Friday, September 03, 2004

0017 Stone Cold Busker, Part Two

Somewhere along the crooked path of my learning curve I had an “A-ha” moment. I’m reading about it right now in my diary. Right there, June 12th, 1995: “A-HA!!”

It had just dawned on me that Atlanta, being the State Capitol and all, was also home to the State Attorney General’s Office: the lawyer of the state. If any one had answers to my questions then surely it would be him, right? Okay now, where’s the phone book…

It must have been my lucky day. Within moments I was on the line with the attorney responsible for the part of the state which included Stone Mountain Park. All I wanted to know, I said, was whether the park was private property, or public. He replied, and I quote, “I wish all my calls were that easy! It’s public property, of course!” Grrreat!, I replied. And then, a little too late, he got curious. Why did I want to know this, he asked. So I told him. “Um, uh, I’m not so sure I gave you the right impression…”

“Excuse me sir, but as a sworn officer of the court, are you now telling me the park is somehow off limits to Free Speech?” That did the trick; he broke down and confessed that I was totally correct in my approach, that indeed the state had no business interfering with my shows… but… but…” But what, sir? “Well, you know, they do have a staff out there who should be apprised of all activities, and they also happen to have their own lawyer, too. I know her – she used to work here in my office before taking a private job with the park administration.” A private job...
How does a lawyer (or anyone else for that matter) arrange a private job in a state-owned park (or historical momument)? Answer this question and you are well on your way to understanding one of the biggest obstacles a busker will ever face: "private" public spaces. Or, for the sake of accuracy: public spaces which have been given over to private management.
The government has, especially over the past 50 years or so, engaged in the policy of allowing private firms to operate and manage public land and attractions -- usually because they are too costly to operate with just tax dollars. These are usually sweetheart deals, with lots of wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. The developer, a private business with partners and employees, needs to feel confident that their investment will come back many times over. The capitalistic model at work, and all that. What the public sees is a dangerous, delapidated area suddenly built up and full of shops; land which nobody wanted and too costly for tax dollars to maintain, suddenly reclaimed and prosperous. What can be so bad about that? Well, let me tell you: It never fails that these spaces are treated as the private property of the firm that developed the land. Somehow (don't ask how if you don't really want to know) these so-called private property rights are even written into the original development contract, usually taking the form of a long term lease.
Is there even a question in your mind by now whether or not this arrangement is legal on its face? Can a piece of public land, developed or not, be transferred out of the public domain without being sold outright? But I digress. Back to Stone Mountain...

Since he (the Attorney General) did seem sincere and apologetic, I followed through with his request to call the park office one last time and ask for this lady lawyer, and advise her directly on my plans. I told her my plans; I did not ask. After a half dozen or more calls to the park, during which I was lied to time after time, I was in no mood for any more games. So I informed the park that in 2 days time I would be out there performing for the weekend crowds – “And you are all invited to come watch the show!”

And they did come, too.

Immediately following my first show at the park (which was not disturbed in any way) I was approached by a small group of people representing the park management: the lawyer, the manager himself, her boss, and the park police chief. (I learned that day that the park was chartered to operate its own small police force, whose civilian master was the park manager.) The scene itself was a classic Mexican Standoff: they all wanted me to leave, and of course I was looking forward to my next show. Guess who won?

But that day was to set the tone for many others, almost comical in their predictability. Many times over the rest of the summer I would arrive to pitch, only to be confronted by the police chief or the lawyer with a sealed envelope. Inside would be some newly-devised scheme intended to drive me off pitch, or, better still, all the way out of the park.

For example, I could stand there (by the porta potties), but not over there (by the million dollar concession stand). Although the park itself was wired for sound with 2 dozen large speakers hanging in the trees, my little 15-watt amp would not be allowed. A vendor could sell over-priced mylar balloons shaped like comic figures, but I must stop twisting for tips. And so it went the whole summer long.

My response each and every time was to respectfully open the letter and read it in front of the presenter, then tear it up and throw it into the nearest trash can. The letters kept coming (only God knows why), and I kept throwing. I never agreed to a single demand, performed dozens of shows on their “private” property the whole summer, and had the time of my life. But man, did I learn to hate daisies!
To be continued...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

0016 Stone Cold Busker, Part One

It should be fairly obvious by now that the summer of 1995 was an eventful time for me. What, with all the police attention I was receiving, and the steps required to stay equal to the task of protecting my rights, the learning curve was pretty steep.

The past 3 essays have highlighted my troubles at one particular pitch, which happened to be located in a state park, which in turn was located in the center of Atlanta – a strange location for a state park. But my troubles did not end there; the end of the learning curve was not yet in sight…

Outside of Atlanta, located in a much more traditional setting, is Stone Mountain Park. It is famous for being home to a piece of exposed granite they say is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world (this is what passes for a tourist trap in the Atlanta area). The good news is that the area surrounding the granite chunk is actually quite picturesque, and the park offered many other attractions as well – like me, for instance. Oh, and did I forget to mention that SMP is a state park?

When I had finally screwed up the courage to take on busking as a full time career move, the next logical step was to locate as many venues as possible in and around my city. Stone Mountain Park was near the top of my list, and I made several telephone calls out to the office there to try and arrange permission to busk.

Trouble was, every time I called I was told that Stone Mountain Park was private property, that all activities had to be scheduled, and that all performances had to be auditioned. I was also told that busking for tips would never be allowed under any circumstances.

Because these calls took place early on, and because I was not yet familiar with my Civil Rights, I took them of course at face value. After all, what reason would anybody have for lying to me, right? The idea that Stone Mountain Park was private property never made sense to me, but in the end I believed Authority over my gut, just like I was taught to do – for a little while longer at least.

The original phone calls to Stone Mountain Park were made in 1994. Around the same time came the police troubles (see blogs 13-15) which led to my legal studies, carrying over into 1995. Over time all these legal questions (about authorization, permits, sound levels, collecting money, police harassment, “private” public property, and so on) began to merge, and it became obvious finally that everything I was seeing, hearing, studying, and writing about were all part of a much larger theme: It all had to do with the First Amendment. And the more I studied, the more I came to understand that of all the authority figures I had so far encountered, not one of them understood squat about it. In other words, I would soon discover that with my measly few hours of study in a borrowed law library, I knew more about my Civil Rights than any policeman, city agent or lawyer I was to meet that summer.

The end of the learning curve had finally come into focus.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

0015 Dogs Without Borders, Final Installment

As I have tried to make painfully clear so far with this blog, the first few months of my busking career was challenging to the extreme. It was a like a boot camp for street performance, with one trainee squared off against 20 drill instructors. Not only did I go through the normal growing pains all buskers face when trying to develop their street act, but it also seemed like every civil authority I came into contact with wished I would stay completely ignorant of my Civil Rights.

Case in point. Soon after my last run-in with the Capitol Police (see blog #14) I was back on that same pitch, again with my close-up magic show. This pitch is located in a park named “Steve Polk Plaza”, a name seared into my memory even now, almost ten years later. I don’t remember exactly how I came into possession of this information, but I learned that this park, standing right in the center of Atlanta city limits, was actually State property.

One day I was interrupted by a young security guard from the Underground, who by coming over to where I stood was walking off-site, and therefore to a place where he held no authority whatsoever. Where I was was in sight of the door he stood guard over (kind of, if you take away some trees and light posts, and consider that I was over 50 yards away) but other than that I still don’t know why he walked over to my pitch that day.

But come he did, bold as you please, and demanded to see my I.D, and telling me to leave the area or else I would be arrested for trespassing. I thought I was hearing things. A doorman from the Underground was way over here confronting me like this? How idiotic was that? That's like a car mechanic trying to ticket me for speeding, and I told him so. He finally went away, grumbling about getting the police involved.

A little while later he returned, this time with a real policemen at his side. Ignoring the cocky wanna-be cop, I focused on the real one, an Atlanta patrolman, who was demanding to know by what right I was performing there. So I did what anyone in my position would have done: I demanded to know what his authorization was for questioning me in the first place.

HUH??

(Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. As an escape artist with many years of experience, mastering handcuffs was one of the first lessons I taught myself. But that doesn’t mean that I like how they feel, ‘cause I sure as hell don’t. So please don’t get the impression that I go around baiting police officers into arresting me every chance I get, because that just isn’t the case, no matter how flippant I might seem in these essays – and I sure don’t recommend that anyone else should go out and try repeating these maneuvers just for fun. Back to the where the plot thickens…)

Human nature is a funny thing. If you go up to someone and say, “Hey you, ASSHOLE!”, you are setting yourself up for a bloody nose. But if you were to approach that same person and ask, “Hey you, has anyone ever called you an ASSHOLE to your face before?”, well now, this is something quite different.

And so here I was asking, “Excuse me officer, but as a city patrolman what authority do you have on state property? Plus, are you telling me that the State of Georgia has laws on the books forbidding street theater?” And just like that, and very much like the police I had confronted a few days earlier, he didn’t know how to respond. He stuttered a few words about getting his supervisor involved and then they were gone.

And then he was back.

A little while later he did indeed return with his supervisor, a sergeant with patches, medals and hash marks all over his collar and sleeves; this new guy was a hard core veteran with 25 or 30 years on the force. From then on “polite” was my middle name…

I saw them coming still some ways off. They stopped to huddle a few yards away from where I was standing and waiting, a tactic designed to make me feel insecure. It worked. When they finally arrived the sergeant took the lead and asked me about the trouble I was having with his patrolman. I very politely replied that I wasn’t having any trouble at all, only that when he interrupted my shows I had asked him, a city patrolman, whether or not he had any authority at all in a state park.

The sergeant paused a few seconds, then turned to his patrolman and said, “That’s a very good question. Let’s you and me go get a coffee and talk about it.”

I never saw them again.

Monday, August 30, 2004

0014 Dogs Without Borders, Part Two

The next time I used that location I was loaded for bear and didn’t even know it.

The first time I had come alone, sporting nice clothes, beautiful equipment, and no witnesses. The second time I wore casual dress, intended to twist balloons, and had a witness. I had also taken the precaution of writing a letter.

To prepare for writing it, not only had I made my research about the Capitol Police division in a local university law library, I had actually called there a few times to collect some background information. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember the exact wording of that letter, but it was quite detailed and lawyerly, and included what information I had gleaned from my phone calls to the division: naming names, titles and telephone numbers, listing them as people to contact before any arrest should take place.

In other words it sounded something like: No matter what you have been told, I am allowed to be here so don’t get any crazy ideas. But just in case you can’t help yourself, at least make a few phone calls first and spread the blame around so my lawyer has more people to sue.

Keep in mind that I still had no sure way of knowing what impact my research would have on my next attempt to work that location! It was quite possible, even likely, that my legal naivety had caused me to miss vital documents in my research, and that the police would have a field day turning me into mincemeat.

And so, armed with only the strength of my convictions, a bag full of latex, my girlfriend, and a piece of paper, I arrived on pitch. Hoping and praying, of course, that there would be no confrontation that day, or ever again for that matter, but knowing deep inside that it was bound to happen sooner or later.

One hour later the first patrol car arrived. It held one occupant. This occupant gave us pretty much the same dismissive treatment as his colleague two weeks earlier, but, being a Southern Gent and all, he toned it down a bit in the presence of a (female) witness. Regardless of what he didn’t say, he made it crystal clear about what he did expect, and it wasn’t that I make him a nice teddy bear on a heart.

Since he was in no mood to negotiate, and since it was becoming painfully obvious to me that this behavior was endemic and wasn’t about to go away with polite chit-chat, I brought out the letter.

He opened it and began reading. The change was dramatic and nearly instantaneous. He would read a few words, then look into my face. Read a bit more, then look again, and so on. His posture changed, weakened, his self confidence melting away. He began backing up towards his car, still reading, then turned and went straight for his radio. My friend and I just stood there, unsure of what to do next. So we continued making balloons, waiting and wondering.

We didn’t have long to wonder. Within 15 minutes three more patrol cars pulled in, and this time there was a lot more than just one occupant per car. Every car present was from the Capitol Police division. Four cars, 6 or 7 police officers, and all I was trying to do that day was twist balloons.

They formed a huddle over the one document, each trying his best to get a peek. It looked like they could use some help in that regard, so I brought over some extra copies. As damning as they were, nobody refused to take one.

From the moment I handed out the extra copies, no patrolman came within 30 feet of us. Only their lieutenant did. He eventually swaggered over, paper in hand, doing his best to reinforce to his men that he was indeed in charge and in control, and tried his best to intimidate us off that pitch by sheer willpower. When ever he made comments like, this paper means nothing, you’re not a lawyer, wouldn’t we feel better on that place over there, or why did we pick such a strange way to make money, or blah this or blah that, I would politely steer him back to the letter and ask his opinion of it.

Have you ever seen a charging bull run headfirst into a concrete wall? Me neither, but that day I saw the next best thing: an armed police lieutenant, surrounded by armed subordinates, totally emasculated and powerless in the face of a common citizen armed with only knowledge – and balloons. Don’t forget the balloons.

After perhaps 30 minutes or so he sent all the other officers on their way, staying behind alone to observe these strange creatures that dared to disagree with his policies and procedures.

He hovered nearby, staying some 10 to 15 yards distant, for maybe another 2 hours. It turned out that this was a very good day for balloons, and often we were surrounded by families waiting their turn, which only pissed the poor lieutenant off even more. I mean, earlier that morning he wanted to arrest me and personally deliver my arrest notice to the newspaper, showing the good people of Atlanta what a menace he had saved them from. But here those same folks were, content to stand in line for 20 minutes so that same criminal menace could trade them a piece of inflated latex for a tip.

It was plain to see even from this distance that he was seething, plotting his revenge… if only all those damned happy witnesses would get out of his way!

In the middle of a nice rush a voice called out from behind, “How much to get first in line?” When I turned around, there was a father leading his family up to our pitch, and, seeing the line gathered, cracked a little joke. Cool. I automatically replied, “Twenty Bucks!” And then it happened. Or rather, he happened.

From his hiding place under a tree (!!) our lieutenant bolted from cover screaming that I was breaking the law by charging twenty bucks for my balloons. I wish I could somehow capture in words the various expressions of those around me at that moment, but it was clear they thought he was mad. And I don’t mean angry.

He came trotting over doing his best to disrupt our little party, when I grabbed him by the arm and roughly pulled him aside. I screamed right back that he was an idiot, a blight on the good name of honest police everywhere, and that if his illegal harassment didn’t cease that very instant I would have him charged with Malfeasance of Office.

Something, I’m not sure exactly what, happened. He looked frightened of me. My words truly shocked him into submission. Even now, some nine years later, I am still not comfortable with that moment.

But I am happy to report that when the dust finally settled, the Capitol Police never bothered me again. The Capitol police, that is…

To be continued…

Saturday, August 28, 2004

0013 Dogs Without Borders, Part One

As I mentioned in a recent essay, a certain arrogant policeman started me thinking about my Civil Rights – Free Speech in particular – and how it related to my new vocation.

Busking, street performing, my new vocation, was not something that I had settled on lightly. It was something I pondered deeply for a few years before taking the plunge – and even then I was methodical in my delivery, taking six months to transition from carpentry (my family-approved profession up to that time) to full time busking. Indeed, this was not so much a change of vocation as it was a complete lifestyle makeover. And it sure didn’t feel good to have this heat come down on me from the very start.

All I was able to do that day was to get off that street as fast as I could, and go home and lick my wounds. The indecent harassment I suffered that day had not been witnessed or recorded, so I couldn’t make that man legally responsible for his words or actions, so I did the next best thing: I got an education.

Atlanta is home to Emory University, well known for its hospital and law school, and me and their law library became very well acquainted during the summer of 1995.

The patrolman I keep talking about belonged to a division named “Capitol Police”, so that was where my research began: learning all I could about the Capitol Police. I learned that this division was created out of thin air during the race riots of the early 1960’s. Atlanta (as in the case of many Southern capitols, of course) was a hotbed of racial tension, and the staffers and politicians working the Hill needed to feel reasonably safe when going about their daily grind of running the State. Atlanta is a large city, but it is also the State Capitol, and as such many jurisdictional lines cross here and there causing some bureaucratic chaos.

So the Capitol Police force was invented as a separate entity to help ease these tensions and to provide security for state employees working in and around the Capitol buildings. For example, the official charter granted the division the right to wear uniforms and firearms, and authorized the use of deadly force; the charter also stated the streets and buildings they were authorized to protect. In short, I had found the exact laws and other regulations which outlined the precise duties, obligations and limitations of the Capitol Police. And guess what else I discovered? The place where I was performing was at least five city blocks outside their area of responsibility.

If this was really the case, then why was I having to deal with a police force (illegally) operating so far away from its base of operations?

I’ll tell you why: Because it has been a really long time since Atlanta has seen a race riot. Basically, the Capitol Police division is obsolete. But rather than eliminate the waste of… well, you know how it goes – that’s government in a nutshell. Your tax dollars at work. Knowing better than anyone just how obsolete they really were, they took on extra extra-legal duties in order to look busy, needed, including patrols far outside their legal boundaries.

(So far we are only discussing jurisdictional rights and duties; the subject of Free Speech is still to come.)

Naturally all of this information came as quite a surprise, a surprise that seemed almost too good to be true. I was asking myself if it could really be as simple as that: bored police patrolling outside their legal boundaries, like a ferocious-looking dog that has no teeth. Did they have teeth, or didn’t they? That was the next question, and there was only one way to find out…

To be continued…

Friday, August 27, 2004

0012 “Hands Up Where I Can See ‘Em, Magician!”

And all I did that fateful day was to leave my home, heading to work as a street magician. Little did anyone know – myself included – that I was actually a drug dealer in disguise!

But the policeman saw right through me.

I joined the busking crew at Underground Atlanta sometime during the late summer of 1994. While my original modus operandi was that of a close-up magician, I did venture out and enlarge my show the following February to include escapes. (I had been intimately familiar with escapes since about age 13 – and magic even earlier – but supposed early on that magical busking would be easier to break in with.)

And since I was totally new to the streets, I had no real first-person education or understanding of what my rights would be. The Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment, Human Rights, Free Speech were all just abstract ideas lingering in the back of my mind, left over from High School government class. This is not the case any longer however, and this is one of the main reasons I started this blog to begin with. In my humble opinion, with all credit going to the current Congress and Administration, the condition of Human Rights in America has never been lower than it is today.

But my formal education was about to begin, all thanks to one extremely arrogant Georgia patrolman.

Like with any other closed pitch located on “private” property (another lie I plan to expose later in this series of essays, so stay tuned…), the Underground produced a monthly busking schedule. So some weeks you got lots of time slots, and some weeks you didn’t. But being a quick learner I soon discovered a few workable pitches off-site, and yet still in the heart of Atlanta’s tourist zone.

And there I was, wearing respectable black leather shoes, pants, black leather belt, a black turtleneck sweater, short hair, and standing beside a small table covered in maroon velvet – you know, just like all the other drug dealing street scum in Atlanta.

The patrol car rolled to a stop some 40 feet in front of me, and it was quickly apparent that the officer inside had already decided I was the reason why. He bailed the car and came straight over, and didn’t stop marching until he nearly bowled me and my table over. One step more and…

He stopped, eyed me up and down, slapped his right hand to his sidearm, and began reading a script from one of the John Wayne movies of my youth, “Boai, what cha think yur doin’ heer on mah street?” I kid you not. Of course, I politely explained that I normally did my show inside the Underground (some 200 yards away around the corner) but that today was my day off… Not good enough. He wanted to know why in the world I was on HIS street without HIS permission… and the grip of his gun hand wasn’t getting any looser.

At that point I tried asking was I doing anything wrong, was there a law I was violating, a permit I needed that I missed out on, someone I should call. I tried it all. Nope, the white knuckles were still there.

He cut me off with this little gem, “Ah don’t care if you got per-mish-un ur not ta be heer, and ah don’t give a rats ass ‘bout any pur-mits or ci-vul rahts, neither, boai! All I know is thaat I ain’t ne-vur seen you bee-fore, and so heers wats gonna hap-pen next. Either yuur gonna take yur things and go, and ah meen raht now, or ahm gonna a-rest you and put you in mah pa-trol car and on over to the station hause. Then one of mah bud-dies is gonna come over heer and col-lect yur stuff, and later it will be searched. And all I can say is, it would sure be ter-ri-ble if we found any-thing illegal packed in with yur things, no wat I’m talkin’ ‘bout, boai?!” And he closed with, “Buh-leeve me when ah tell ya, that I know 'sactly wat to put down on paper for the judge to read, an' ten yeers wood be 'bout the av-er-age time yul be gone for.”
I guess you can figure out what happened next.

I wish I was making this stuff up. Sure, I know much more today than I did back then, and later that same summer I evened the score a little by putting the screws to his very own department – knowledge really is power, as they say (and good for at least 2 more essays, so stay tuned for those as well…) – but this was my first real taste of police behaving badly towards buskers, and it has for sure stuck with me.

What redeems the entire episode for me is that it was the spark that ignited my passion for learning all I could about Free Speech and the 1st Amendment, a subject I am now thoroughly versed in. I can, and have, debated this subject with both police and lawyers, and won.

More essays are on the way regarding this subject, I promise.

Before anyone goes away with a wrong idea, I just want to add in closing that my immediate family includes both police officers and lawyers, and that my own mother was born and raised in the great State of Georgia, where my grandmother is buried, and where several aunts, uncles and cousins still live.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

0011 A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Intifada

After spending as much time as I have in the public eye, roaming the worlds streets and squares looking for a place to make shows, you come to the realization that people, even people in public, can be pretty strange at times. Usually I am the one thing people might find odd in the public domain. After all, how many times have you seen a guy wearing a strait jacket and 60 feet of chains walking down the street? But sometimes fate sees it the other way around…

It was the summer of 2001 and I had just finished my set in the main square in Copenhagen. As I was packing it in I noticed (hard not to really) a crowd of about 200 men standing some 30 yards behind me. From the looks of things they were preparing to demonstrate, complete with placards and noise makers, and some kind of electronic bullhorn.

Within minutes they were into their chanting. “UP, UP AR-A-FAT! UP, UP PAL-ES-TINE! DOWN, DOWN U-S-A! DOWN, DOWN IS-RAI-EL!” On and on, over and over. Wash hands, rinse, and repeat.

So far nothing to write home about. But then out came the burning effigies. I had never seen this in person before, and I must say it tripped a switch somewhere deep inside. Seeing my nations flag on fire, the other burning pieces as well, combined with the sight of all the zombies chanting their slogans, and… I don’t know what came over me, either. I became the anti-zombie.

Before you know it, I had reached down and snapped my PA back on and chanted right back, “UP, UP U-S-A! UP, UP U-S-A!”

And suddenly I felt very alone.

The mob turned all at once, everyone straining to see who dared invade their little hoo-ha, until the closest ones zeroed in. Like a living thing, the mob parted, and moved, and changed momentum, oozing along like a giant amoeba, sliding across the open space to surround and engulf me. And it did, too.

Then, like a pack of hyenas daring each other to see who would challenge the lion for the kill, they prodded each other to take the first move towards me. I was way past being nervous or scared; I was feeling quite peaceful at this moment, if you must know the truth.

At the busiest part of the fray there were maybe as many as 25 men trying to take swings at me. But dodging around my equipment still scattered around me helped keep them off balance. Realizing this, some of them began kicking my things, and spitting at me from the distance. All of them were yelling and cursing at me the entire time. Being called the son of a camel fucking whore is quite surreal when spoken in 3 or 4 Middle Eastern dialects by 200 men simultaneously.

To me the most amazing thing was that in the heat of battle, I was only struck a few times, and even then it was very minor. I honestly didn’t get a single scratch or bruise. My radio suffered most of all, but the next day I made all the necessary repairs for less than $30.00.

And if they only knew. While I am generally pro-Israel about most things, about this whole intifada business, I am actually on their side.
0010 Good advice from wise weirdos...

I was accepted into the Underground Atlanta busking program in 1994 as the third magic show on the roster. Already working there for some time was a solo magic show, and a duo act. Both were good, but the solo act was really good.

While I had many years' experience performing by this time, in all sorts of different venues (except shopping malls), under all sorts of conditions (except only for tips), for every conceivable type of audience (except the ones standing just 6 feet away, and prone to leaving when ever they chose), I was about to learn the naked truth about busking: regardless of your previous experience, no matter how strong you thought your act was prior to that moment, the street will break you into little pieces.

And it hurts.

Fifteen years of experience before 1994 was my claim to fame, and it seemed like 15 minutes. I had the look, the dress, the confidence and the professional magic props of 15 years... and the public still hated me. Ten people standing around my table was a huge success. Ten or more 15-minute shows per day just to go home with $60 or $70 was the norm. For years restaurants and clubs had paid me $200.00 per hour for my indoor gigs, but the street just chewed me up and spit me back out again.

It sucked, I sucked, and I was sure the whole world knew about it and that at any moment the clubs would all be demanding their money back.

To make matters even worse, the solo act I mentioned before was really nice to me. This guy had all the same off-street experiences that I did (so at least we could relate to each other in that regard) plus he had all the on-street experience that I did not. And on top of everything else, he was humble about it. I can't remember a single time where he bragged about his skills or his income.

After several months of this humiliation I received the best advice of my career from a very unlikely source, and to this day I wish I knew how to thank him, even though I still wouldn't want to shake his hand. I mean, what do you call those guys that hang around a public place all day long preying on victims -- selling drugs, stealing, pissing in the corners, starting fights, and just being a wart on societys nose?

And then one day it happened, an epiphany disguised as total street scum.

The guy cruised by my table that day, looked me up and down all smug-like, and said, "You know why that guy over there is so much better than you are? Because he is pro-active, and you are re-active."
0009 Waterhand

Not all of my shows are street shows, and I have a long performing history prior to my start as a busker as well. Here, I am performing an underwater escape in the swimming pool of a 5-star campground resort in North Carolina, circa 1991 -- about 3 years before I started busking. This perfectly timed picture was snapped just as I was exiting the water. Look closely and you can just make out the chains and locks swinging above my right hand.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

0008 Atlanta Underground

The original overhead shot. By the time this pic was snapped I had been busking less than 12 months. A lot less. But, I was already auditioned into the stable of performers licensed to work at Underground Atlanta, where this shot was taken circa 1995. In those early days I was using 4 chains, each one measuring 25-feet (with four padlocks)! The uncropped shot would show a very large circle of spectators... if you could take your eyes off those legs! ;)
0007 One persons trash...

Not recommended that you try this at home! Sure this is a cool trick, but for me this one racquet also had some special memories. I was in Barcelona waiting between shows when a homeless guy pushing a shopping cart happened by. Sticking out were two racquets, and on impulse I stopped him and asked whether or not they were for sale. A stupid question. We haggled over the one I supposed was the correct size, and off he went, one racquet shy of a load. Sadly, after about two years and several dozen shows, it snapped in half. (That black line running down my chest is my microphone cable.)
0006 Anybody know a good dentist...?

Nothing particularly remarkable about this shot, circa 2001, but it seems to be favorite moment in the show, and certainly defines some of the techniques I must use during an escape. In Houdini's time this sort of thing was always performed out of sight behind curtains, an impossible suggestion for modern audiences.
0005 July 4th, 1996

The "SPD" stands for Savannah Police Department. These two bike patrolmen just happened by at the right time and got shanghied into my show. Somehow I remembered my camera tucked away in my prop case, and asked a bystander to dig it out and snap a few shots. All 3 were good, but here is the best. (An interesting side note: This was one of the absolute easiest escapes ever! Go figure.)
0004 1994 Promo Shot

This pic was taken in the summer of 1995 -- my first full year as a busker -- and I still consider it to be one of my favorites despite the fact that it doesn't show my face. And yes, for the record, it really is me (and still is)!
0003 I know all, I see all...

This is pretty much my normal "look". Most people seem to think I am too serious looking, not that I really care. In this case, I was caught off guard in the green room just a few moments before taking the stage for an escape show... so I might have had something on my mind after all.
0002 Just another day at the office...

Overhead shot (obviously) of a typical crowd; i.e., this was not taken during a special event. I am standing on my prop case just inside the circle on the right.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

0001 Introduction

Greetings, and welcome to my own little piece of the Web. This is a new thing for me, never before attempted, and I am curious to see where it might go.

My name is Chance. I am a full-time professional street performer. Strassen Kunstler in German; Artiste de la Rue in French. Busker works just fine in English.

My experiences tell me that for some reason there is a tendency for people to relate to busking as musical in nature. So, when I am meeting people from countries such as England, Canada, Australia or New Zealand for example, almost 100% of the time I am asked, "What kind of music do you play?"

In fact there is a little dance that goes something like this:

Q: So what kind of music do you play?
A: I'm not a musician, I'm a magician.

Q: Really? Like David Copperfield?
A: Yes, kind of, with acrobatic, circus-style things added.

Q: Can you be more specific?
A: Sure. I am an escape artist -- you know, like Houdini.

Q: Insert pregnant pause here. Really? You mean, you let people tie you up in all kinds of strange things like boxes and handcuffs... and you get out of them?
A: Exactly! And I have performed my act in 22 countries so far.

So there you have it. My name is Chance, I am a professional magician and escape artist, and for the past 9 years I have been indulging my life-long fantasy of world travel, paying my way by performing street shows as I go along.

Welcome to my story...