Vagrant Story Episode 4: The $100 Panhandler.

The next few days were a furious blur of paint and dust and alcohol. Jeff, Romen, and Bryan worked more on the rehab property painting more of the house and laying down tile in what would later become the kitchen. Each day of labor culminated in Bryan’s going down to the pubs and havin’ a few drinks. On one particular night Bryan went out and didn’t want to walk all the way down to lower Broadway, so he instead opted for a closer pub on upper Broadway called the Corner Pub.

The Corner Pub had a lot of character to it. Its finely crafted wooded bar, good ambient music and large overhead TVs playing the latest and greatest in sports lent it an air of importance; of being the kind of place where things happen. It’s hot, big breasted bartenders certainly didn’t detract from its regal manner, though it became very, very clear that the Corner Pub’s target population was that inflated group of rich college brat that Bryan affectionately calls: The Vanderbilt Kids. Vandy Kids fer short.

The Vandy kids were special. A hilarious source of entertainment if one takes the time to watch them. And watching the Vandy Kids was all Bryan had to do that night. It was a sad fact of the people of Nashville; they only seem to talk to people that they already know and if they are introduced to someone new, they are introduced by someone that they know. So it ends up that our wayward wanderer knows no one and so can’t seem to get into anyone’s good graces. And Bryan is by no means shy. He likes people and will talk the ear off anyone who will listen.

So, watching the Vandy Kids is what made his night and they got funnier with more alcohol; go figure. Sitting still at the bar and relaxing his gaze upon his half full (or empty) glass of Blue Moon, he allowed his attention to pick up on all the subtle voices in the bar. The Law brat in the corner whining about being shortchanged in his inheritance from his grandfather’s death. The slut bunny in the corner of the room holding the attention of all the guys, practically begging for all of them to take her all at once right there. The frustrated bartender who’d had it with a Vandy Kid customer.

The bar was full of these well off, pampered little upstarts and no matter the woeful tale they told, to Bryan’s traveled ears all it sounded like squealing, “Oh! Why me? I’m a Medical Student! I aced my LSATs. I can’t have problems.” Bryan mocked the high achieving frat boys and girls with a silent contempt. Maybe he was just jealous of them? Nah… Bryan had thought about the college road, but had decided that no matter the degree he got he’d just use it to travel; he might as well travel and gradually become a master at that. He wasn’t sure how, but he was confident that if he went out and ‘do that voodoo that you do… so well’ that he’d find his way sure enough.

Truth be told, the snob in him felt a kind of elitist status over these poor, mind numbingly boring, incredibly obedient rich kids. He thought of them sitting in class, nodding along to whatever the professor said, learning whatever the school wanted them to learn, the way the school wanted them to learn it; not an original thought in their heads. Nah, Bryan couldn’t put up with that. Its probly the subconscious reason why he was in an’ out of college; just couldn’t stand the feeling that he was being intellectually led around by the reins of the educational system; made to ‘do parlor tricks’ with his intellect. Rote memorization, learning to play to the teachers personality (if you wanted a good grade), filling in bubbles, and writing essays in ‘the correct’ form, with no real discussion about the subject and the learned information being forgotten as soon as it was no longer needed to pass a test. Bryan would rather do things his own wrong way.

Bryan finished a couple beers and a burger and left about 8 PM. The night was fairly uneventful. He hit his rack at about 9PM and slept soundly till about 2 AM. Bryan awoke with a bit of nausea which very soon progressed to feeling like he was gonna vomit. Not wanting to ruin the hard work Jeff was doing in his project, Bryan beat feet to the porta John outside. By walked quickly and made it outside, but failed to make it to the porta john before he tossed his cookies all over the cold, morning ground. In retrospect, he figured it was better done out here than actually in the porta john. His stomach settled immediately and he went back to sleep.

The next morning he awoke just knowing that today was the day and he was going to get back on the road. He hadn’t gotten his tattoo yet, but Bryan’s frugal nature just wouldn’t let him pay the exorbitant fees that the tat shops in Nashville were asking. He’d been around and wasn’t a fan of any of the artists either. It seemed nobody around wanted to actually take the time that it would have taken to draw his compass. And this tattoo was special, not like the tattoos that he’d gotten in Australia while he was wasted out of his gourd… ruined… I believe was a word a friend had used to describe his mental state… ruined.

This was his travel tattoo and he wanted it done right. It had to look good, none of that black ink only shit. He wanted color. A golden pocket watch style compass opened up to show the face of a compass oriented East instead of the traditional North. The compass would go on his left forearm and he wanted it to appear as though and actual device was set in his flesh. This was a complicated tattoo, but it was symbolic of his nomadic nature and he was willing to shell out the money and take the time to do it right; just not the price that Nashville’s artists were quoting him, not for level of skill that their books displayed. Bryan mused at the thought of heading down to Miami Ink and getting it done in style. Ha.

Bryan was leaving today, but not without his money. He’d worked for Jeff for what was really only one solid day. So Bryan wasn’t expecting much, but hey, he’d had a place to stay for four days, got to explore downtown Nashville from a central location and he’d learned a bit about construction from a lawyer of all people. He was basically about to be paid to drink and learn for four days. Not a bad way to make some cash.

Jeff came over early about 9 AM just to take a look at the property with his carpenter and kick some ideas around. Bryan and Jeff said good morning and all the usual pleasantries and then Bryan got to the heart of the matter; that he was leaving and inquired about payment. Jeff pulled out a wallet and handed our hero $80 bucks. Score. They said goodbye and Jeff wished him well and taking up his heavy pack, the wanderer was off.

He wandered down to a Starbucks where he bought the cheapest thing he could and abused their internet for about an hour, updating his blog and checking out Facebook. It wasn’t long till he was bored and got moving again. Taking 21st up to Wedgewood, Bryan walked for hours and hours. He wanted to walk. He could have tried to hitch, but he wanted to walk today. Bryan likes to walk, heavy bag or no, walking is meditative for him and it brings him a certain comfort. But after a while, Bryan wanted to hitch a ride, but found that he couldn’t. For hours Bryan employed many different methods of hitching, but no dice.

Well, this situation was less than ideal. Bryan’s feet were killing him from walking all day and he was fairly certain that he was sunburnt on his neck and face and he knew he was burnt on his forearms. At long last he came upon the on ramp for I-24. It wasn’t a good area to hitch from either. The cars were moving on too fast and didn’t have enough time to slow down. It was also a high traffic area which one would think would be a good place to hitch from. Not usually true. In a high traffic area anyone who would have stopped doesn’t stop, figuring that with such a high flow of traffic surely someone else will help him. Well, since everyone is thinking this way, someone else never comes and the valiant vagabond will have to wait very, very patiently for that one, decent, unafraid, proactive human being… as you might expect that can take a long goddamn time.

There were of extenuating circumstances to Bryan’s attempt to hitch from this spot which he had found was called Berry Hill or something like that. There was already a panhandler plying his trade over off the exit ramp opposite him and that was very likely hurting Bryan’s chances of hitchin’ out. Bryan’s not a homeless panhandler, but he is wearing a heavy rucksack and he is trying to get someone to do something for him, so when there are actual bums and panhandlers about, it lowers peoples opinion of Bryan and makes them less likely to help a brother out and more likely to be annoyed by his very existence.

Sigh. This wasn’t going well at all. Two hours he’d been standing at this on ramp, thumb out and cheesy smile across his face. Looking at the bum across the way… he wondered. He’d never panhandled before and was pretty sure that he had too much pride to do it, but he had to admit that he was curious what the bum across the road was up to and how successful he was. Bryan decided to go over and talk to him. Now a panhandler isn’t likely to tell prospective ‘clients’ about his operation, but being that Bryan looked kind of like a bum himself, maybe the panhandler would give him the low down on what’s up. Bryan asked.

Bryan was astounded and yet not surprised at all to find that this single, particular panhandler makes about $100 a day working this one off ramp. Not only that, but he works it with a couple buddies and they swap out between different locales in the city rotating in a self-made system to ensure that everybody gets a turn at the most profitable sites. Bryan found himself actually respecting their ability to plan and assess the various situations and form a concrete and highly efficient means for extracting money for almost no effort. Not only that, but they employed a ‘schedule’ to ensure fairness and maintain a certain communal stability.

Speaking further, the panhandler revealed that he actually lived in that hotel right over there within walking distance, and that because ‘he was poor’ the owner cut him a deal. Hell, even with the low cost price of $30 dollars a day, the panhandler was so frugal that he split the cheap room with one of his buddies, effectively staying in a decentish hotel, with WiFi, a heated pool and free continental breakfast for $15 a day. Now, granted that adds up, but when he told Bryan of all the free services that he takes advantage of and all the people he knows in the city that are willing to buy him a free meal if only he should ask, it was clear that he made about $85 a day, completely untaxed. He told Bryan that he’s got about 4K in one of his 3 bank accounts. Then he asked Bryan if he wanted in.

Bryan had to admit, panhandling seemed like an incredibly lucrative option if you didn’t have the capital to make other investments or if you really distained work. But Bryan actually liked to work, he really did, the work had to be the right kind of work, certainly and he wouldn’t work just for money, but if the work was honest and generally made a better life for all involved, he liked doing it. Bryan refused the panhandlers offer. He just had too much pride in his ability to overcome obstacles on his own, without his hand out, begging like a malformed child on the streets of Calcutta. No, once again, Bryan would do things his own wrong way.

The sun was setting and Bryan realized that he would have no luck here, not tonight anyway. Making his way to a Dunkin Donuts inside a Shell gas station he ordered donuts and coffee for about 3 bucks. The tasty glazed donut brought on a twinge of guilt at the thought of all the wasteful, useless sugar and all the carbs bereft of nutrients. But hey, it was 3 bucks. As he opened his map, Bryan wondered if that’s the attitude that all those poor malnourished people operated under and if that single thought ‘yeah but it’s only x amount of money,’ was what caused their lives to fall into such disarray. Bryan would have to guard against such thinking in the future.

Viewing his map of the Nashville area he wondered where he should walk to next. Hmm… if he followed the road he was on, he’d eventually connect to Murfreesboro Rd. He looked around for alternatives, a back road that led to an on ramp, a highway that led to a smaller town, anything. Nothing. Bryan’s course was clear. In the morning he’d take the Shoelace Express to this junction at Murfreesboro Rd. and try to hitch from there. But what about tonight? The sun was setting and he had to admit he was dead tired. He’d walked all day with that heavy pack in the hot, hot sun. Water was on empty, food bag running low; he needed to restock or continue to buy food every time he wanted to eat at a marked up price from gas stations and mini-marts.

What to do for tonight? Should he try to find an out of the way place to camp? There were 3 hotels right behind him. Should he spring for a room? He was tired and it would be nice to shower and shave, plus he’d be able to start tomorrows hike from exactly where he ended todays. No lost ground made Bryan a happy man and from the looks of it, it was gonna be at least 10 miles before he’d connect to Murfreesboro Rd. where he could more effectively hitch.

The decision was obvious; he’d splurge the 45 bucks and get a room a cheap hotel. He did so, though his room was on the back end of the building on the 3rd floor. Hooray for carrying a 60lbs rucksack up 3 flights of stairs to the far end of the building. Well, if nothing else the journey was gonna make Bryan one tough son of a bitch. The shorts he wore were already getting a little baggy on him. Opening the door to hotel room he threw down his pack, showered, and slept soundly for the night.

Vagrant Story Episode 3

Vagrant Story Episode 5… still to come

Categories: Blogging, Camping, Character Development, Leadership, philosophy, Self-improvement, Society, Travel, Vagabonding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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