Vagabond; Memoir of an Itinerant Musician

On August 16, 2017, in Uncategorized, by Kevin Sysyn

I was on the road. I always traveled light, most times with a guitar, or I soon acquired one along the way.
The one item I carried all of the time, which always proved invaluable to me, was my big old Navy-blue Pea-coat. Before I left on a tramp I would go to the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul used clothing and buy a large woolen, WWII, calf-length, military Pea-coat. Nobody else wanted them and there was always one someone had dug out of their grandfather’s closet hanging there for $3, virtually never worn.
It would protect me in every kind of weather and temperature. In wet weather it would get heavy but I never seemed to get wet or cold. It served as my tent and sleeping bag.
I always wore the most durable blue jeans I could find. I only had one pair which I managed to wash every two days or so.
I didn’t really wear hats except I wore a cowboy hat at times for reasons I cannot explain to this day.

I did not carry a change of clothes though I usually wore two shirts and a t-shirt which could be variously changed. I was meticulous about cleanliness and daily hygiene, short haircut, shave every day.
The Pea-coat had beautiful pockets that could carry a fair amount of baggage. In the inside pockets of my Pea-coat I carried a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, lighter, razor and a small bottle of shampoo, which served as soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream and….shampoo.
I wore traveling boots or cowboy boots with two pairs of sox which I switched every other day. I had rolled up tightly a super-xxx plastic bag that served as rain protection when necessary and stowed nicely in another pocket. A number of essentials were carried in my jeans pockets like money, ID & such and I had a small very high quality jackknife.

I didn’t carry a pack of any kind since on one of my first journeys I had a backpack and guitar and fell asleep at a restaurant in Milford, Connecticut having tied it to my wrist. I woke with the chord dangling from my wrist. I never carried a pack again.
When I was good to go, I went.

I wound up in the damnedest places sometimes. Like I was somewhere near New York City, didn’t have a clue where exactly ( I still don’t know). It was 2 or 3AM, traffic was nonexistent. It was a foggy soggy night and I wanted to get to New Jersey. So I’m walking toward NJ and I stuck my thumb out at an approaching car which turned out to be a taxi cab. As he slows down I waved him off cuz I didn’t take taxis. He continued on but a few hundred feet further on stopped and reversed his car stopping next to me. He rolled down the passenger window and I said I had no money for a cab. “Where are you going” he asked. “New Jersey”. “Get in”. I got in. He was from Somalia and spoke The King’s English. “Do you know where you are?” I said “Not exactly”. “You are a long way from New Jersey. You don’t belong down here. This is a very dangerous place for you to be walking alone.” Twenty minutes later he dropped me at the NY crossing to NJ; no charge. By noon I was asleep in a pile of Autumn leaves under a huge tree in Hoboken thanks to my Somali-American friend.

There are some lonely stretches of highway in Oregon and hitching thru there can keep you at a standstill for hours. If you get dropped off at the wrong exit it can be a long time before somebody else even comes along and it’s impossible to gain anything by walking; as was the case one fine day.
Anyway I got stranded in one of these places and there was an individual already there when I was dropped off. He was headed north I was headed south. We got chatting cuz there were no other humans. He said he’d been there three hours already and seen a couple dozen cars. After a little while he comes over near me looks down and opens his hand. In it was a large chunk of hash. “Fuck man, look what I got and no way to smoke it.” I looked down on the ground and just one foot away was a Coca Cola can. I bent down, picked it up, took out my little jackknife and poked some holes in the side of the can, (the pop-top was gone) took out my lighter and handed him the lot. “Christ! I never thought of that” he said laughing and lighting up.

Another short incident that occurs to me now was this semi-truck driver who picked me up outside of Las Vegas and was going into town which was perfect. Wow! This guy reeked of alcohol; the three day whiskey bender kind of stink. He was incredibly drunk! He drove right along perfect 60 or 70MPH and occasionally I had to remind him to look at the road while he talked a mile-a-minute. “You wanna job when we stop?” he asked me. “Yeah sure” I said. “OK you can unload the truck.” So he comes to this warehouse and he has to back the semi down a narrow alley to a loading dock which must have been 200 yards or more. Like a pro, straight as a pin he backed that truck perfectly into place. He got out of the truck and fell right on his face. I think I was the only one who saw it. We went inside and he opened the trailer which was loaded with 60lb boxes of frozen chicken which I was instructed to stack on pallets which a forklift removed from the truck. I started to work. Hard work. In the meantime the apparent boss of the warehouse became aware of the extreme inebriated state of my employer and quite a row ensued. Eventually his dispatcher was called and then the police who arrested him. Put the handcuffs on him right there. “Hey” I said; “I’m working here this guy owes me some money.” They had to check with his dispatcher. Eventually they removed the handcuffs and let him pay me $90 and away they took him. I finished the job and caught a ride to “The Strip” with one of the warehouse guys. That afternoon I had brunch at Caesar’s Palace $1.99 I think. First time I ever had a plate served to me with a warmer cover like I’d seen in the movies. That night I was awoken when a bucket of ice-water was dumped on me as I slept in a locked toilet stall in another casino. “You’ll be moving on I reckon.” a voice said from outside the stall. He didn’t wait for an answer.


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