[Terry: This guy is fascinating. Every blog item is a new story. Plus he’s a bit chubby and wears Hawaiian shirts–what’s not to like?]
I’m heading to Kansas in a couple days, and am remembering something that I often discover about the red states: that there are political differences between them and my native California.
I’m not just talking about the obvious factors, such as people looking askance at men holding hands with each other, or at women dressing more skimpily, or people in general looking older, even though they may not be. I’m talking about looking up the bus fares for Hutchinson and discovering to my shock that it costs $4 compared to the $1.50 fare in Los Angeles. Not only that, but I’ll have to walk 1.2 miles just to get to the bus stop. Kansans don’t believe in tax money being spent on frivolous things like poor people’s transportation needs. They believe in what they call “self-sufficiency”–that is, every man for himself, period.
I’ll be doing some genealogical research while I’m in Hutch, and discovered another red-blue split: The state government doesn’t believe in transparency. While birth and death records are public in California and many other states, they aren’t in Kansas. They are available only to immediate family and “anyone who can prove a direct interest.” The red-state mentality is authoritarian rather than transparent, as explained in the fine book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff.
I’ve run into this in other red states, too. While I was in the Carolinas in the late 1990s, I noticed that their state and local governments don’t spend much money on infrastructure. I tried to bicycle in Charleston, for example, and discovered that there were virtually no bikepaths, few sidewalks, and very little or crumbling road shoulder. Get out of historic Charleston and it was dangerous just to walk down the street, with cars whizzing by so close to you. You had to trudge through the weeds and brambles just to keep from getting hit. The city is designed, it seems, for the convenience of those in Cadillacs and limousines, and not for those who have to walk to their destinations.
While driving from Charleston to Raleigh, too, I noticed a definite red-state complexion. I wanted to stop along the way and walk onto the beach, take off my shoes, squish my toes in the sand, feel the salt air on my face. But in the Carolinas, there are miles upon miles upon miles of seaside mansion estates that preclude any public use. In 1971, California passed The Coastal Initiative that codified into law the idea that the beach (such as Carmel Beach, above) belongs to the public, and that no more private or commercial building would be allowed there. Obviously, that is too radical an idea for the Carolinas.
People often throw up their hands at politics, saying their vote makes no difference. But here, that concept is disproven. Not only does politics have an impact on the large issues, such as war and who’s going to chair the Fed, but also, on the issues that affect us every day, such as sidewalks, streets, and beaches. And so I head off towards a red state, hoping for the best.
Last August, I performed street magic for two weeks on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. I had a good time and polished my Linking Rings routine. When summer ended, I left. Last week, I returned. Within the first ten minutes, a homeless guy called over to me.
“Hey, I know you! Welcome back!”
He was big and smiley and had wild hair and a booming voice that filled the waterfront.
Then another homeless guy called over a big hello, too, even repeating some of my joke lines back to me, saying that he had appropriated them for his own show.
“Reach into your pockets and take out a 5-dollar bill. Keep that for yourself and give the rest to me!”
I didn’t begrudge him stealing the line from me; I had stolen it myself.
Playing the street is an on and off thing for me. I started busking in 1994, when I was trying to get good at stage magic. In 1998, I published a book called Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press, http://www.amazon.com/Be-Street-Magician-David-Groves/dp/0966814703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214804689&sr=1-1), which made me semifamous in a niche audience, magicians.
These days, the vast majority of my business consists of big-paying inside gigs. But when business is slow, I like to road-test my new material by performing on the street for an endless stream of new audiences. Last week, I happened to get hired to perform for a couple of fancy parties at the classic-car show in Carmel, so while I was up here, I decided to play the wharf.
My first day back on the wharf, I did well. I was even approached by a couple who saw my show and wanted me to come to their 6-year-old daughter Jasmine’s birthday party the next evening. We negotiated on the spot. They wanted me to go down $50 on the price. I said I would do that if they bought my newly published enovel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, and got five of their friends to do so, as well. I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t brought all my best kids’ show props–the die box, for example (see video).
The next day, a Sunday, I went back out to the wharf to get in a couple hours of busking before the party. A man walked up to me with his kid.
“I’m glad you’re here!” he said. “I saw you yesterday, and I liked it so much that I brought my boy to see you!”
It was strange to make such an imprint on this community without even trying much. I felt like I was becoming accidentally famous.
In one of my audiences was an 18-year-old guy with the wild hair of an intellectual. He said his name was Forrest.
“Man, you must get all the damn Gump jokes,” I said.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” he said, grinning.
During the show, I ended up casting aspersions on Forrest’s wealth because he lived in Seaside. Everybody laughed. Later, when I held out my hat for tips, Forrest came up and dropped in a $20 bill.
“Not all people in Seaside are poor,” he said.
I couldn’t believe I had benefited financially by making Forrest feel insecure. It seemed to be against my philosophy of life, which is that being relentlessly positive is the way to happiness and wealth. Still, I didn’t give him the twenty back.
Come evening, I did the kids’ show at the park and kicked ass. Afterwards, two separate guys came up and asked me if they could have my card.
“I live in Los Angeles,” I said, handing it over, but then warned him. “I’d have to charge a lot more for the show.”
“Like $1,200 at least.”
- I Had a Dream (whathappenstous.wordpress.com)
- The No Trespassing No Sidewalk No Road Shoulder Blues (whathappenstous.wordpress.com)