Our stories are in part understood by our finances. We see people on the way up, on the way down, remaining where they are, stuck where they are, ending up where they are because of where they’ve come from. I was in a campground in Montana, down to my last hundred dollars when a backpacker hiked into camp down to his last dime. I shared supper with the hiker. I’d imagined I had it pretty tough until I met him. He wasn’t worried. He had arranged to help buck hay for a rancher for wages. Figured he’d eat good food and get along fine for a while with that work. I wasn’t as comfortable. I figured I’d use every dollar of what I had to get back to California where I hoped to do more work as a street performer. After that meeting I stuck to just working for tips out of my hat for some years. I’d come to think of it as the best path.
Tonight in Tempe. Street shows at 5th and Mill Avenue. Four shows today. I played this space first in 1992. It has been on my schedule since. Tempe Festival of the Arts has been happening since the 70’s….. Lots of change… Played my first date in Tempe in 1974. Lacey is hanging with me at our hosts home. While out on the street she stays behind. Our audiences are banged up and you can feel it here. Arizona is on a down swing of some kind………it would be too easy to say it is politics, too easy to say it is economics, but we are in the realm of the changes here…something needs changing here…something…….needs to change
“At the same time there was a solitude to this place of a kind that was rare. Beyond this last gasp of farms the road began weaving through boulders and ridges and ran higher up off the immense and flat bottomlands. Noel took a dirt track off the highway and rolled amidst the boulders and red rocks into a small pull out where he’d camp for the night.”
Noel Sanderson on the run after things had not gone his way
I hit the road as a performer for my first national tour in 1974 with a small circus. I acquired a taste for running the road, sleeping in the back of a truck, going town to town. When I began planning my first novel Highway Home I wanted to tap into that experience, but as fiction not biography. I didn’t want to center the story around the world of street theater more out of instinct than for any reason. Instead I tried to build a close up look at a young man’s life, un-tethered, adrift, exploring, discovering, some days feeling grounded while other days alone and empty. If everything you have is in the back of your truck, if you are earning money working here-there picking up a days work doing one thing or another. If that was your circumstance might be that you just keep driving away time and time again when things turn against you again…young man might think he can keep changing places…eventually we have to own up to the thing, might be what needs changing isn’t located out there….
Take your tambourine and your guitar string and move on down the track Don’t like the way that you comb your hair the way you drawl you all And if you’re not out of town before sundown you won’t get out of town at all…
Get out of town before sunset by Buck Owens
The small time entertainer has been my version of sanity. For most of my life it has driven me nuts having to stay in the same place doing the same thing day after day. I have found it infinitely better to drive from one town to another and pretend that things are different, that I’m escaping from the trap of being stuck in one place. With all the long hops and short stops the new places help keep it feeling like the deck is shuffling. Forget solitude, forget lost, get on out there and go see the world. And then it is as if fate has conspired with your demons and ends up playing its trick on you. The dashboard on the truck starts looking familiar. Truck stops start looking the same. All the small towns seem to be drying up. Yuma can look as bleak to the eye as Columbus, New Mexico. Stripe down the highway in Nevada looks pretty much like the same line you saw up in Montana. Pretty soon that psychic air bag installation has deployed right in front of your big fat delusions. I remember one magnificent sunset some years back. There were clouds in the sky, deepest blue I’d ever thought I’d ever seen, streaks of lavender, bursts of golden buckets of liquid light, saturated with pulsing deep reds, the whole sky afire heralding the end of the day, parked as I was with my rig and travel trailer, overlooking this pyrotechnic swan song to another turning of the cosmic wheel, in another of those small towns, happened to be Bakersfield that day. Stuck as I was in this insignificant corner of creation I could feel the twang and pang of Buck Owens in my heart, the whole thing brought tears to my eyes, what it didn’t bring was any true sense that any of this had made a difference, that all this running around had in the long haul not changed a thing…
I woke up at 4 in the morning. I’d slept backstage on a sofa in a portable building at the Ohio State Fair where I’d been working as emcee/stage manager on the Main Street Stage for twelve days. By the time I woke up the stage, sound and lights had been struck. Everything was gone. I rolled my gear off the grounds and caught a cab out to the airport. I went from Columbus to Las Vegas to Anchorage. Lacey and I picked up a rental took the Seward Highway westbound our destination Girdwood, Alaska. For three days I studied the love life of bush pilots. Turns out bush pilots compete with fishermen, not for passengers, not for fish, but for the rarest of all rare finds a good woman to hold over with when winter sets in. I would perform at the Kenai Peninsula Fair about 150 miles south. I was put up in a place ten miles out of the town. One of my favorite events at this fair was the fish throwing contest, something I’d not known existed until I worked this show. Best I can tell nobody knows about the fish throwing contest until you get to Ninilchik. Owner of my cabin was a retired sea tug captain who had worked the Indian Ocean prior to coming back to this little piece of fish tossing heaven. Everyone invited me to go halibut fishing because fishing was epidemic in this part of the world, being the only thing a person could do besides trying to find someone to hold up with before winter sets in. For big excitement one night I drove down to Homer. It was here that I met a pontoon pilot who had lost his sweetheart to another fisherman, and it had sealed his fate. He’d hoped to hold up in his cabin with his lady for the winter and instead gave up, changed planes, changed plans, whole life changed. Last day of the fair this pontoon pilot entered the fish throwing contest. Must have tossed that thing like he was throwing a punch at the guy who’d run off with his girl. It was a silver sparkling thing of rural Alaskan beauty watching that old fish go flying across the fairgrounds…pontoon pilot lost the girl, but won the contest. Everything happens for a reason as best I can tell…
With A Dream In Your Heart You’re Never Alone Hal David
On Tuesday night I found out that I still knew my way to San Jose. I got a front row at The Magique Bazarre staged at the Improv on Second Street, downtown, where I’ve been away so long. Wednesday night I drove into San Francisco to be in the audience of another show, The Road to High Street Circus. Not so new, New Vaudevillians, Mike Stroud, magician and Andrew Potter, musician presented altogether different shows, but that wasn’t the show at all. Instead there were a thousand chards, a veritable feast of vulnerabilities and even with all that I had the opportunity to see into continuity, the ever flowing, always evolving circumstances of performers seeking to bring their most authentic self to the enterprise. Caught like in a snap shot with a flash attachment, between polished old show versus evolving show…And circumstances were ejecting them from the comforts of the sure fire into the bittersweet jaws of what do I do now? We gain weight, we lose a girlfriend, we buy a house, we move to Tulsa, we take ice skating lessons, we learn to walk. Try this one, we do a show that puts food on our table, and a roof over our head, and we keep doing it over and over again no matter how much everything else in our life changes…that’s the highest high wire of all.