Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Meanderings in California

Touring in California… so like fish out of water…
We have spent so many years touring in rural America, sticking to the tiny two lane roads, working with students in schools so small that some of them really did only have two rooms. Performing concerts in every type of structure from county fairgrounds, Quonset huts, and middle-school cafeterias to high school gyms. Theaters old and failing, jury seats in city halls, corners of libraries, upstairs from the newspaper, downstairs from the Catholic Church. Oh there were the high tech and state of the art theaters, but you wouldn’t need both hands and feet to count them, they don’t exist in rural America, they are simply not a priority.

So when we find ourselves driving on 12 lane highways with millions of people, breathing toxins, acting aggressively to stay alive, never seeing a dark night sky or finding jello on the menu… we start feeling a bit squirmy!

The experiences of the metropolis give us a different perspective on humanity. While all is not rosy in the hinterlands of rural America, the ugly side of our species is more apparent in the city. The young woman with a baby, newly thrown out of her house and crying through the streets with no place to go… the thief in the night who resorted to cutting our fuel line to siphon our gas because our gas tank is anti siphon… the lack of patience at any level or in any public place… all began to grind on our souls before the end of our second tour to California this fall.

Our final performance was a private house concert, a fundraiser for the Merola Opera in San Francisco. It drove home to us, the incredible gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The opulence, the decadence, the opportunity of beauty, health, wealth, education and sheer excess might not have seemed so dramatic had we not just experienced a desperate Mom and a desperate gas thief. Two people with simple needs on the surface: shelter and transportation. But I think the needs run deeper. A chance to get an education. Opportunity to be safe. Health and safety. Shall I say it??? A society that cares about those less fortunate.

In that ubber wealthy home, the people were very kind and considerate. In our consumptive culture, we think that money will solve all our woes, but they were not necessarily happier. They were more beautiful. They were more educated. They did have life experiences that the average human will never have. But they were not happier, just a bit more secure maybe? And yet this past year has shown us how secure financial webbing can be… your flotation device just might be flawed.

It was a sobering trip to be sure. At the end of 2009, I find that our business has actually profited more money than the year before the recession. A fact that bears light on a humanity that still needs music, and soulful experiences. Getting paid is only the smallest part of why we do this crazy job. And while there are wealthy people ready and willing to pay more, the benefits for us in rural America outweigh the paycheck. I do love opening the ears of anyone who’ll listen to our music. A wheat farmer in North Dakota or a Corporate Realtor in San Francisco. They both can benefit from a night with Willson & McKee. But our hearts are deep seated in those closer to the earth, closer to a culture of community rather than corporation, closer to a society that looks after each other because that’s how you survive in the hinterlands.

We will be off to the Dakota’s, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and parts northward starting in January. And though I second guess the timing based on past experiences with frigid winters in those states… However, I eagerly anticipate the heart and soul of rural folk. I need their simple lifestyle and generous living to cleanse my palette from the experiences in California…

Frozen tundra, insulated boots, hats and gloves, goosebumps, loading and unloading in subzero temps, jello on the menu…
Here we come!!!

A Poem for the gas thief:

I can picture him in my mind
Hispanic youth – angry clad
Nothing else to do but stalk
A parking lot
For a vulnerable enemy
White – middle-class – face-less
An anti-siphon gas tank
Adding only slight frustration
To his nocturnal maneuvers
For he is a warrior
With blade in hand – expert at anatomy
Clever and fearless
He deftly wields his weapon
On the jugular vein
And while not a fatal blow
They will limp, wounded
In the gray morning light
While he smiles at this small victory
And gas enough to raid another night

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