About a guitar
In 1994 (four years after I movedback to The Netherlands), I went on a trip to / through the United States. I purchased a Greyhound bus pass that allowed me to travel for 60 days throughout the US. I had an open plane ticket as well – to and from New York – (just in case I had to return earlier).
I don’t remember if I had an actual travel plan, but I know I wanted to see Seattle. And, as you know, the distance between New York and Seattle would be quite the bus-ride. Especially onboard a Greyhound.
I shall save you all that happened during my travels from New York to Seattle, but I would like to tell you the story of – what I thought – was to be my last night in the Seattle area, before going back to New York.
AYH Ranch, on Vashon Island, WA was/is a campground where you can sleep in a teepee, a wagon, or a room in the main building. For a couple of bucks a night, you’d have a place to sleep and can enjoy a pancake breakfast (pancakes you make yourself, so I didn’t – well, once, and fucked up, so I went to eat in the city center at a pizza place – don’t remember the name of that place, but they had a marvelous slogan: “We Toss ‘m, They’re Awesome.”)
Ended up on Vashon Island, after staying on Union St. in Seattle for a couple of days. I grabbed my backpack and took the ferry to Vashon one day, to see what the place was like and fell right in love with the AYH Ranch and stayed there.
One short month I now was in the US and I did very well with my spending money, meaning that I had pretty much spent everything I had. It was 1994, and things were paid for in cash. No mobile device to top any credit up, or a phone call to mom and dad to replenish anything. At all.
No, I was down to my last 70 bucks. On Vashon Island, with one month to go, not to forget a 6-day bus trip to New York.
As I was young and foolish, but having the time of my life, I somehow didn’t worry about a thing (oh, those days; when one actually really only worries if the falling in love is mutual – even only for an evening).
One day, I would like to think that I remember it being Monday, but it probably wasn’t. I was walking from the AYH Ranch to the town center and I dropped into a thrift shop. No particular reason, but to browse a bit – remember, I only had 70 bucks to my name at this point. (I tried Google Earth to try and locate the place, but unfortunately I didn’t succeed – there’s a few thrift shops on Vashon, but none of the ones I found rang a bell – perhaps it’s gone?).
In the shop, a very kind lady came up to me and asked me if I was a musician. A question that flattered me, so I said yes. But also wanted to know why she thought so (secretly I hoped she would say something like: because you like one). But she answered differently (I still do believe that I looked like one, though); “Well, I don’t know, but I ask, because someone has just brought a guitar in, and as you can see, it’s kinda out of place in this shop. I have no idea what price to put on it, maybe you could help?”
Me, with my no knowledge of guitars (I think I might have known the names Fender and Gibson, and this was definitely not one of those), said – honestly: “I’m sorry, but I have no idea. I do have 70 bucks, though, and I will buy it for that. It might be worth more, but I really don’t know. But it looks pretty cool and I’ll buy it for 70.”
So, I left the shop with the guitar (that also came with a, cheap looking and not very well-closing, case).
While walking back to the ranch, I realized I wouldn’t be able to pay for the last three nights I stayed there. I was literally left without any money. Not a dime. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
So, in the evening, I waited for the sun to set, packed my backpack, grabbed my freshly acquired guitar and sneaked out – silently saying my goodbyes to the AYH Ranch, making a mental note to send them an envelop with the money I owed them, as soon as I’d be back home.
Not Leaving Just Yet
The only plan I had, was to walk to the ferry terminal, go to the Seattle Greyhound Bus Station, and grab the first possible bus heading east. I really didn’t have any idea what I was going to eat or drink during that trip, that would bring me to New York (a trip that would probably take about 6 days).
When I got to the end of SW Cove Road, for some reason, I turned right instead of left (right being the road to the town, left to the ferries). While I was walking to the town center, I had no idea whatsoever what I was going to do there. Again, I was flat broke, so I couldn’t even get myself a drink in the bar – but it felt to me I was heading in the right direction anyway. It was about 9 PM, last ferry of the day had left already and I think I might have figured it’d be better to hang around a bar for the night, than at the terminal.
On my way to the bar (sadly, I also forgot the name of it, but I do remember it was on the right side of 99th Ave SW.
About a hundreds yards before the bar (could’ve been 200 yards or 50 as well, don’t know, but 100 yards sounds plausible enough), I found a crumpled up 5 dollar bill. A Lincoln! Right in front of me. For a moment, I thought about my trip back – that I could possibly buy a loaf of Wonder Bread a day, to fill my stomach with and keep me up on my feet until New York. It seemed like a wise thing to do
Instead, I converted that fiver into two beers in the bar. While slowly (very slowly) downing those two beers, I entertained myself by looking at a party of four, sharing pitchers of beer, two tables away. When my second beer was no more than an empty glass, the moment I decided that this would be good time to say my goodbyes to Vashon Island, a dude from the table that had (unknowingly to them, or so I would like to think) entertained me while I was drinking my wonder bread money, asked me if I was leaving. I answered I was, and added that I HAD to. After a short pause, he invited me to join their table. I politely declined, because I wouldn’t have been able to buy any rounds, since I was broke. Not a problem, he exclaimed. And until closing time, I was sharing more than several pitchers with four strangers, who turned into friends in the course of a few hours.
I was dreading the walk to the ferry terminal, but at the same time, it seemed it was a good idea to walk off the booze and spend the rest of the night at the terminal, to be catching the 5.30 AM ferry and accept the long road home.
‘Need a ride?’, Chad (let’s say his name was Chad) asked. I thanked him, but said no … it would only extend my waiting time at the terminal. ‘If you want, we can keep on partying at my place, you could crash on the couch’, said Chad. Crashing on a couch seemed like a great alternative to my original plans. ‘I do need to get up early tomorrow, so I’ll give you a ride to the ferry then.’An offer I couldn’t refuse. And didn’t. Refuse, that is.
At Chad’s place, we partied and partied until dawn (I kept thinking: he said he needed to get up early). I (literally) crashed on his couch, when the sun was already out and hot. After sleeping for about twenty-nine seconds, Chad woke me up and told me he had to go to work and would drop me off at the ferry terminal – not the one up north, but the one that had ferries to Tacoma. Who was I to argue? I had a more than amazing last evening on Vashon and I was now sure I’d make it to New York, money or not.
In the car to the ferry, I kinda wondered what Chad did for a living. He must have a pretty cool job, partying all night and then go to work after a minute of sleep …
He said was a builder and was busy renovating a house on the island (wish I could tell you who’s house, but I can’t). Casually, I asked if he could use some help. He stopped the car, quite abruptly actually, and said: “Are you serious? I mean, really? I could actually really use some help with the insulation and the roof.” I beamed … I said that I indeed was serious, and although I was not a builder myself, at the same time I was not afraid to learn, or to haul whatever needed to be hauled. This was his time to beam … he said he couldn’t pay me much, but I could stay at his place and he would pay me a couple of bucks an hour. I told him that being able to stay was already more than enough. He simply replied: ‘We’ll see about that’. And we saw.
The next 25 days I spent on Vashon Island. Helping Chad with the construction works, sleeping (and partying) at his house, playing my guitar on his porch (got myself on of those little battery powered amps) and had the most wonderful time.
When I then really (relaly) had to leave Vashon, I didn’t want to go, but had to, because my Greyhound Bus Ticket Voucher Thingy was about to expire – and I had to get to New York. It goes without saying that the money I made working for Chad, I spent on groceries and party supplies for both of us. I wasn’t there to accumulate cash – I was having the time of my life! Priceless, that was.
Chad’s last payment to me, I spent on gifts. For him, his wife and two kids. I told myself I was going to be fine without any money for the duration of my Greyhound quest to New York.
And then, the inevitable happened: Chad was to drive me to the ferry terminal and we were going to say goodbye. Sadly, forever, as it turned out. His wife and kids were there as well. And, when dropping me off, said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch and tried very hard not to get all teary-eyed.
And then, just before Chad revved up the Chevy, his wife handed me two twenty dollar bills and an envelop. “Please take this cash and make sure you eat. And the envelop, don’t open it just yet. Open it when you are in Minneapolis. Not before, promise me.” I promised, gave her a hug and left for the ferry.
I looked back a few times and saw arms waving at me from the opened windows of the pick-up. And then, they were gone. And I was there (where I always am, with myself), on my way back home. A place that didn’t feel like home at all. Not now.
Back to New York
My trip to New York was long. Really, really, really long. Again, I will spare you all details, but I must share with you what happened in Minneapolis, when I opened the envelope (…) gave me. It was a card. And in that card were 3(!) hundred dollar bills – the exact amount I bought them gifts for. “Go, and eat, drink, splash. Love, (…) family.”
I cried. I ate. I drank. AND … because I had a couple of hours of layover, I went downtown Minneapolis and visited the Glam Slam club. That visit alone is worth another story, but I’ll share that I bought a pretty cool souvenir from the club.
The rest of my travels to New York were, as one can imagine, traveling on a Greyhound bus. I arrived safely (and still sane) at JFK, flew to Amsterdam, took the train home and … that was that. That was Seatlle, Vashon, Chad and (…). That was that. It was. That.
In the many years that followed, not a day goes by that I do not think about those days. The guitar (remember, this was a story about a guitar), was a black Fender Strat model by Vista. I still have it, but it’s no longer black. I had it painted and customized by Jur (the artist that also painted the Yellow Hippo in my studio. It’s electronics were shit, the neck wasn’t straight and the bridge was really battered. So, last week, I brought it to a guitar shop, and asked if it’d be worth servicing. They said they would do their best.
And yesterday, I picked it up. New electronics, straightened neck, new tremolo bridge … and today, I had a guitar strap embroidered and I am happy, very happy, with my new “Vista”.
I don’t know if I will ever see Chad and his family again, but each time I will look at that guitar, they are here. And I am there.
(told you it’d be lengthy …)