Sometimes I Need to Be Reminded

The only job I can find right now is a driver for a designated driver service I won’t name right now. It’s not bad work, mostly, though it’s infrequent, and while I can be polite and “professional” when needed (yessir, nossir), I generally hate being “the help.”

Which is what you are when you drive.

Last night, I had a client from a far northern suburb who had me drive him and a friend to dinner downtown and then to a blues club in Chicago. Not a respectable blues club, not a downtown blues club, but a real juke joint, a little nondescript dive in the East Garfield Park neighborhood (one of the streets does not even have a name in Apple maps). You would not have known it was a blues club otherwise, and it’s made think a little differently about all the South and West side corner places that look like they might be something but don’t appear to be.

The client, a real blues fan (“a member of the blues community” as he put it), apparently knows the Chicago blues infrastructure well, and has been to all of the seedy (and legendary) little places scattered across this city. Places unknown to polite or professional company.

And the client invited me join him. Which clients never do.

It was amazing. The music was astounding. The band played as a trio (drums, bass, guitar, with the guitar player singing and the drummer making harmonica noises occasionally) during the first set, tight and loud. It rattled my bones and broke my soul. After a break, they invited people to come play and sing with them during their second set. Several people asked me if I played.

“Not good enough to play with them,” I said. Which is true. I’m not. Maybe sing with them, though I don’t really have a “blues voice” and wouldn’t know quite where to start. (“I got them low down nasty, mean, ugly Lutheran blues…” maybe?)

I needed this night. I needed those blues. I needed to be one of only four white guys in a crowded and noisy room full of black folks. I needed all of this to remind me who I am. That I am not respectable. That I don’t belong in the world of professional folks, of comfortable and stable and well-adjusted middle class people. That world knows who I am (even more than I do, apparently), tosses me out on my ass, and then charges me for the favor, every time I think I can get through the door.

This morning, I got to thinking of something the late Scott Miller once said to me: “If I were a black man from the South, I’d play the blues. But I’m a white kid from the suburbs, so this is the music I play.” Yeah, that’s about right.

Thank you God. Thank you world. For reminding me, in such a beautiful, amazing  and even affirming (that word makes my skin crawl) way, who I am. I needed this.

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