Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Traveling Kids – The First Leg of the Journey Part II

Last year around this time, my daughter told me that she was going to spend the winter in New Orleans busking on street corners. I felt a jolt in my solar plexus; the same jolt that I experienced a year before when I went to New Orleans and witnessed the deep collective grief, depression and PTSD from Hurricane Katrina as it hung in the sultry air like a heavy, anguished fog.

Even if one did not feel that heavy hand pressing down, the obvious physical signs were everywhere; buildings with watermarks up to the roofs, boarded up windows and doors, dead body counts painted on buildings, piles of rubble and cemeteries with heavy chains on the gates to keep grave robbers out.

After a lengthy career as a successful trumpet player, I felt flat in the wake of the storm. Signs of death and destruction littered the city as far as the eye could see. Crowded tent cities were jammed under highway bridges, but as soon as you turned the corner onto Bourbon Street, it was business as usual. Outrageous Jazz and Dixie riffs that I spent countless hours either listening to or perfecting on my own trumpet drifted out of bars and shops. It was mid afternoon and for the first time in many years I felt like I truly ‘needed’ a drink.

My head pounded. Was it the swirling frozen drink machines or the fact that it was May of 2008 and very little had been done to rebuild this city? I don’t know. I ordered a too big, wonderfully pink and white ‘frozen hurricane’. Was I mad? I don’t know. What I do know is that I felt the rum in short order, and after looking beyond the fallen bricks on the streets other than Bourbon Street, I too got used to NOLA being in ruins. It was Jazz fest and although I did not make it there with one of my own bands, I was there at that time and needed to shake off whatever was freaking me out and enjoy the music and heritage that lingered about.

The partying goes on and on and on in New Orleans. People puke and urinate wherever; business owners must hose down the sidewalks every morning, sort of like Paris without the attitude. The murder rate in New Orleans is one of the highest in the country. Why on earth would I be happy to hear that my beautiful, talented – still wet behind the ears – daughter would be going there without a true plan, with other traveling kids, with her cello and backpack to spend the winter?

When she set out for NOLA, I had never heard the term, ‘traveling kid’. I only knew that some old man who goes by the name, Poppa Neutrino* was encouraging young people to go to New Orleans for the winter to help him build his next raft. I met Poppa N. the previous June when I dropped in to visit my daughter after a writing conference in northern Vermont. He was sitting in front of his old beater van in the driveway of her house in Burlington. I thought it odd to see someone of his age just hanging around with a bunch of college age kids. I didn’t hesitate to get as much information as possible from my daughter regarding this old man. I figured out that he was a guru of sorts. He rejected the status quo back in the sixties by taking a stand against paying rent or mortgage and being a part of the system. He built rafts / houseboats out of recycled trash and raised his family as gypsies – sometimes living in cars – and entertaining people from town to town in a circus type fashion.

His method is to scoop up young, disenchanted people and teach them his ways of dropping out of the system. He is a hero to them; someone who has successfully traded in a lifetime of working tirelessly to make ends meet, while only keeping a corrupt government in place for a life of owning and owing nothing. How wonderful is that?

I can see where this way of thinking is appealing to many, especially in these times, however, there is an extreme aspect of this lifestyle that is not at all as glamorous as it seems. When people are out hopping trains, sleeping in abandoned buildings and eating from the dumpster behind Applebee’s, they are susceptible to diseases, long term health issues and likely victims of crime. (Not to mention that they are not living to their fullest potential).

Of course, as one young man firmly pointed out to me one night as we sat in an outdoor café, “Don’t knock dumpster diving until you try it.”

That shut me up. He is right. How can I say how horrible something is, if I have not even tried it? Many establishments throw away unopened cases of food the same day as the expiration date. Okay, so yes I agree that there is a pitiful amount of waste in this country. We could be using some of this stuff for soup kitchens which brings me to my next point.

These young travelers rely on soup kitchens. One of the first things that they do when they arrive in a new place is check out their resources. So the scenario is that there are wonderful, young, brilliant minded college age kids who have so given up that they rely on dumpsters and soup kitchens. They claim to be happy and unaffected by their families’ objections. I suppose that there are many families who do not know the truth of their grown child’s lifestyle; ignorance is bliss.

To be continued...

*If you wish to learn more about this man, google him; he has made a name for himself.  I am not going into detail of how I feel or what I believe concerning him or his efforts.

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