I get my check from the mop factory just before hitting the road, and I leave Colorado with a full tank of gas and just over $200. I take two backpackers north with me, and they will refill my tank before I drop them off at a trailhead in the Tetons. And I have some leftover food in my car that I snack on during the drive, so I make it through these first 500 miles without spending any money.
The sun is falling into Jackson Hole when I cross the Snake River and pull into town. I park in the Center for the Arts lot a couple blocks down from the main drag and step out into the chilly evening. I’m a little nervous. In Boulder I was working somewhat regularly, I knew the city, I knew where to find friendly faces. While I’m here in Jackson, my only goal is to strum until I make the $25 I need for the Yellowstone entry fee.
I shoulder my bag, slip my guitar over my arm, and walk into the town square feeling like a traveler. After wandering around for a little while, I take a seat on a bench next to an arch of elk antlers and begin to play. It takes a minute for me to find my groove—it’s been a while since I have busked by myself, and the last time I tried was in Boulder where I didn’t have much success. Overhead cotton candy clouds drift across huge green groomed ski slopes and I coax the music from my guitar, watching the leaves blow in the wind. A little girl walks up, giggling shyly, and drops a handful of coins into my guitar case. When I sing “thank you so much,” she turns and runs away, then watches me from behind her mom’s legs.
After a little while, a few local high schoolers come over and sit on the railings and ask me questions about where I’m from and where I’m going. Other people come and go, some pausing to listen to the music. After a couple hours, I have about $13, half of what I need. Just as I’m getting ready to pack up, I meet Fritz. We chat for a few minutes; he’s in his early thirties, a Jackson native. “So you usually just sleep in your car?” He asks. “Yeah…do you know anywhere around here I might be able to park for the night?” “Yeah, my place. You can crash on my couch, take a shower, get some food in you.”
We head back to his place and then spend the rest of the night hanging out and talking about spirituality, travel, life, relationships, etc… all the usual. He opens up the cabinets in his kitchen and tells me to make myself whatever I want. Then he lets me do my laundry as we throw on a movie. When I curl up on the couch I am asleep immediately.
When I wake up, I return to the town square under the warmth of the morning sun. As I’m playing guitar in the afternoon, I meet a group of about eight people who are biking from Seattle to Key West. It’s nice to be around other people who look as scraggly as I do, and we lounge in the grass passing around guitars and exchanging travel stories.
In the evening, I pull a sheet of cardboard out of a dumpster and scrawl
TRAVELER—NEED $25 FOR
YELLOWSTONE ENTRANCE FEE!
ANY HELP GREATLY APPRECIATED
Then I return to my spot and strum my heart out. My confidence is up so I think maybe my music is better, and people seem to be enjoying it—a few groups of people stop to listen, many thank me as they drop dollar bills into my guitar case. The sun falls and the moon gleams and after two hours, I’ve made $22.50.
I head back to Fritz’s place for the night, and he has pizza waiting for me. In the morning he sends me off with a pair of shoes that are too small for him, some clothing, two reggae CDs, and lunch. I make it up to the Grand Teton Visitor Center quickly, and I sit down on the smooth stone floor in front of a huge wall of mountain-filled windows to write this.