40 acres of musicians

It was only by a random act of kindness that Jack wound up at a old whore house in the middle of the city. He was living in his truck at this time. In the bed of the old International was a wood frame camper. Jack had built it a year ago with a saw, screwdriver and a Swiss army knife. It even had skylights of Plexiglas that were now covering up with snow. Jack was sleeping in the camper and he was very ill with Hepatitis and with no heat in the truck, shivering a bit. The renter of record at the apartment had pity on jack and let him in the upstairs shotgun apartments to sleep on the couch. After all, Jack had eaten there a few days before and the chef had Hepatitis. It turned out that his recent friend from the Berkeley adventures lived there and reluctantly, had room for Jack. After all, the two of them shared a love for country blues on their guitars and they both ate a lot of peanut butter to survive.

It was not long after Jack showed up that he was given a job at the local restaurant/coffee house down the block. The job’s wages were: Rent, food and an occasional pitcher of beer kiddie corner from the Cafe’. There was a stage and seating at the Cafe’ and nights brought in an audience from all over the city. The big light of talent attracted as lights usually do to flying life forms. The music was excellent and it was a mix of blues, folk and bluegrass mostly by the musicians in the small neighborhood. It was not, however, a usual neighborhood in a big city. It was Hemmed in by several freeways, a river and the downtown tall buildings along with the state university. Approximately 40 acres with small business’ that reflected the times.

It was obvious that the population of that neighborhood consisted of a majority of eager and talented musicians. Singer-songwriters, Guitarists, fiddlers, banjo players, bass players and so forth. It was stunningly thick with them. Jack knew of five world-class fiddle/violin players alone. One of them turned out to be a roommate and his wife, along with a harmonica player and stand up bass player. Jack got to tour with a handful of them to the east coast. They played campus’ and coffee houses throughout the Midwest and east coast. This was heady stuff for Jack. A few of the locals were a bit puzzled by the Gator being included in that tour. Most of them played and sang well, but the overwhelming number of them all wore cowboy hats and had rodeo buckles. Jack never saw a horse or a corral nearby. The outfits were the folk music image of that time. Jack’s friends were the remnants of the beat generation. Tough and a bit rough around the edges, the real deal not poseurs of something else. Jack even got to play with Jerry Garcia when the Dead came to town and was asked to join them. A good friend who was the hip radio stations night time DJ was at that music party. He began recording Jack and his fellow veteran, Frank after that. The cowboy folks did not care for Jack and his friends. It was mutual. By the way, Jack declined the invitation to join the Dead. Jack knew the band name was very prophetic as all those musicians are gone now, most with heroin OD’s

The whole scene ended when a developer bought the entire neighborhood and began building high rises. Jack then quit the hip restaurant and began a career as a Gandy dancer and eventually moved to the country hours north. A small farm on the GI bill, about the same acreage as the old neighborhood.

Moving north to a farm was scary for Jack. He played his fiddle in the barn before walking into the house while the rental van with everything he owned in it sat parked. It was raining on April fools day. The walk into the house was very strange for him. Never owned a house before. It smelled funny and the first challenge was to find all the light switches and figure out where to sleep. His orange cat didn’t come out of the van for a day.

Jack’s old friend, Frank, lived about 3/4 of a mile away, just down the road. That helped a lot. Frank introduced Jack to some of the locals and one became a good friend and was Jack’s roommate for a while. He taught Jack how to cut firewood and build a new chimney for the house. He was a good man known for his kindness and smile.

The house was heated with a fuel oil furnace and the previous ‘older’ owner left a note that mentioned the fuel oil tank was over 1/2 full and figured “It was a pretty good deal” for Jack.

He learned his fiddle on the back of a bunk car, feet up on the brakeman’s wheel and never looked back to the old neighborhood except to a friends hardware store where he bought a sturdy chain saw. He played in a country western band after a bit. Bars within driving distance with three other drunks. Mandatory cowboy hats for the band however.

Much later, Jack met his wife riding bicycles together (another column, Bicycle built for Two).They built a real home together. Men build houses, women build homes. Jack then started playing with a square dance band as an ‘upgrade'(tossed the cowboy hat) and then raising a small family with no clue, but succeeding with a lot of Greta’s help and strength. Jack became aware of Jesus in a church up the hill. Good move. Now Jack plays worship music, and his whole family sings and plays together. There is a young man that they ‘adopted’ who runs Jack’s car repair shop and lives with the family. It’s a big change from cowboy hats and funky clubs to the fresh air of a calling that began when Jack was 10. He didn’t know it for a long time until recently, Jack discovered worship is the best music on and off the planet. It’s pretty good. Jack Gator

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