Three guys just met each other in the middle of an uneven and old historic street. They are musicians, or at least want to be musicians. I was sitting a few feet above them. The street is not really a street but more of an area with old brick-shaped stones that have moved in different directions over the years. The many years that they’ve been there.
“Hey, I just moved here,” said the younger guy with the red colored beard and overalls. “I’m looking to be in a band, and I’m good.” That’s what he told the second guy who had been playing a guitar while singing something that sounded like it came from the early seventies.
“Really?” the second guy asked. They started chatting about Portland, Maine, where I am visiting as I write this to you. Then, a third guy showed up. A really skinny guy with a few missing teeth but a great big smile. He also had a guitar, and a few moments later, I was treated to a free concert. A concert of sorts.
It was three guys, three strangers, making music. The red-colored beard guy was singing in a kind of country, deep country sounding voice. He wasn’t from Maine, and he didn’t sound like it. The other guys were jumping in where they fit best. One with a guitar he kept trying to tune as he played along, and the other with an upside-down bucket he turned into a drum. You could tell he’s been here and he’s done this more than once or twice.
As I looked down towards them and looked past them, there was the blue waters of Maine. Boats and people passing by. Things keep moving without much stopping, as they do in tourist communities. Meanwhile, three strangers were getting to know each other.
That’s something we don’t do much anymore. Get to know each other. We think we are better connected than we’ve ever been, but it’s a thin layer of connection that doesn’t go too deep. Once you peel it, there isn’t much there.
These guys got to know each other over the next hour. That’s how long I sat there, watching and listening. Enjoying the music and the conversation. Learning about people and what makes us people. They chatted about traveling. About going and coming, but not about where they will end up. What life will be when it’s perfect and they have everything they want.
That’s what we chat about. Us people with a sense of security. We talk about our plans for where we want to end up. We’re less adventurous. Less free spirited. We don’t live for the moment. We think about the moment, and then talk ourselves out of experiencing it.
When you are playing music with strangers you need to listen. You look at the other person to figure out where they started and what they will say or play next. Body language, movement, tone. It’s all there to take in and to follow. One person starts, the other one goes next. If they listen and watch well, they will finish together.
The closest we have to this kind of spontaneous coordination is text messaging. Depressing isn’t it? Walking around Portland and learning about the City’s history, there was a lot of what we have today in any town, in any place. That’s what successful society does to you. It gentrifies you. It tries to make us all the same, moving at the same pace, in the same direction.
We need more of what these guys have. Three strangers meeting on an old, crooked pathway. The water flowing behind them. The seagulls flying above. In a moment, without plan or preparation, learning about each other and from each other through music and a certain joy of life.
Abe Villarreal writes about the traditions, people, and culture of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.