The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Cheers. December 31, 2007

Filed under: the people — ramonalvarado @ 8:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

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


Going clean December 4, 2007

Filed under: the people — ramonalvarado @ 12:41 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,


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.


Day 7

Amount of money made: $7.89

Border crossing: .65c

Time played: 1h, 40m

Actual gain: $7.24


The evil spot plus some fellow street performers (aren’t we all?) November 13, 2007


 This is the infamous spot right at the corner of the two most Central streets downtown Juarez. As one can observe somebody is using it at the precise moment of my unexpected move with the camera. At this point the subject (whether you decide it to be The Spot or the person performing on it) decides to cover her/itself with an umbrella. So Seña Benina of her… Her art seems to be that of a 19th century Spanish, French or Russian realist novel.

He plays the violin too

I have seen him several times, and he seems to be there forever. The funny thing is that he just constantly bangs at the cords of his instrument, he doesn’t play any particular song or melody or even in any particular style he just bangs, strums and bends the chords for hours. I’ll talk to him one of these days. The first thing I’m going to tell him is going to go something like: “Have you ever heard of a song called Helter Skelter? I think you’d like it”. He has some of what some people would call sparks of genius sometimes, but he’ll never repeat them.

Alacran (native scorpion) man.

Mr. Alacranman is also very frequently seen in different locations of Juarez Avenue, he makes amazing figurines, mainly of alacranes (native kind of scorpions), with minute beads and wire. I think he got his performance together thinking of something Morgan Freeman might be good at: a patient, wise but also deceivingly clever grey head from rural somewhere who speaks to no one about his past…except Morgan Freeman is more of a carving-knife-and-peace-of-halve-carved- tree-branch-carrying  kind of guy. I don’t really see him with little bead bags and wire…

El Mystico

And last but not least, ladies and gentleman, with you, the famous, legendary and profoundly meditative spiritual warrior, mediocre tarot reader during the day but fruitful luchador by night: El Misticooooooooooooooooooo. I love the way Dora and boots are looking at him.



















So it happened… November 10, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ramonalvarado @ 9:51 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Museo ex Aduana 


It had been there for a while, hidden in the back (or in a furtive somewhere) of my mind, I could almost feel it slowly crawling towards my brain muscle structure to suddenly emerge as an actual action when the time, or the need, was exact. And so it happened on Thursday as I stood there, literally just stood and stared there. 17 minutes after Government class, 13 to 20 hours before our paychecks, and 5 and a half hours before having to drive to work, I just stood and stared there in the living room. I stared at the center table, the encyclopedia, the colorful and helplessly irrelevant coasters on the dinning table, the fucking TV, the books, the toy blocks, the paintings, and out the windows from which I could see the real menace of them all: a gasless vehicle.

So, three minutes later a saw myself, as if suddenly awakened from sleep-walking, riding my bicycle towards downtown with a (earlier) borrowed guitar strapped to my back. I guess you could, if you wanted to, imagine me looking down, front, and sideways as if caricaturesquely confused while my feet moved frenetically in what appeared to be automated pedaling cycles. You don’t have to imagine me thus, but it could add a slightly comical twist to your reading if you are a slap-stick kind of person. So anyway, I was thinking about all kinds of stuff while I pedaled away to downtown. The plan that from such cycling thoughts emerged was this: arrive at the downtown border bridge on El Paso St.(in El Paso Tx), park my bicycle, walk across the border in to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, spot a space where I could sit, drop my hat and begin to play my songs. Simple thus genial, I thought. So genial I didn’t even think about bringing the extra 30 cents that I’d have to pay to cross the bridge back to the States. My (borrowed) guitar, 35 cents in my pocket, an almost illegal amount of adrenaline in my blood and myself made it across the border and into Downtown Juarez. Well, actually, the 35 cents had to stay with the lady at the pay booth.

You might ask yourself at this point, since I mentioned geniality and all that, wouldn’t it be simpler to avoid the border crossing thing and just play in the streets of downtown El Paso? Well, there’s the rub (and I do mean rub, no Shakespearean connotation intended). I’m still investigating thoroughly the legalities of it but I have been witness of tickets being handed out by police officers to street musicians in downtown El Paso. So for the time being, I’m sticking to Mexico, it makes this blog sound so much more interesting, or at least not as painful. I’ll be following up on such issues in this blog, plus the places where I play, the people that I encounter and of course the money that I make for it is such that we are interested in, aren’t we? So down to the basics of it all for now:



Day 1 


Amount of money made: $3.88 (ouch)

Cost of crossing the border: .35 cents going plus .30 cents coming back.

Total gain: $3.23 (OUCH)

Time played: 1 hour 45 minutes. (As R. Starr would say “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”)

Actually doing it: priceless. (plus we made it to the gas station and to work)