The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Triple trip and a kick to top the cake. December 15, 2007

catedralLa morenaza

Because of Tuesday’s result I decided to try a variation. I tried the same spot as Tuesday, in front of the shoe store, and I tried my usual place at the museum but before that I tried another place just a block away from the shoe store. It is the same market area where only pedestrians can walk. To get there I went through the same sea of people that I passed on Tuesday but this day I even got to  see a fight between a drunken  old man and another guy. I guess It wasn’t really a fight but rather a situation where the drunken old man was bothering people to the point where somebody from the crowd had to intervene and throw him to the ground. I have it on video. Why do I have it on video? you might ask. Well because it happened as I had my camera out to picture the huge crowd around the Matachines‘ show in front of the cathedral. Today was the big day for Their Lady of Guadalupe and the crowd was going wild.


The first spot I played at has a couple of cantinas in front and behind it and what I think might be an extremely dilapidated and weird looking brothel too. I know this doesn’t make it sound like a great spot, but one has to consider the crowd, which is the one that makes the vibe of it all. This place is pretty good for busking but it just so happened that as I was setting up my stuff another group of Matachines came to perform a few hundred feet from me, they are really loud with their drums and their thousand nutshells attached to their ankles. The good and the bad thing is that they came and went. I believe it is a ritual amongst merchants in Mexico to bless their markets and so they always dedicate an altar to the Virgen de Guadalupe and then have the Matachines perform their ritual dance around the market place to finish up in front of the altar, so this guys were just circling the area back and forth. This gave me a few minutes of silence every now and then. I played my set and got some very good response to it, including a “Qué chingón!!” yell from a transient (which in English means something like “Holy mother of Christ, that rocks!” only with mildly less religiously enthusiastic language).

At the second spot I started my set with a song in spanish and attracted some attention, a few coins and a few stares. By the second song I had a little crowd of  7 or 10 people, one of them dancing. When I finished it up they applauded and then the dancing girl approached me and asked: ” Why are you playing here?” I thought it was a wide open question so I asked her to specify and she said: ” Well, you don’t look poor.” I talked to them for a while and explained that among other things I was also trying to break that precise preconception and that I would be really happy to see more and more actual street performers who were not afraid of that socio-economic stigma. They agreed and said it was a very cool thing, but when I told them that I had to get back to work and continue to play, they thought I was ditching them. I guess it’ll take more time for them to understand that there is indeed some kind of seriousness to the performing side.

I decided to finish the day at the front of the Museum, it’s just a very nice spot and it seems to call me. When I got there I noticed that at the eastern corner of the building a young guy and his sister (I think) were performing. He plays the accordion and she holds a cup. They both look as if they don’t really want to be there and he plays sitting on the sidewalk. I had seen them on Tuesday and gave them a few coins. I thought about them and about approaching them but they look really shy. So what I did was to go all the way to the other corner of the building instead of staying at the entrance so that I wouldn’t bother them or take any possible tip away from them. This was inevitable though, and I felt kind of bad. I thought about approaching them and telling them some tips, because the guy can obviously play the accordion pretty well, but I don’t want to sound condescending or snobbish as if I knew everything by telling them what has worked for me. The girl keeps covering her mouth with the arms of her sweatshirt (as a nervous tic I think) as she puts the Burger King cup on your face when you walk pass them. It seems to me like they are doing everything wrong in terms of making their busking efficient and pleasant, but how do I tell them?

BK brothers

So anyway I went to the complete opposite side of the building, played, got some good money and as I was getting ready to wrap up my last song this weird looking lady came and stopped by my side. She suddenly started to mimic my movements and although it was funny I realized that she wasn’t right in the head. So I wrapped it up and began to pick my stuff up. She looked at me and told me: “Suelte un aguilar ¿o qué?” This is roughly translated to ” Let go of an Aguilar, or what?” At this point I kind of knew what she was aiming for because she kept eyeing my purse and my hat, but I also didn’t understand what she was saying. So I asked: ” Do you mean a song by Antonio Aguilar (A big Norteño musician)? I don’t really do that kind of music, I’m bad with covers” I said. I kept on putting my stuff away, I grabbed my purse (some people would call it a male hand bag but screw that, its a purse) and the money and she approached my guitar and with her extremely long and scary nails she went through each one of the strings. I told her that she should be careful because they could snap and hurt her. She didn’t hear me, she continued and said that she had been in a fight earlier during the day and showed me her nails by putting them very near my face. At this point I kind of understood what she was trying to do so I played stupid. She asked for that Aguilar again and I told her about the famous singer again to which she replied: “No te hagas pendejo (Don’t play stupid), que sueltes una lana (give me some money). At this point I had everything with me and my guitar was behind me so I told her that I wouldn’t, that I had just worked for it and that wasn’t the way to ask anyway. So she slowly walked towards my right side, took a long look at me from top to bottom and then kicked me on the side of the leg. She couldn’t really stand up properly, drunkness I guess, so I barely felt the kick. She quickly took off to bother some other guy selling I don’t know what and I just kept walking towards the bridge. I later thought about that Aguilar thing and recalled that peso coins all have an eagle stamp in the back. The word for eagle in Spanish is águila, so “Aguilar” being a famous last name and having to do with águila, is a slang for money. Now I know and you do too in case you get to see her once upon a border town.

Day 10


Amount of money made: 14.58

Time Played: 1h 55m

Exchange rate: $11.08p/dollar