saying, when the time to give it up came, “she’ll come back to me the second you neglect her” but that would be a little too freaky considering the fact that she‘s actually an it and has no life of its own apart from my melodramatic imagination. Anyway so I just decided not to play it all throughout the day and instead invest all that time practicing with my Turkish drum. I tuned it, cleaned it, and practiced for hours between breakfast and lunch banging along really festive Middle Eastern and Eastern European music, I was actually excited about the whole instrument change and stuff but, you guessed it, the guitar owner didn’t show up.

Now, I know that she could drop by any time so I’m still going to have that drum ready. Nevertheless I decided to go busking today with the guitar. After two weeks without doing so I was nervous again. I walked around towards the Velarde area which I had come to like quite a lot, but the PA systems were just overwhelming, so I just returned towards the museum and did my set there twice. It was quite a regular day except for the fact that I got tired pretty soon. I did walked around after I finished up busking and by the time I walked back towards Juarez avenue to walk it up to the bridge I saw that the accordion and cup duo were back playing at the corner of the museum. I thought that was cool, I thought they had given up. 

having fun

After changing my pesos for dollars a lady stopped me and told me that I was a really good singer and that she likes to see me outside the museum, she congratulated me and wished me luck, that was actually pretty cool. 

Day 16


Amount of money made: $8.11

Time played: 1h 2om

Exchange rate: 10.96 pesos/dollar



Don Alacran’s X-mas Eve December 27, 2007

Filed under: Mondays,the people — ramonalvarado @ 7:46 pm
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Alacran (native scorpion) man. 

I had the day off and thought it would be a good idea to go busking before the whole navidad thing started. I went straight to the Velarde area an did a quick set there in stern defiance against the speakers, and then just went to my regular spot. There was a lot of people but everybody was just too busy. A couple of kids did stop and listen to me and then asked “so, whose songs do you know?” I routinely answered them: “Mine.” They weren’t that impressed.

When I finished I took my time walking on Juarez avenue looking for a good exchange rate but ended up in the same currency exchange place. The ladies there are nice and never make faces when I show up with all of those coins. Anyway, before that I stopped to talk for a little while with Don Alacran. I asked him about his business and he said it wasn’t going very well, that usually by this time of the month he had almost none of his figurines left but that this year had been terrible. As we talked about the cold weather he started to tell me about previous Christmas eves he had had. He told me how 5 years ago in a freezing and snowing Christmas eve a couple of nuns came to him and gave him ten dollars so that he could go home. He said he couldn’t even work on his figurines that day because of the cold, so he was just standing there waiting to sell something to bring dinner home. He then told me about last year’s Christmas too. A stranger came to him and told him to come with him. He then took Don Alacran to a supermarket and bought lots of food for him. He remembered how he couldn’t even carry all of that stuff and how the generous gentleman also offered a ride home but he couldn’t accept it because it would be too much. He was deeply moved.

As he was telling me this he was also saying how this Christmas eve he was just waiting long enough to sell something so that he could buy a kilo of tortillas and have some dinner. At this point I felt like asking him about his personal life, whether or not he had a family, but I thought it was too early for me to ask anything like that and instead I just asked where he lived. He told me. After spending something like ten minutes with him I decided to buy a beautiful little turtle from him. The turtles and the alacranes are a dollar, the amazing butterflies are $2.50.


There is at least one other guy that does the same kind of figurines but he seems less approachable even in the aesthetics of his craft. While Don Alacran makes beautiful butterflies this other guy makes menacing cobras and attack positioned dragons. They are also quite amazing and a lot bigger than Don Alacran’s but the colours and the subject matter aren’t as welcoming. Anyway, he was really happy that I bought the turtle from him and he told me that if business was better he would have given it for free, I told him not to worry,  that I wouldn’t have accepted it for free, that’s his job and his prices are less than fair. Don Alacran’s name is Amado by the way (Loved in Spanish). I hope he really is.


I then walked further downtown to get a public transportation bus to take me to the east side of town, cross the border back to the United States on that side and go to a family dinner. I kept Don Alacran in mind. Maybe we can do something for him, like sell and ship his figurines with the help of the Internet. Otherwise stop by and say hi to him, buy something from him if you happen to be on Juarez avenue. He’d be the one with the cowboy hat and a dozen or so little wire insects in front of him.

Day 15


Amount of money made (BC subtracted): $9.58

Time Played: 1h 50min

Little wire turtle: $1

Public transportation: .45c

Actual gain: $8.13

Currency exchange rate: 11.00 pesos/dollar

Knowing that Don Amado was only having tortillas that night: heartbraking, eye opening, priceless.


Eye for and eye and ear drum for ear drum… December 22, 2007

blurry downtown 

I know things get a little crazy in this season but I still fail to understand how does common sense, a very intricate but very real organic and intuitive ability with which we humans pride ourselves, could just take a vacation and refuse to intervene even in the most urgently absurd matters of daily life. Maybe I am being over dramatic but I just couldn’t understand what kind of reasoning was behind the PA system bombardment of the Juarez downtown area. Front to front, shops where just waring each other with loudspeakers. “Death by volume…” they seemed to say, “to all!” I mean, there is only so much a huge speaker can achieve in terms of attracting shoppers, after that it’ll just literally blow them away. I did try to busk there though, I guess my common sense decided to join the manager’s of these stores. It didn’t work. I couldn’t even hear myself.

So I went to my usual spot at the museum. I was only bothered by having to repeat my set at the same spot but I was determined to busk. When I got there, lo and behold: municipal street workers drilling the sidewalk at the corner. I figured that they where using the jackhammer in an already dug ditch so the ground would muffle the sound, plus it wasn’t that big of a jackhammer, nothing was going to stop me. I just had to smile it off, otherwise I would have felt really disappointed about not busking at all. So I did, I busked and I laughed at the jackhammer and it worked fine.

A lady did tell me that I needed a mic with all that noise, but I say screw the noise, I can deal with noise, motorcycles, over polluting public transportation, crazy ladies screaming while walking, kids crying, everything, even attempted kicks, I can deal with everything. It’s just those damn PA systems, I mean, talk about Kryptonite to a busker and he’ll tell you the chemical equation of sound acidity… “Yamaha 300 portable version, Peavey sound blaster 2000, Kustom deluxe Earcrusher…(insert a silent gulp)…add a shoe or Latin music store and…oh, the horror.”

Day 14


Amount of money made (BC subtracted): $11.69 (I see a settling trend)

Time played: 1h 30m

Currency exchange rate: $11.10 pesos/dollar


 When I was first walking towards the downtown area through the main downtown strip the exchange rate was between 11.19 to 11.25 pesos/dollar, so when I was coming back and I saw the 11.10 rate I was surprised. I didn’t even look further as I usually do. Coming to find out, the dollar had dropped by .17 Mexican cents while I busked. My regular money exchange place was selling it for 11.08. Talk about a volatile market.


Busker’s Buzz December 20, 2007

Filed under: Tuesdays — ramonalvarado @ 2:23 am
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franquicia tambora 

As I was arriving at the pedestrian area of Velarde St. I saw that the place where the Andean musicians where last time was taken by this gentleman selling a sort of dancing magical skeletons. He sells them by putting on a show with them. These things are made of plastic, about three inches tall and hang by a very thin, invisible almost, fishing wire and he sort of inadvertently makes them dance while speaking to the public.  I kept on walking to my usual spot in the shoe store area. I was so focused on finding out if the PA system of the big shoe store was on that I didn’t noticed that the Andean musicians where already setting up right there. When I saw them I noticed one of the agents of commerce talking to them and telling them that they should get a permit, I think it’s because they have the whole kit, including CD’s and flutes to sell. I talked to them and found out thatthey are actually from Mexico City and not from the Andean region, they usually busk at Malls during this season.

As I was wishing them luck and taking off at that same corner, in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, two little boys, probably 5 or 6 or 5 and6 started to play Tambora with a snare drum and a clarinet, I was really happy about all of this busking scene but a little bit nervous about finding a spot. I went ahead anyway and walked a block further south, did my set and then walked towards the northern end of the Velarde pedestrian shopping area where Ulises joined me briefly once again.

tambora franchise

After that I went towards the Museum where I saw that the little tambora boys had multiplied. They were 7 of them and they had a strategy of divide and conquer. The group I had seen in the Velarde plaza was a subdivision of a busking franchise of brothers and sisters. They where all walking together with their instruments this time back to the main downtown square. As soon as I started my set at the Museum I broke a string, luckily there is a music store right next to me and I was able to change it in less than 5 minutes.

Day 14


Amount of money made: $11.38

Broken string: .90c

Actual gain: $10.48

Exchange rate: 11.16 pesos/dollar