San Francisco Busker

I saw a busker, playing his guitar in the San Francisco subway, and I wondered what his story was. I listened for a while, and as I did a man and a woman began to dance to his music. The moment was a still life, isolated from time, and I knew I needed to know the story of how it all came to be.


“I came to San Francisco from South Dakota. The big city. I thought I’d hit the limit of what I could be at home, and a change and a chance for something more seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t Los Angeles or New York, but I could afford the bus ticket. So with my guitar and a sack of clothes I rode for two days and arrived in the shadow of this metropolis. As I walked around the towering sky scrapers I looked up to see if I’d see Superman speed on by.

I’d spend my days busking; sometimes downtown, sometimes out on the piers. I’d play for loose change and dollar bills, and every so often someone, feeling whimsical for the song I was playing, or a guy looking to impress his date would give me a little more. I’d been staying with friends, strangers, anyone who’d have me.

I’d given it a shot, I’d tried to make it. I joined a band, played some gigs. Joined another, played some more. Nothing was going. I decided to head home. To make the bus fare I headed down to my spot in the subway. There are tunnels that run from station to station. The acoustics make it easy to project and be heard. I’m not sure why, but that day I was feeling nostalgic for home and played my mom’s favorite songs, longing to see her again. It’d been some three years and she was my biggest advocate, my biggest fan. She would send what money she could, always telling me to go after my dream.

I tuned my guitar and started strumming. People passed by. A quarter here. A dime there. I sang. I sang for only my mother and future and didn’t care who was there to tell me I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough. A woman walked toward me. She had a beauty and grace, but walked with trepidation and nervousness. She stopped and listened for a moment, then reached into her purse and gave me ten dollars and a smile. I gave her a nod and watched her then walk toward the trains more confidently, a little more calmly. A few minutes later she passed by again with a man, hand in hand. I winked. She smiled at me. He pulled her in tight and she buried her face into his shoulder as they embraced. I played louder, and as they moved away he took her hand and began to slow dance. It was an expression of love and desire; of romance and magic. After they were gone I knew I was done. I put my guitar back in the case and slung it on my back. If I’d done nothing in life, I’d at least given two people the opportunity to dance. And knowing that, seeing that, was good enough to go home on.”

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