#59 In Roads-Big city
Rob’s standing outside a bookstore with his art displayed in a guitar case. He’s selling original drawings for the suggested retail of $1.00 each. Various signs scrawled on cardboard clutter the area. He mumbles to himself and appears preoccupied with some sort of organizational tasks that seem to perplex him. He has open sores on his arms, numerous tatts and his hands are dirty. He picks up the guitar like a kind of shield and is immediately transported from the gritty city streets. Suddenly he’s lost in the chords and forgets about the posters littered about his feet and the people who crowd the street corner waiting for the light to change. He’s an incredibly talented musician. He doesn’t make eye contact.
I hand the 26 year old a few bucks and ask if I can take his photo. The Chicago transplant becomes animated and engaging. He’s happy to allow my photos but doesn’t look up.
“I draw out my art in crayons first, then fill it in with pastels,” he tells me as he fidgets. He cannot be still, or focused, and I see tell tale signs of drug use. He’s pleasant and I find myself curious about the kid I see struggling to function. “This one here,” he indicates the music note piece by kicking at it with his toe, “it took me about an hour to do and that’s why I want more for it. But really, I’ll take whatever you think it’s worth.”
Our entire conversation is spent with his head down but he’s cheerful. “You know, this right here, it would never happen in Chicago. People there are just too busy in their own worlds to take the time to connect like this. It’s laid back here even though, by numbers, it’s considered a big city. I don’t look at it like that. This is really more of a town, not a city. I can run across 15 people I know in one day here, and that’s after only five years, but that would never happen in Chicago. You can go weeks there and never see any friends and I grew up there. You just get lost. It’s not like that here in Portland. I love it here.” He nods towards the clean-cut guy leaning against a lamppost just down from him. “Ain’t that right, Luke? See, Luke’s from Chicago too, but we just met up here. Can you believe that? Small, small universe.”
Rob asks where I’m from. I tell him I just travel and he lights up as he strums a few chords. “Now see, that is a cool answer. It’s really the perfect answer, isn’t it? I mean, we’re all travelers, aren’t we? We occupy this space for just a short time, then we move on.” His melody follows me as I wander down the street and notice my heart aching for the young man with the complicated life.