The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

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.

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Cheers. December 31, 2007

Filed under: the people — ramonalvarado @ 8:13 pm
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img_0116.jpgjuarez avenue crowdulisesimg_0114.jpgchavillosimg_0135.jpgsotoimg_0208.jpgfranquicia tamborablurry downtownimg_0177.jpgLa morenazanew hatalcranesmata-chinesBK brothers

I haven’t actually busked these past days, busy holiday schedules from the corporate side of the anti-cruisers have kept me from the streets, but today something interesting happened. I had some business to attend in downtown El Paso and as I was forming a line I recognized the gentleman in front of me.

He came and talked to me the first day I busked at the Museum pitch. When he first approached me I thought that he wasn’t all there, but as we spoke he struck me as an extremely lucid person only a little weird, but aren’t we all? He spoke four languages perfectly and a little french. That time he told me all about his home town in Jalisco. I happen to have been to that little town more than three times in my hitch hiking adventures, so we got to talk and he showed me some pictures and stuff. Anyway, I never saw him again until today, in front of me in this line. So I just told him: “You came from Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, right?” And he seemed taken aback, so he remained silent and then turned and said: “When did I mentioned that?” I told him how we had met in Juarez and stuff and he recalled the occasion. He didn’t say much though, it was his turn at the window and he went about his business. When he was done he just said good luck and took off. As I was talking to the lady at the window he approached me and asked: “Are you still playing there?” I told him that I still did at least twice a week, so he reached into his pocket and told me: “Here’s a little tip for next time.” He gave me 75 cents. It was the last tip of the year, or the first of the new one? Since it was given to me as a tip for next time I play and the next time will be next year… I’ll have to ask him next time I see him. 

Great endings but better beginnings to all.

img_0079.jpgHe plays the violin tooimg_0093.jpgimg_0075.jpgAlacran (native scorpion) man.img_0097.jpgimg_0063.jpgEl Mysticoimg_0063.jpgrutacathedraltambora franchiseandinoscalleblurry downtownLa morena

 

I’m not out in the streets, but the streets are in here with me. December 7, 2007

Filed under: Cyber busking — ramonalvarado @ 10:44 pm
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The corporate side of the anti-cruisers has been continuosly scheduling my sorry butt to work on Fridays, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of this most profitable day of busking. This means no news today of the borderland front of what we dearly call in my familly the “twilight zone” (downtown Juarez). In the mean time here’s another cyber busking treat. Enjoy.

This one is called “Closure“, nothing political this time, just a few existential screams here and there. Don’t forget the tip hat on the right side of the blog or in this post. Or the comment hat since I can’t really see if you’re head-banging to my song.

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Ulises the clown December 6, 2007

Filed under: the people — ramonalvarado @ 5:07 pm
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ulises 

Today I met Ulises who is ,ironically, more of a siren than a travelling god, although one could argue that he was both simultaneously if one saw him busking on a public transportation bus. He just stopped by and started to play with me to later take over the show in a very friendly way. He came by with his guitar and as we talked and played he explained to me that he only does the guitar thing on his free days because he loves music, but that his real job and real passion is clowning and making balloon figurines. He works a little bit further in the downtown area.  He explained to me that there are better spots to busk at, full of local traffic, and he also told me that I should try the public transportation. As he talked he also played many songs. He has an amazing repertoire of Mexican folk music and all other kinds of music, from Italian pop to Mexican rock to norteño stuff.

Ulises doesn’t make his own songs and was really pleased to listen to mine. So we both exchanged a little knowledge, from busker to busker.  As he explained to me some chords for Mexican music and I explained him about loosing the fear to write he kept on playing and I kept on playing so I didn’t really stopped working. The great thing about Ulises is that he was really proud about being a very good clown and a very good balloon artist, and he really was able to transmit, convey, his vibe about the whole business even without his clown suit or his balloons, but with the guitar. You couldn’t walk past Ulises without taking a little part of him with you, such as when your left shoe accidentally manages to step on a freshly tossed piece of chewing gum that has been under the sun for a few minutes. I can only imagine him as a clown with part of his smile shining out those metal teeth for the whole world to see, or at least the whole downtown plaza (he had 3 silver ones). It was a pleasure to meet a real downtown busker for once.

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The day went thus…

Day 8

Amount of money made: $8.73

Border crossing: .65c

Time played: 1h 10 min, plus 30 min with Ulises.

Actual gain: $8.08

Meeting a colleague such as Ulises: just beautiful.

 

Going clean December 4, 2007

Filed under: the people — ramonalvarado @ 12:41 am
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Today as I walked  towards my spot I saw the guy that makes the little scorpions out of wire cleaning some windows at the main strip in downtown Juarez. I guess it was an extra gig for him, I said hi and he returned the greeting. He’s about the only one that I’ve gotten to know in this area and when I talked to him he told me a few things about the main strip that corroborated my gut feeling. Ever since I started playing in downtown Juarez I’ve thought about playing in this street because there is a lot of traffic and many tourist walk through it, yet it has a very dirty vibe to it that just doesn’t make me feel welcomed. It’s not dirty like in kinky dirty but actually just dirty, dusty and not only does it have many people asking for money but apparently they have a bad attitude about it too according to Mr. Alacran. So, even though I’ve been thinking about changing my spot, I think I’m gonna stick with it for a while. It happens to be right outside a museum, there aren’t any people asking for money there and I get to see more of the local dynamic towards buskers. Since I have started playing I informed myself of many busking tips and tricks yet I was a little skeptical about how they would work in a northern Mexican context. One of the tips that I read about was about trying to look neater in appearance than the people asking for money and of course it makes absolute sense, but then I thought about the fact that people in this region seem to think that if you look in good shape you don’t need the help. And I know it sounds funny from me to say help, but I think that many people view their tip as that, as help, not as a nice tip for a nice artsy colour in their usually gloomy day, but as a charitable help.  Even if such was the case I wasn’t about to start exploiting a run-down image just for the sake of it either, but I do wear some torn jeans from time to time and even a neglected beard because that’s just the way I  dress and keep myself. Anyway, for the sake of experimentation I’ve stopped wearing torn jeans when I’m going to play and it seems like it is working. It has only increased by three or four dollars but it seems awfully coincidental that it has increased exactly the days that I haven’t worn those jeans, so I’m attributing the rise to my pants and my preppy sweater! Today I also got invited to join a band as a vocalist by three 16/17 years old kids, they even played me a song of theirs and gave me a CD for me to see if maybe I would be interested…I think I’ll pass this time.

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Day 7

Amount of money made: $7.89

Border crossing: .65c

Time played: 1h, 40m

Actual gain: $7.24

 

That long black cloud is comin’ down December 1, 2007

Filed under: Cyber busking — ramonalvarado @ 1:16 am
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 This one is called “All that you can say“. Enjoy. Don’t forget the tip hat in the form of a paypal button at the end of this post, or the comment hat for that matter. It matters. Cheers.

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I rock, maybe. November 29, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ramonalvarado @ 2:27 am
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I don’t know about you, but to me a head-bang says a thousand words and it’s also worth a thousand coins. Today I got about two of them. You see, out in a passer-by style busking show, playing self-written folk tunes with an acoustic guitar, a series of head banging motions from an individual (s) within an otherwise totally unaknowledging transient crowd is very, very hard to come. So when I saw those two kids casually banging their heads it was a day of glory where I suddenly saw my leather hat turn gold and float above the sidewalk in a sort of lightness that can only be associated with the greatest of wealth. I couldn’t help but smile.

I also got a few air guitar motions which are also great, specially if they do them after they’ve walked pass you (because then you know they are not clownin’). The day might have aswell gone as it may have in terms of anything else, but it was those head-bangs that made it for me.

Day 6

Amount of money made: $7.76

Border crossing: .65c

Time played: 1h 50 min.

Actual gain: $7.11

Having someone in the streets rock to your very nerdy folky songs: absolutely priceless!