Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Street Performer

Late Friday evening of this past weekend, my friends and I were making our way down Third Street Promenade (a large, tourist-supported outdoor mall in Santa Monica, California, that stretches for several blocks along the coast). As many such venues tout (i.e., Boston’s Faneuil Hall), the Promenade has its share of eclectic street entertainment, its share of street performers. This night was no exception. Tourists thronged the sidewalks as we picked our way gingerly through from one bar to the next. The street performers were almost as prevalent as the tourists and definitely as popular as the shops, being surrounded by rows deep of the curious, necks stretching to catch a glimpse, wondering what odd gift each performer had to share with them. This stirred up old memories of my childhood and took me to another place in my life. I hearken back…

When I was younger and living in Boston, the street performers always seemed to hold a sort of mystique about them. They were godlier than us common folk if only because they could perform two feet away from perfect strangers and be happy with meager change thrown at their feet for their craft or song or dance. Their talent varied widely, from skill level to creativity. I remember watching this cowboy in front of the Gap who twirled a lasso into perfectly congruous circles that seemed to float on an imaginary plane some several feet off of the ground. In an article written about some of the street performers in the Globe one Sunday, I found out that the cowboy was actually an astrophysicist by day. My stream of consciousness got me to thinking about why these street performers perform on the street. Obviously some of them perform out of necessity; they need money and they would rather perform for it. Others, like this astrophysicist-turned-cowboy, perform for other reasons, perhaps for the attention, or for the thrill of performing for others. I don’t know.

Back at the Promenade in Santa Monica this past weekend, my friends and I have just stepped out of a restaurant, about to head to another place for drinks, and there in front of the restaurant, in the middle of the thoroughfare, is this sad, very comical, little Asian man with a mix-match of hand-me-downs on and snow boots to match. He is singing a completely monotone version of an early 90’s hit song to a Casio keyboard-generated beat without even a melody. His song of choice? Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achy Breaky Heart (thank you, MyL, for jogging my memory). I grabbed my girlfriend, pulled her hand to join me behind a tree to edge closer to this little man. She was giggling. I started laughing a little louder. We stepped from behind the tree to get a closer look at him. His audience was meager, and those who were watching him were playing the same “I’m trying not to laugh visibly at you” game with him. And although it seemed like he was oblivious to this little display of “bravado” around him, I could have sworn I saw him stamp his foot harder and sing louder when he looked in anyone’s direction and he saw the reaction it elicited. So, was he a musician, a comedian, or all of the things that add up to him being a street performer? Forty feet away from him was a man doing all kinds of things on his hands, feet tucked into his body, wheelchair visible in the distance, all while wearing blue taffeta. How did either of them get here? Again, I don’t know.

My sister and I used to always say that one day we’d perform on the street with our guitars, harmonizing to classic covers as well as our own music, not caring if we built up a stockpile of pennies or peanuts in our open guitar cases. Well, today she is a chiropractor in Atlanta and I am living in Los Angeles. So, the likelihood of us performing on a street corner is nothing short of fanciful. BUT if she did come out here for a summer, say, and we decided that we wanted to perform at the Promenade, what would we actually have to do in order to be able to? Once more, I do not know.

---so I looked it up…just out of my fanciful curiosity, of course.

Excerpt from

How do I become a street performer on the Third Street Promenade?

Hundreds of street performers and artists hold licenses to bring their artistry to Downtown Santa Monica and the Third Street Promenade. Among the many artists who make this city by the sea more interesting are clowns, dancers, guitarists, jugglers, pianists, saxophonists, singer-songwriters, tango dancers, a tiny Elvis and more.

In order to perform on the Third Street Promenade, a performance license is required.

Street performers' licenses are issued out of Santa Monica City Hall at 1685 Main Street, Room 103, phone – 310-458-8745. An application may be obtained in person, and two passport-sized photos and a photo ID is required. The licensing office is open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and alternate Fridays. The application process takes three days.

The license fee is $37 per person for one year and runs from January 1 to December 31.

Once a performance permit has been obtained, any questions may be directed to the Bayside District Corporation, 310-393-8355 or

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The El Camino

I told MyL that this would make a good blog entry. We shall see in the ensuing words.

I was on my way to another beach city, passing the airport, sitting at a traffic light when I turned to my left and there it was, a reverent and very sincere example of a classic American muscle car: a black shiny El Camino with larger-than-life 20-inch shiny silver rims, slightly raised from the ground. From my vantage point the driver looked like a large clean cut black man in his mid- to late-30s. His passenger could have been his brother (literally speaking, of course). There was a persistent, but subtle thump coming from the car stereo, which caused the driver and passenger to quietly bob their heads in unobtrusive synchronization. I don't know what caused me to all-but-marvel, but I did; I gawked until the light changed and they made their left turn onto another street leaving me sitting at my own red to contemplate what I'd just seen.

MyL called then. "Yes, I am on my way. By the airport now. You won't believe what I just saw. It was (insert above details here, blah-blah)." MyL sighed. I responded, "But perhaps not so interesting after all... I'll save the full story for later, for in person." He sounded none too thrilled. I do not blame him.

I have always been a bad storyteller. I would have died that first fateful night had I been Scheherazade. I am not disillusioned.

On our walk back from dinner, I resurfaced my supposed epiphany with American muscle cars and that mysterious, dark and shiny El Camino I'd earlier spied with its motley, yet comfortably suited pair of passengers. MyL was still not convinced that the story was worth repeating, and that's when I mentioned that to someone who writes regular blog entries, it would probably be a good one. I will not at this point get into the history of blogging, a fairly new advent of the Internet gaining more speed than RSS feeds (that discussion has been had many times over, and this blog is dedicated to the black, shiny El Camino). I will say that I knew that I had to write it.

MyF had said that he would read my blogs if I actually wrote them, and not copy and paste other people's creations of Chuck Norris facts. MyF, this is for you. And of course for MyL. Oh, and for Annie Stevens, my Freshman Creative Writing professor who insisted my sporadic lapses in judgment, otherwise known as short stories, would one day make good bathroom fodder. I never remembered to thank her for that vote of confidence...?

Tangent, sorry. Actually my apologies to the El Camino for Annie's well deserved digression (only Dearest will understand this reference, unfortunately).

But back to this El Camino. I cannot do it justice by writing about it, so I have decided that I'm going to try and find a picture of it and immortalize it in a blog entry, this one perhaps. In other words, I will try and find its likeness somehow graphically and add it to this blog.

So far I have come up with this image. Please, if you are reading this blog, feel free to provide your opinion of what you would consider the perfect El Camino. In doing so, perhaps I will not have to wait for my next fateful encounter with the shiny, black El Camino at a traffic light by the airport.

Fine, I've put the pen down.