The Well-Practiced Busker

There's this regular busker in town. He sits on the same concrete planter every day, his guitar case optimistically open in front of him to collect coins and small bills. He plays and sings song after song, for hours on end. He's made his music on our main street downtown into more than a full-time job.

This guy's been out there for a couple of years now. I remember when he first showed up, with only a few chords and a couple of songs in his repertoire. His voice was hesitant as he repeated the same three songs over and over again, seven days a week.

I can't imagine he made much money at first. I certainly didn't put anything in his case; I confess that I hoped he would grow discouraged and leave. He just wasn't very good.

He didn't go anywhere, though, at least not without coming back. If you didn't see him sitting on his planter, he was probably buying a meal from the offerings of pedestrians. He never asked anyone for money. He just sat there and played and sang with the guitar case open on the sidewalk, silently receptive to a donation.

I don't know if it was boredom or a sense of calling or sheer bloody-mindedness that kept him coming back. He's older than me, and he looks plenty able bodied to do some other work. He doesn't have other work; he busks. Even a bad job would have surely paid better than busking with his small catalogue of poorly performed songs.

But still, he was there on his planter each day. He was there on the hot muggy days summer and the bitter cold days winter. I even saw him there on a rainy day, the trees in his planter protecting his guitar from the dripping water with their tender leaves.

A funny thing eventually happened after a couple of years: the increasingly well-practiced busker became a better and better musician. His guitar playing improved first. His songs developed recognizable rhythms, then the chords began to sound like the ones on the radio. His voice may never win a recording contract, but the timidness left him. Now his solo vocals have a fullness and a heft you can hear for blocks--and you don't even mind anymore.

My wife and I were in town today. We had lunch not far from the busker's planter. I had a little bit of time afterwards before my next meeting, so we shopped a little bit. We were looking at Sporting Kansas City gear when the busker returned to his spot, I suppose from a lunch of his own. Through the plate glass we heard him play and sing song after song, songs we had never heard him sing before. My wife even sang along quietly once or twice there amongst the blue shirts.

On the way out, I dropped a dollar into his open guitar case. I hope he stays.