Having a blast in lousy weather in Barrow


On this gig we won’t make a dime.

We might end up covered with rime.

    From the end to the start

    I play from the heart,

Having the greatest of times.

The skies are leaden and the air a few degrees above freezing.  I’m riding on the tailgate of a pickup truck in a light drizzle.  I’m having a blast.

My saxophone wails Summertime as the pickup runs along a fifty-yard wide neck between the Arctic Ocean and a lagoon.

I’m playing direct from the heart.  I’m playing for all the months of vacation I never took, for the years of pain that have evaporated, for the decades when I didn’t have time to play, and for the liberation of not being the boss anymore. 

I’m playing because I want to, not because I have to.  With no obligation or compulsion, no interior or exterior force, no ought to fill the interstices in the notes; with nothing else to compete for space, joy overflows with my breath.

By bits and turns a parade hospital project casually mentioned on Tuesday grew here and tweaked there, eventually obtaining a vehicle and a band (us).  We debated seating arrangements more than anything else, finally deciding that we could make it a tailgating expedition for the vocalist and guitarist-turned-banjoist, and a walking trip for the trumpet and sax. 

At quarter to one, by prior agreement, I gave call over to one of my colleagues, and suited up in layers for the cold.  I went down to the parking lot and helped put the finishing touches on the truck/float.

What is safe and acceptable at parade speeds is not necessarily a good idea even four miles an hour faster, and the trumpeter and I climbed into the back of the pickup touting the Friends of the Library.

The parade staging area bordered on the airport, near the ice rink, City Hall, and the high school. 

Small town Fourth of July parades have really interesting floats, and Barrow is no exception.  Most every business and institution sends a representative. 

While we waited around in the intimate atmosphere, we hacked around musically, as much to get the creative juices flowing as to keep warm.  The banjo player remarked that banjo is a Bantu word meaning cannot be tuned.  The cold compounded the tuning problem. 

At last the parade starts, the trumpeter and I begin walking and playing and in short order the parade speeds up.  Soon, we have to run, which neither of us, at our ages, should do.  We accept a ride on the running boards of the Friends of the Library truck, catch up to our vehicle, and sit on the tailgate.

We play while the people in the truck, including Barrow’s resident fashionista (transplanted from sub-Saharan Africa to South Dakota to Barrow), throw candy, Frisbees, and bouncy balls to the crowd.

With no single group of people being able to hear more than a few minutes of a song, we start with St. James Infirmary.  We try new riffs and licks and watch the audience react.  We polish that number till it shines in the gloom of a cloudy Arctic afternoon, then our leader, the trumpeter, calls for Summertime.  As the people lining the road bend to pick up the candy and the treats, we see the heads bobbing in rhythm to the music. 

The parade stalls while we’re between the ocean and the lagoon.  Fireworks go off to our right.  When we start again, up the hill to Browerville, we play and sing When The Saints Go Marching In.

Under leaden, overcast skies, in a light drizzle just above freezing, with my fingers starting to numb, I am playing from the heart and having an absolute blast.

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4 Responses to “Having a blast in lousy weather in Barrow”

  1. Lori Jessen Says:

    Beautiful…

  2. Dave Sly Says:

    love the blog!!!!

    Any thoughts about a VA job in Sioux City, just like mine?

    Lifestyle is good and avoids your non compete. Let me know, the job will be posted soon.

    May many blessings follow you in your travels.

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      I’m having such a great time walkabout. I’m looking at Ireland and New Zealand. And maybe Texas in the dead of winter. Or even coming back to Barrow for a month of darkness.

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      I thought long and hard about the VA, but I wouldn’t be using two of my unique talents: speaking Spanish and being good with kids. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider it in the future

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