Last week I was crossing Second Avenue at Pike Street and heard my name called, always a pleasant confusion in the midst of the anonymous and vaguely menacing urban throng. I work hard to cultivate a network of people I have some rapport with around the city, so that I’m never far from a smile of recognition, but it’s still disorienting to encounter someone I know. Seattle is not a very big city but it’s also not a small town.
It was my young friend Evan Gackstatter crossing the street arm-in-arm with a young woman. Evan is a talented guitarist that used to work during the day at the Seattle’s Best Coffee in Post Alley, where for a while I was going almost every day for my latte (12 oz. decaf, single shot). I liked him right off. Good upbeat energy, seemed to always genuinely enjoy people, which, at two o’clock in the afternoon on a busy weekday when the cruise ships are in town and the coffee shop is crowded with tourists and their indecision and their coffee illiteracy, speaks well of his inner disposition.
One day shortly after I met him, Evan told me he was in a band and that I should check him out online. Dr. G and the Funky Recovery. I noted the name and said I’d have a listen, but inwardly I rolled my eyes and thought, “Right, who isn’t in a band? Everybody’s in a band. Kids get a guitar for Christmas and they think they’re a rock star.” But I endeavor to be a man of my word, and so I looked him up and POW! — Evan’s guitar playing and singing KNOCKED ME BACK! I was genuinely impressed. The music of his band, which is now called simply Gackstatter, is high energy jazz-rock that, even if it’s not your kind of music — it’s not really my kind, I listen to laid back stuff like folk and roots rock — you cannot fail to appreciate that the man is a genius on the guitar and an extremely innovative vocalist and songwriter. Because he is in his twenties, I had prejudged him and imagined that his music would be more of that lazy, joyless “I’m not really trying, trying isn’t cool” school of emasculated breathy music that persists in popularity among young males these days despite any reason that I can see except cynicism. Music by and for eunuchs.
Not Evan. With a voice like a rapier, Evan fairly swashbuckles his verses, arcing here in falsetto, then diving there to fish out some bass notes, and his fingers absolutely fly up and down the frets as though he’s trying to use each musical bar to the fullest. I can’t listen to it for long, because I’m older and can’t take the sustained volume and energy anymore. But there’s a lot to hear in it. I could make comparisons with Jeff Buckley, Jack Bruce, Wishbone Ash, Blues Traveler, Huffamoose, and lots more. The music is original, the craftsmanship high quality. I haven’t met drummer Nathan Taylor or bassist Tim Carey (though not because Evan has not invited me several times to come see them play), but they are equally amazing musicians. For one of my favorite Gackstatter songs, a rambunctiously loud and busy one that also palpably expresses joie de vivre, go here and click the title track, One Winged Rocket.
There’s a saying I like about “friends for the road”, a saying I can’t actually remember right now. It refers to the fact that there are friends that will remain close to you all your life and there are also people who enter your life and may be very close to you for a time — for a stretch of the road — but with whom you eventually part ways. Your roads simply diverge and the bond of whatever stress or quest united you is gradually loosened, and you drift apart. The idea is that not every friend has to be one that you are still besties with at age 93, but that these temporary friends are friends nonetheless.
I would say there are friends of an even more transient and ephemeral sort, the kind that used to be called “acquaintances”. A couple weeks ago I was sniffing around the base of the Columbia Tower with my camera and I heard someone shout “hey, hi!” in my direction, and it turned out to be officer Linda sitting in her little Parking Enforcement rig. Those are brilliant moments. The city suddenly feels like a home. And those are just the unpredictable, out-and-about coincidences. But the reason I have a connection with most of these people in the first place is because they are normally stationary and I am a creature of habitual wanderings. Patty and her daughter Ashleigh at the Planet Java diner over on Washington, which has appeared in several of my posts. David at Lionheart Books in the market. Miguel, my barber. The crew at Seattle’s Best, also in the market, and Diane, their superfriendly manager until she recently moved up to the shop next to the public library. Ben Gant of Turko’s Last Stand newsstand. Eddie the Shoe Shine, often of Pine Street. Ed, my Real Change vendor (and his dog Cosby), who parks his wheelchair at the corner of Third and University in front of the Benaroya but pulls up stakes by 9am. The man at the Mexican place in the food court at Westlake Mall, who helps me practice my Spanish.
These relationships are not necessarily deep nor very tightly bonded, but they are relationships. When I see these people I get happy, simply because I know their names, or in one or two cases just their faces, and by knowing I am known. Because these things don’t just come about by themselves. If I grunt and throw money on a counter without looking at who is serving me or acknowledging the dizzying array of potential human stories swirling around me as I go through mine, then these little friendships can’t happen. But when I pause and ask a question, or make a little small talk, and then come back again soon and make the effort again, I end up with a constellation of friendly faces strung across the city, which like I said can otherwise be a pretty lonely place.
Gradually, one hello at a time, I’m turning downtown Seattle into a place less alienated, a place I can comfortably walk my soul in. Thanks for calling my name, Evan.