A trio of portly cigar puffing gentlemen wearing light summer suits and very dark sunglasses strutted past -- one of which returned, and tossed a fin into my guitar case.
Nice boots, he said.
Nice boots indeed. Rocky - Techno Ride Billings Saddle cowboy boots, seahorse emerald in color. I had purchased these extraordinary work boots an hour previous, used, from a downtown cobbler.
Photography courtesy of William Wright
I was saving these particular boots for a costume party, stated the cobbler, but I guess you can have them for thirty-five dollars.
Sold! I replied.
And I'll re-sole them for you, he said.
We had arrived! Attired in our Western costumes, I in my white cowboy hat bought at Value Village, and my brand new used cowboy boots, and Baron wearing his snappy camel Western shirt and red neckerchief, it was the perfect day for busking in Bastian Square, Victoria, BC. At the top of the Square was a Beatle tribute band, the Sutcliffs. She loves you ya, ya, ya screamed down the corridor. Between the top and bottom of the square there were artists selling paintings, oil and watercolor, bearded merchants in flowing robes peddling knitted scarves and carved jewelry, and a garden market bursting with fresh greens and many other colored pieces of produce. At the base of Bastian Square are two fancy restaurants, both situated on Wharf Street, each having crowds of pedestrians forever in que for the coveted outdoor seating, no doubt attracted by the delectable scent of fishes and steaks sizzling on the outdoor grills. Already served customers could be seen sipping red wine, talking on cell phones, typing on laptops, and some just reading regular softcovers.
Just across Wharf Street the honkings of the tug boats zipping up and down the harbor were barely audible, the squawks of the diving and dipping seagulls piercing, as the people continuously became more congested into Bastian Square.
I had been to Victoria, British Columbia, several times over the last few years and for some notion had developed a yen to be one of the buskers along the causeway of the Victoria Inner Harbor.
This yen that I had was undoubtedly prompted by my watching television westerns in the fifties and sixties. Westerns, then, had a couple of prevalent themes; one being that a stranger comes to town, and the other being, a lone rider leaves town on his horse for yet another adventure elsewhere. I suppose these themes are really one and the same, especially if one reckons that the stranger coming to town is that same fellow that rode out from the other town.
Two westerns especially come to mind: Have Gun Will Travel and The Deputy. The lead character in Have Gun Will Travel was Paladin, a suave gunslinger whose home base was a San Francisco hotel. At the start of every episode Paladin, so nattily attired, would receive a telegram from someone requesting his professional hired gun services. Paladin’s business card read Have Gun Will Travel. And just before the theme music, we’d be watching Paladin, now dressed in all black, riding his horse to somewhere to save the day.
The Deputy had Henry Fonda, a U.S. Marshal, ride into town every week to recruit a young man, Clay, who ran a general store along with his young and pretty wife. Clay’s wife always begged him not to go, but every episode Clay would become The Deputy.
Cripes! Who wouldn’t want to be like these guys! Riding in, riding out, an adventure here, another adventure there. Who would not want to be likened to Paladin and Clay? At the start of each television story the mood was set as normal but mundane. Then that situation would change! Bummmbedumdum Dummmmm! The music changed and the next scene the cowboys would set out.
I had imagined that being a busker would have that kind of a life, carefree and confident, ready to handle a situation to help some distressed soul who lives elsewhere. A busker could go anywhere, could just follow the sun so to speak, and when the warmth of the sun lowered in late October, early November, a busker would have made enough coin to mozy on elsewhere, perhaps becoming a drifting busker of sorts along the cities and towns of anywhere warm, the Mediterranean Sea coast even. The life of a busker could be even more exciting than that of a television cowboy. Afterall,fifties and sixties tv cowboys were stuck in black and white; polarized. As a busker I could imagine my life being filled with technicolor.
I made an email contact with the Victoria Harbor Authority and we were invited to come out to audition. Regina is a twenty hour road trip to Victoria, a rather arduous journey, even for a wannabe cowboy. However, a representative of the Harbor Authority agreed that a video would be sufficient. We made the video and mailed it right away.
However, the Harbor Authority wanted causeway entertainers as early as May, and because we could not leave Regina until the end of June, it was suggested we drop by the Harbor office when we arrived and an attempt would be made to find us a spot. This was enough of a go-ahead for us to saddle up and ride West.
We made arrangements to rent a small house within twenty minutes walking distance to downtown Victoria. This was to be our home from June 28th until July 14th. Even though all performances on the harbor are unplugged, Baron and I packed a couple of microphones and a battery powered amplifier, in the hope we would have opportunity to do some busking elsewhere. Our music gear consisted of a djembe, a set of bongos, my twelve string guitar, and two binders containing our seventy-eight song playlist. We also had a roll-out slat rug on which to set up and create our street performing space.
Driving from Regina to Victoria we made two overnight stops, one in Bassano, a small dusty cowboy town in the Alberta foothills, and Kamloops, a modern cowboy city of a hundred thousand people situated in the heart of the British Columbia interior.Leaving Kamloops, we drove fours along the Coquihalla Highway to the coastal village of Tsawwassen to board the ferry.While waiting in the line at Tsawwassen to board the ferry, two twenty-something, slim and unshaven fellows, Geoff and Banning, wearing pirate hats stomped by, one playing guitar, the other holding a video camera. In passing conversation they introduced themselves and inform us they had just returned from a beach in the British Columbia Shuswap. They were marching down the ferry line to add some cheer for the people waiting to board. After showing them our music equipment they invited us to jam with them once all of us were on board the ferry.
And we did jam with them. Just off to the side of the entrance to the cafeteria, for an hour we entertained ourselves and anyone who would listen, Banning and I on guitar, Baron on the bongos, and Geoff, singing and operating the video camera. This hour increased my enthusiasm for our coming summer busk. After the jam we said goodbye to Banning who was returning to his radio job in Tofino, and to Geoff who was off to South America for some scuba diving.
We did some sight seeing the rest of the crossing. From Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is like a taste of the Mediterranean Sea right off the Canadian Pacific coast. It is a many island paradise.
Arriving in Swartz Bay we drove down island right into Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. The 350,000 people residing in Victoria enjoy the purportedly best weather in Canada. It is a marvelous city, especially the downtown and inner harbor areas. Cruise ships arrive almost daily from different parts of the world, most of which having two thousand voyagers descending the planks to wander the inner harbor and the downtown shops in Victoria. Along the inner harbor these tourists will pass by xylophone, accordion, drum players, and of course, guitarists. They’ll pass by performers who are juggling fire while riding unicycles; they'll pass by wood carvers, craft and jewelry makers, and caricature artists. And when these tourists leave the inner harbor for an evening walk downtown, they’ll see Darth Fiddler frantically playing his violin, and just up street they’ll have an opportunity join the circle of fans clapping for a very talented Marimba troupe. Walking anywhere along Government Street and all the connecting side routes, tourists will be offered many a song and dance by at least a dozen buskers on guitars, violins, and a variety of horns. And at least one of the street musicians will be playing a sitar.
Over the next while Baron and I would be counting on these tourist voyagers to drop some coins into our busk pot.
I put together a song of my favorite television cowboys, the lyrics of which I remember as they were originally sung. Pull on your cowboy boots --
[G]He dreams of [Em]horses
[G]He dreams of [Em]Texas
[G]He watches [Em]Lone Star on his[D] TV
[C]And only that[Em] Indian
[C]On that test [EM]pattern
[C]Hears him [Em]sing these cowboy [D7]songs.
Back when the West was very young
There lived a man named Masterson
He wore a cane and derby hat
They called him Bat, Bat Masterson …
Who was the tall dark stranger there?
Maverick is the name
Ridin’ the trail to who knows where
Luck is his companion
Gamblin’ is his game …
Where will you be traveling tonight?
Lonely man, Cheyenne …
Have gun will travel reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land
His fast gun for hire in the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is the man called
Easy lopin’ cattle ropin’
Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp
Brave, courageous, and bold
Long live his fame and long live his story
And long may his story be told
Happy trails to you
Until we meet again