#205: The Spirit We Have Here

August 19th, 2013

The man with the dusty Obama/Biden cap, with the “Born to be Wild” leather vest that said he rode Harleys, with the natty-trimmed white-dappled mustache overlooking a tidy-trim soul patch has been coming to the beach since 1966.

“Every day,” he said as his fingers gently flitted along a recorder’s surface as the drumbeat slowed in the background.

That’s recorder not as in fancy machinery, but plastic flute as from a grade school music room.

With it on nights like Sunday, when the weather’s good and the beach is full of swimmers, laughing kids and young lovers, families barbecuing and teens sneaking off to flirt with each other and practice their flow, the man with the dusty cap has come to the shadow of the city’s oldest beach house to place that recorder between the natty mustache and patch and twirl, whirl, twitter on a bird-flow song to accompany the now old men as they beat on the congas, bongos, djembes and anything else that can be slapped, shaken or shimmied to make music.

Every day when the weather’s good since 1966, he’s come.

The men just accumulate, mostly old, but a few young acolytes drawn by the sound. One by one, they show up with the implements of a hundred musical traditions.

A man all in white, from his Kangol cap to the shoes on his feet, was part of the early group. He yelled bits to other in the group, gave a brief speech to the small crowd gathering, old-timers knowing to pull out chairs, newbies straddling their bikes as they stopped for a moment in surprise. The drums never stopped as he talked.

An old man with a dashiki and a stately white afro (the same old man who glared at me earlier when he thought I was going to poach a parking spot he was staking out) walked up to a round of handshakes and hugs to join the circle.

A Hispanic man with an American flag button-up shirt danced in the middle. The other Hispanic man in the circle was a young guy with a military-grade buzz cut and wicking performance fabric gear.

A wizened looking man in full Afrocentric garb and a hat half between coolie and kufi wandered around, looking for a spot to join. He had small drums and a large polished stick that came to a circle at the top.

Some wore slacks and long shirts. Some wore African clothes of pride. Some wore leather biker vests and dusty Obama/Biden baseball caps.

A man trilled his bongo so fast his hands were a blur, just brief flashes of fingers and wrists at the perfect angle for sound.

“We came from the Point,” the man with the dusty cap said during a bit of a break.

He waved the hand that wasn’t holding the recorder north.

“On 55th,” he said.

He flicked those same fingers south.

“Then we moved to Rainbow Beach,” he said. “But that didn’t have the spirit we have here, so we came back.”

The drums started again, ending our conversation.

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You are currently reading #205: The Spirit We Have Here by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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