I spent Friday early afternoon (day 3) in the downtown area, which is actually Bloomington. Bloomington and Normal are right next to each other, one is Uptown and one is Downtown. Both of them are very friendly and welcoming towns. They are also very appreciative of music played by buskers. That afternoon was my second time in the downtown area and I was in a different spot and though it was chilly and not much in the way of people walking around, the ones that did walk by were very cool. I was able to have have a couple of conversations with people and they were just great. After the usual 90 minutes, I left.
I had to brush up on my Christmas tunes for the Holiday party for Saturday. I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening doing exactly that. I wanted to make sure I had enough to pepper in with what I usually play. I thought I would take the entire night off to do that, but I figured it was Friday night and it might be a good night to get out there. It was cold as the sun had been down for quite some time. But hey, playing is what I do and that is one of the points to this trip. I was only able to last a little more than an hour and it was time to go. In that hour, much like the time in downtown, the people were just incredible! There were a lot of wonderful comments AND tips- I like “and” better. It was just the kind of day I needed, and wish every day could be like. Afterwards, I went back to studying my Christmas tunes.
Saturday (day 4) I woke up early to refresh my memory of these tunes. When I headed back uptown, my GPS would not work. I got lost and wound up going in circles, and then found myself out by the interstate junctions! A problem I would have later in the night too, ugh! I apparently have absolutely no sense of direction. I need to work on that, it took me 25 minutes to go only 10 minutes away from where I was. I got there, good thing I left early, 10 minutes early. I found Joe, the man who wanted me there and he told me where to be. Joe is the City Manager who I met the first day there. He walked by again the second day and that is how I stayed in Normal for 4 days. Joe is a wonderful man who organizes the events for the town of Normal and apparently, they have quite a few. On this day, there was a horse and carriage ride around the town and I played right where people got on and off the carriage. There was also a kettle corn tent right next to me. For the entire day, the smell of that kettle corn wafted in my direction, I couldn’t wait to get some when I was done, sure enough, I did! Though I did not have my tip box out, there were a few people that still wanted to tip me. I played there for 3 hours and it was a fun time. Although, I was concerned, as I was setting up, apparently, I had cracked my reed. If there is one think I don’t like, it is breaking a new reed on the job. Also, it was a size 3 reed. I was using a 2.5, needless to say, my lip was shot by the end of the job.Thankfully, it was a beautiful day- the warmest one since I got there 60 degrees. It was a perfect day to be out there! Thank you, Joe for the opportunity! When I was done, I walked around the town for a bit and found myself in The Coffeehouse and Deli, where Mary and Mia work. I had been in there a few times since I got there. This was the first time I actually had conversation with them. Like the rest of my experience in this town, they are wonderful, and the coffee is excellent!
I thought it might be a good idea to leave at that point, but the truth is, I didn’t want to. I went back downtown, later in the evening, but didn’t see much going on. I gassed up the van went back to Uptown. Again, I got lost! I figured I would play for another shift and then go. I went to the corner I went to every night. It had slowed down a little bit from the afternoon and it had got a little chilly. I can’t say enough about the people in this town. In addition the nice comments and people that had walked by, about 40 minutes into this shift, a young woman named Sarah came over to talk to me. She had walked by earlier and tipped me and had a seat on a bench nearby. We spoke for a few minutes and then she said “I try to do at least one nice thing a day, can I buy you dinner at The Rock?” Grateful, I said “That would be awesome, thank you!” The Rock is a great little restaurant with a little bit of everything and reasonably priced. Sarah treated me to a philly cheese steak with fries. Which means I was able to save the other half of the sub I had for lunch until the next day! We had a wonderful conversation. She is a writer and she (like me) enjoys meeting new people and getting to know their story. She is from Jordan and wants to change her studies and possibly get into risk management. She also plays classical piano and every Friday, buys the homeless man a cup of coffee and has a conversation with him. She had lots of questions as to how I came to do what I am doing. Afterwards, she ask if I could play a Frank Sinatra tune for her, so I did. I also played an improv for her based on her. Then she left. I was grateful for the opportunity for conversation and the philly, thank you Sara! I gave a cd and as she left, I played another Frank Sinatra tune. I stayed out for another 40 minutes, it was getting late and it was getting chilly, I wasn’t dressed for it this time so I packed it up.
When I got to the van, I still didn’t really want to leave. I really like this town. I rolled in discouraged and a stranger, I left feeling very much renewed and a friend of this town. I can’t say thank you enough to the town and people of Normal Illinois, I hope to be back this way again, maybe after it warms up!