UNT

DCTA, Denton, Train Station

Lisa McCall

Lisa McCall, 47, steps off a bus at the DCTA train station in Downtown Denton and walks to the iron fence that runs behind the station. She lights a cigarette while she waits for her connecting bus from Big State Pawn to take her home so she can clean house. A nice man missing teeth and sporting a beard that would make ZZ Top jealous stands with her but declined to be interviewed.

She’s lived in Denton for 40 years and has been using the buses for 13 of them. She says they’re okay but she would rather have a car. She says she hasn’t worked in seven years and can’t afford a car with her disability checks she’s lived on since ’07. However, a background check revealed she has been arrested for drunk driving several times which may be the real reason behind not having a car.

Lisa was in a roller skating accident and broke several vertebrae. “I can’t roller skate or ride horses or really walk very well anymore,” Lisa says as a freight train declares its presence. “It’s hard for me. They’re things I really enjoyed doing.”

Now, Lisa enjoys spending time with her 11-year-old daughter who says she’s going to be a Dentonite forever. The two will take the bus to the movies or stay home and play games or swim.

Lisa did not go to college but her oldest daughter, by another father, just graduated this year from UNT where she studied early childhood and special education.

She doesn’t use the trains, but the buses get her everywhere she needs to go. When she doesn’t know where she’s going, she plans routes and checks schedules ahead of time to make sure she knows what she’s doing.

She has perfect timing, finishing her cigarette as her next bus pulls in.

Advertisements
immigrants, UNT, graduation, students, Spanish

Barbara and Ana

Barbara and Ana: Sisters

The two sat on a bench facing Denton City Hall. After interviewing Megan, I walk around the building and spot Gloria and Gladys but decide to interview them afterward.

Barbara is social, but only if she likes you so make a good impression. Ana says Barbara won’t talk to people she doesn’t like them, preferring to avoid them. Ana seemed shy throughout the interview and let Barbara do most of the talking. I figured I’d let the two (mostly) speak for themselves.

Barbara and Ana: Dialogue

Barbara and Ana became best friends two years ago while students at the University of North Texas. Below is the transcription of how the two met to introduce them and so you can read how the interview went.

“We got some baked goods and decided it was nice and then the wind started,” Barbara says.

“[We are] just friends,” Ana says. “Really good friends.”

“JUST friends, I’d say that we’re sisters. Chosen sisters.”

“We met through a mutual friend who we don’t hang out with in our apartment because we lived together.”

“She didn’t talk to me the first time and…”

“You were really awkward!”

“Apparently I was really awkward.”

“She was really awkward. Really awkward.”

“As opposed to now…”

“Anyway.”

“After that, I don’t know where I saw her.”

“Political science.”

“One of those really awful intro political science class at UNT full of freshman.”

“When you’re not a freshman.”

“Right, and then she was like, oh this person is not crazy…”

“Well because we no longer hung out with her.”

“It all worked out. She ignored us, in a good way.”

Barbara and Ana: Educated

Barbara will graduate in May designated Summa cum laude with a major in international security and diplomacy and a minor in Mandarin Chinese. Ana, studying business, has a year left.

“Whenever people ask me [what do you want to do after you graduate], I just want to pour out this long, complicated existential answer for them. They’ll be like ‘alright dude, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ No, I’m applying for law school. I don’t think that’s going to work out so I might just …see what happens. I’m not sure…” Barbara says, nervously snickering. “She has more of a plan than I do,” Barbara adds quickly to change the focus.

“What! I have no plan. I’m going to graduate and work in the business world. That’s not a plan. Well, my dad works in the business world so I have connections I guess. We’ll see where that goes. Someday I want to own a bakery so anything in between is just getting me there,” Ana says.

“We were staking out the competition. That’s really what it was. They thought we were going there just for muffins.”

“We should do some chemical analysis and see what they put in there.”

For now, Ana is a nanny and Barbara is unemployed, having just finished an internship at the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations.

“Have you ever seen the Devil Wears Prada? That minus the Prada,” Barbara says. “So I’m glad that that was over. It taught me that even though people have these titles Former Ambassador of Whatever doesn’t mean they’re good people or educated for that matter. Some didn’t know where Ukraine was.  But as far as a job goes, I’m looking at the bakery right now. It’s another way of infiltrating and getting their secrets.”

Ana: Origins

Ana, from Grapevine, is originally from Puerto Rico and mostly grew up there. Her father, who worked at a Spanish bank in Puerto Rico, was transferred to Chile where she lived through the ages of 7 to 10 and “it was beautiful, but the people are really cold and very superficial so it’s kind of hard to fit in right away.”

She has lived in the “Fifty States” for nine years now. The native Spanish-speaker learned English in Kindergarten and by living here, her accent disappeared.

“Finding out my grandfather has Alzheimer’s was my worst moment. I’m close with him. I don’t really talk to my dad’s side of the family so my mom’s parents have been the only grandparents I’ve really had and have become more like second parents for us. Being the youngest makes it harder because he’ll forget me before everyone else. He lives in Puerto Rico.”

She doesn’t like her father’s side of the family because they are “very rude and not very nice to me”

Barbara: Istanbul

I was in Istanbul for a wedding for my friend Mehmet Kalyoncu. He is from Istanbul. We met four years ago when we were at St Hugh’s summer school at Oxford University and became Pen Pals and talked about life and had a lot in common. I hadn’t seen him in three years. We had just been Skyping and he was like, hey, are you coming to my wedding? Which is a really big honor and I don’t take that lightly.

So I headed on over there for five days. Saw the city by myself for the most part and with his sister. We’ve actually become better friends than he and I were so it’s opened up a plethora of other people I could meet.

It was the last day and we went for a night on the town. My flight was at 6 a.m. and I was like, why am I going to go to bed. I can do that on the plane. I ended up spending a lot of time with his sister, Sena and her husband Selim while I was there. We went to a hookah cafe, takism square, and then a little food cart to try this delectable burger featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. It was awesomely delicious!

And we were all just hanging out together and it was that moment where you’re lost. You’re just nowhere in particular and everywhere at the same time. The brevity of life at that moment of the fact that I had met people I really connected with on a soulful level but wasn’t going to see again was something that should have been sad. Instead, I was okay with the indifference of the universe like it’s going to be okay.

But I have that moment here. Have you been to the square at 3 a.m.? It’s the best time because everything is quiet since they drunk people aren’t out. I think these moments are the best, when you’re among friends, loving life, talking about food and music and there’s something magical about that.

Back: Barbara, Sena, Selim; Front: Mehmet and his wife, (Photo Courtesy of Barbara)

Barbara and Ana: Immigrants

Both are first generation Americans and feel that part of their bond comes from shared experiences. Barbara is also fluent in Spanish, her parents Maria and Manuel Castro emigrated from Mexico.

“I study business and I always knew I would study business. Everyone in my family started college studying business and I’m the only one who stuck through with it, but I made it logical to where like, I eventually want to own a bakery,” Ana says.

“My dad always said he came over here with five dollars. He worked at Braum’s, as a carpenter, picked corn, everything. For him it’s all a reflection. The immigrant’s daughter always has such a hard thing that they have to do. If I’m like, I’m going to go to Europe then my parents think I’m going against the plan. He’ll be like, I came over here to give you this great thing and you don’t even want to live here or be lawyer?” Barbara says.

“I just realized why I get along with you so well. They think it’s easier for us when no, it’s just as hard.”

“They buy the American dream more than anyone. My parents are more patriotic than I am. But if they say something and I try to explain that it’s not actually like that get really…” Barbara shakes her head and both hands to finish the thought.

“You can’t explain it to them. They’ll go against you,” Ana says.

I spot Gloria and Gladys and make my way to them.

Denton, Students, Denton Square

Tessa and Grace

Grace, recently accepted into Teach for America in Dallas, is eager and anxious to start the 2014-2015 school year. She was raised in a single-mother household in Dallas, is a product of the Dallas Independent School District and is proud of it– but is still learning how to succeed in life with little family support.

“The district is actually plagued by really, really, high dropout rates. I’m not the kind of person that wants to grow up and leave my upbringing and never go back,” she said. “I want to grow up and be humbled by where I came from.”

According to Grace, Dallas is a high-need region DISD needs more teachers than they can meet with more than 300 teacher vacancies in Dallas. Teach for America is working to alleviate that problem.

“I have essentially no family. If I got laid off tomorrow, I’d have nobody to ask for money,” Grace said.

When Grace was in college, a professor set an appointment with a doctor friend to pull her wisdom teeth for free. It was her testament that good-hearted people exist and why she needs to help inner-city youth get an education.

“I go to bed knowing that I don’t want to contribute to all the fucked up things in this world,” Grace said. “I don’t want to be part of the problems of this world; I want to be a part of the solution, that’s why I went to teaching.”

Grace knows the students she will teach will come from similar situations.

“They don’t have anybody at home. They don’t have anybody telling them they’re worth a damn. And it’s one of the worst places you can be in life,” she said.

Grace is unsure of her future after her two-year commitment. Depending on her experience, it will make or break if she wants to teach. Grace holds a bachelor’s in environmental studies but decided to leave the profession because of the policies, like the clean water and clean air acts, she learned in her environmental policy class. It was her final senior capstone class to complete her major and she hated it.

“I didn’t hate the class; I hated the policies I learned. There are so many stipulations,” she said.

Grace did an education internship the summer after her junior year.

“I’d go to my internship and be like, this is work and I’m getting paid to do it?” Grace said. “It didn’t feel like work. It felt like life.”

“That’s beautiful,” Tessa said.

Grace and Tessa met at Austin College in Sherman six years ago when they were both very different. Tessa never had more fun with anyone. The two bonded so intensely, they finish each other’s sentences with ease and laughter.

“We were a little more free spirited. Now we’re kind of uptight, kind of negative,” Grace said.

“Trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. What we’re doing,” Tessa returned.

“Who we are what’s next, what’s tomorrow.”

“How are we going to get paid.”

“How we’re going to get up in the morning. Or the afternoon,” Grace finished.

One Halloween, Tessa dressed as a homeless person and Grace dressed as a raver faced death on the tracks that dice Sherman after narrowly escaping an oncoming train.

“We were dumb,” Tessa said.

“It was like an indie film coming of age scene,” Grace said.

Tessa is a history major in her senior year at the University of North Texas. She discovered her passion for oral history while in an oral course that helps wrap up her degree in December. In the class, Tessa is learning the method of interviewing people to create a historical record and the ethics of her craft.

“One of my teachers invited me to be in his class and I actually did poorly in his class before and he was like you got to be serious about this shit. You barely passed my class last time,” she said.

Tessa recently held an exceptional internship with the national park service. Now, she hopes to become a ranger after graduating in December before attending graduate school for history on the path to become a historian at a park.

While she’s not working or in class, she spends time interviewing people for an assignment about the desegregation of Fort Worth and Dallas asking about the legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to recreate life in the Metroplex during Jim Crow.

They stand across from each other, telling jokes and laughing. The conversation turns back to when they first met.

“I just remember being around her and being fucking giddy and just like, being. I don’t know, it was just awesome,” Tessa said, “That sounds really gay too.”

“I consider myself probably a really average low-key person,” Grace said.

“This girl is badass,” Tessa said. “I feel like there was a point in time where I almost felt like you were like my girlfriend. It’s when I was working at the district and we talked every fucking day. Like, I’d call you during my lunch hour.”

“She’d call me when she was sleeping underneath the desk.”

“I’m a horrible employee. I’d like fucking take a nap at work and call her.”

“I guess there were a couple times when I opened up my mail box and there were letters. I felt like I was being serenaded like there was this secret romance that nobody else in the world could really know about.”

“Like overly romantic language like you had gone off to war or something.”

“I was back from the great wah.”

“Grace is like family to me, she really is. She definitely inspires me reminds me who I am,” Tessa said.

Denton, Fort Worth, Homeless, Teacher, Nanny, Travel, Hitchhiking, Artist

Transcription of an Interview: Allison Lamb

Allison gave a fantastic interview at Jupiter House in Denton and basically talked straight through without my having to ask many questions. After transcribing the recording, I omitted my questions and extra details that interrupted flow and comprehension. 

I’m just kind of thinking and listening to a book called Hyperion. It’s a science fiction book about, it’s hard to say, it has a lot of different stories in it. It’s just like a setup and character development for the next book really. I like science fiction a lot. It’s my primary genre and utopian novels. I really liked Spin and Brave New World.

I used to be a student but didn’t graduate. I am a nanny for a family, so I clean their house and watch their kid and I am a substitute teacher.

First, I was studying art and got a bad taste in my mouth at UNT because it’s competitive and I’m not competitive and then I moved to TWU for nutrition and dietetics. Then, I had like a bunch of crap happen in a semester and I had to put school on the back burner and my grades fell. I have to have As or nothing. I had Ds. I was like, I’m not ready for this and quit for a while but I’ll probably go back some day.

I still do art and always will. I really like throwing ceramics, its really fun and I like watercolor painting. I like making stuff for people. I have a stockpile of art supplies already because I would ask my family for them at Christmas, like give me some paint. And they’d be like here, have some paint and shut up already. Anything else, my nanny job can kind of pay for.

But yeah, my jobs do well. I live below my means. I don’t have a car or anything. I share a one-bedroom house with my roommate so rent is really not high.

I don’t know what I’d go back to school for, but if I decided to go back to school for money, I’d probably go back to school for a STEM field. You get good scholarships in STEM fields. If I decided to go back to school for something I love, it would probably be for ceramics. I would probably be like a teacher. Sometimes I like substitute teaching. Sometimes it’s really stressful because the kids are bratty or whatever.

But sometimes it’s really rewarding too.

One day, I was substituting for a special education class and I was trying to teach this 8-year-old how to subtract. I sat there with him and explained it to him and explained it to him and he got it and I was like I was able to teach that kid how to subtract and it was a really awesome moment for me. The little girl I nanny for is great, so sweet. I’ve nannied for other kids before that weren’t but they had some behavioral problems that weren’t their fault really. It wasn’t like autism, but close. This girl, she’s awesome like she paints with me and is really chill and awesome.

I travel every summer. Well, I started it last summer, but I went hitchhiking from here to northern California. When I was in New Mexico, I was sitting on a porch, I was like couch surfing and the people I met were really cool and we were in Ruidoso at night, sitting on a porch, playing music, and this bear walks down the street. It jumps into a dumpster at the end of the block and is like 30 feet from us rummaging through the garbage.

He looks up at us and then goes back to rummaging and it was really cool because I could tell it didn’t cross anybody’s mind to call animal control because the bear was like doing his own thing. Ruidoso is really encroaching upon the animals, so leave the animals be and they won’t mess with you unless you mess with them.

It was also really cool because it was the first time I saw a bear in real life. I wasn’t scared.

Well, I was at first because I had my back to it and the woman who was sitting next to me saw it and was like bear! So I turned around and saw that it was just minding it’s own business. I went from loh god we’re going to get mauled, to wow this is beautiful.

I think I’m afraid of dying and not getting to know the secrets of the universe after I die. I hope that after I die, no matter how it happens, I’m given the gift of knowledge of how the universe works and why, like the meaning. But if I didn’t get that I’d be really disappointed.

My life goal is to be happy and look back on my life and be like, that wasn’t a waste of time. Don’t let societal constructions of norm hinder you from being free.

I was homeless last year for six months. At one point, I broke up with my boyfriend of like three years and I loved and I got really depressed and I moved in with this guy.

He was older.

He was like this ex-‘Nam vet freaking crazy psycho posttraumatic stress disorder like really bad and I had a job at Ace hardware down by Kroger and I hated it. I was like abusing myself because I missed my boyfriend and was just really hating my life and was like I really need to get away from this guy.

He was like trying to getting me to marry him and stuff and treating me like getting all mad and possessive if I didn’t come home after work. I was like dude, I’m 20 years old, you need to back off you old man. But he like proposed it like you can live with me you don’t need to pay rent, no big deal, I like you. I thought it would be okay but it turned really creepy really fast and I tried to move out and quit my job and was thinking I had another job lined up but that didn’t work so I didn’t have a job and had some money saved up.

I met a guy right over there, where the last little building before crossing the street, and he was playing guitar. I had my drum out because there is a drum circle that goes on over there on Saturday nights and they had closed up early and I heard him playing and I came over there and was playing with him and he was like travelling. He’s from like a place in south Texas and was travelling, and he didn’t have any money. He got his money from playing music and I was totally taken aback from that.

I was like, this is awesome. I’m going to do this.

Plus, I already didn’t have a job. I wanted to get away from my roommate, so that’s what I did.

I was like, fuck all of y’all, I’m done and just hung out with him. Me and him and a saxophone player we met started a little band and we played every single night on Fry Street and made like $70 a night and it was so much fun. It was so awesome. Then I was like, I really want to travel. I need to get out of Denton for a while since I lived here since I was 12.

That’s when I decided I wanted to go travelling and I met another guy who seemed like a pretty good travel companion and we went and just started hitchhiking. I went from Denton to Fort Worth to Roswell, New Mexico. We got a ride from Fort Worth to Roswell and stayed in Roswell for a while and it got depressing.

Then we hitchhiked west to Ruidoso, which is an awesome town. It was like probably June of last year and then we bought a train ticket from Albuquerque to LA. We were in Albuquerque for just a few days and went to LA for a few days.

I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil, to like Carnaval. It just seems so awesome to me. We had to spend the night at a train station in LA one night. That was a nightmare but I met this girl who gave me a Brazilian cigarette. She was like, I’m from Brazil and just decided that I wanted to explore California one day and saved up my money to go. I was like, hey that’s what I’m doing. She was like, well cool, if you ever want to come to Brazil, here’s my number. Just call me and you can stay with me. So Portuguese is on my list of languages to learn.

It’s really hard to be homeless in LA because they were like you can’t sleep on the beach you have to sleep on the sidewalk or buy a hotel. We were there during the tourist season and didn’t think about that when we got there so there were no hotels and I didn’t really want to sleep on the sidewalk so we ended up dropping $200 on a hotel room for a night. It was a nice hotel but I was like, I can’t do this.

So then we caught a bus to San Francisco and went north with some people from San Francisco into the Redwoods and camped in the Redwoods for a while. That was really, really awesome.

Then we went back to the LA area to long beach because there was a guy form couch surfing. He seemed really, really cool. So we went back there to hang with him for a few days and by then I was really homesick and ready to get back.

We went to Oklahoma because I have some family there, lived with my dad for a month, and worked where my dad works. It’s like a juice packing factory called Whitlock and the pay pretty well, you can get tons of overtime. I made enough money to move back to Denton and establish myself again.

So then this summer, the guy I met in Ruidoso, his name is Mustang Jack, we’re going to go to Europe together to backpack and do the homeless thing over there for a while. It’s more accepted over there I think to go walking and backpacking and they have a better bus system. I’m also trying to learn German, a little bit of French, just some common languages. I feel like if I can just learn a little bit, I’ll be more accepted.

I don’t really like hitchhiking because I hate asking people for stuff and I don’t really like that about playing music on the street because I don’t like bumming money. I’m not the kind of person that will hold up a sign on the side of the street that’s like, give me money. Though sometimes I got so hungry I felt like that’s what I just had to do.

Jenny

Niko Red Star was driving one day and saw an accordion player on the side of the street.

“She had her case out and she had a little forlorn look in here eye,” Niko Red Star says. “I was like you know what? I’ll see if she’ll play with my band.”

Niko Red Star starts packing away his double-bass as he looks over at her.

“Jenny’s been a musician around the area for quite a while. That’s Jenny’s buddy-friend Kent,” he says as he points to the young man standing next to her. “They come together as a package deal and he plays guitar.”

Niko Red Star walks out of City Tavern to finish packing the instruments. Kent stands behind Jenny, texting as she leans against a post, still swinging with half-closed eyes.

“We’re more or less a package deal on a personal level, I mean we’re dating,” she says.

Jenny and Kent freelance for The Southland Swing Band and tonight is his first show with them. She has played the accordion for a few gigs. Kent, a jazz student at UNT, performs in rock groups and fusion groups.

“He is incredibly talented and has his own groups and performs a lot around the area,” she says.

Jenny started taking accordion lessons when she was seven. Eventually she started taking piano and voice. Jenny, from Fort Worth, started playing on streets, stages and festival stages since she was 11 or 12.

“I got a business degree in college. I didn’t study music,” she says. “I’ve just been taking lessons and performing all my life so. This is what I do.”

She’ll teach private lessons every so often, but is primarily a performer.

“I’m a songwriter,” she says. “There are a lot of different ways I get out there and do my thing, you know?”

Jenny has been on many tours and in countless instances where she did not have a place to stay the night. People at the venue will offer her to stay with them. The coolest place she has stayed was with a friend in the Los Angeles area.

“We stayed at his place one time on tour and he has this incredibly interesting house and a yacht and took us out on the water, it was really neat,” she says. “The whole band was just having a great time and he took us to some neat places in town it was a great, bizarre experience, like we’re sitting on a yacht tonight, okay!”

There have been other times when she hasn’t felt welcome at various gigs. One time, someone even shorted her money.

“That was maybe one of the worst things just because I typically have I do just have a lot of faith in people and humanity and venues,” she says.

It doesn’t happen often, but one time it did and it really hurt her personally, as an artist and someone working with the venue. There wasn’t anything she could do except brush it off and say “okay that happened but I’m not going to let it get me down next gig.”

“And maybe you just choose not to play there again,” she says. “That’s really the way it goes.”

Marketing, Chief Marketing Officer, Dallas, Downtown Dallas, Rancher, Entrepreneur, City Tavern

Nathan Bellah

A man with shaggy hair, a beard and nice clothes sits alone at a table in City Tavern drinking his first cocktail of the night listening to the live music, The Southland Swing Band. But mostly, he’s listening to the conversations around him, wondering who he’ll meet tonight.

Nathan Bellah lives across the street in Third Rail Lofts. He’s an experienced downtown resident and previously lived in the Davis Building and the Mosaic. Buildings within walking distance of the bar.

A while back, he bought a house in East Dallas for a little while and just sold it. “It was just a hell of a deal man, so I just had to buy,” Nathan says.

Overnight, the housing market in East Dallas boomed, and he knew it was time to sell. The day after he put it on the market, it sold. “I was like, oh shit,” he said. “I don’t have anywhere to go. So I was like, I guess I’ll move back downtown.”

He’s lived downtown for about six months and considers City Tavern his Cheers. He’s met people from all over the country and the world, people in the city for a while on vacation and business trips and people on a two-hour layover who just needed a drink, people who work as janitors and starving artists to elite businessmen and popular musicians. To Nathan, City Tavern is the best place he can meet interesting people and that’s what he’s here to do.

Two young men, barely old enough to drink, walk away from the bar, each holding a beer they look too eager to drink. The band wraps up a song, and Nathan hears the two men mention digital marketing, so he takes the opportunity to strike.

Nathan is a jack of all trades, a human Swiss Army knife. Nathan has two companies. One company is a ranch here in Texas that raises and trains rodeo bulls.

After the initial icebreakers, they start to talk about themselves. The boys mention that they’re from the area and have had hard times finding jobs. They’re full of the dreams of inexperienced entrepreneurs.

“I grew up in Lubbock and I’ve tried to fight those roots for a very long time,” Nathan says. “But after a while, you realize that living in Texas you have to give in to working in either oil or agriculture.” It stemmed from there. We’re blessed. He and his friend, two young guys just like them, were doing well. “I asked my buddy, what do we do with some of this extra money we have. He said to me, ‘You know what? Let’s buy a bull.’”

They all laugh.

“You know, you’re dealing with the salt of the earth,” Nathan said. “The people, in the business have been very helpful, even though you’re competing against them.”

Nathan says that in the business, everybody knows everybody and it’s like a family.

“My buddy and I stick out like sore thumbs,” he says. “You know, he’s covered in tattoos and I wear like New Balances and have some tats too and when we show up, everyone is like ‘oh shit here they come,’ just excited for us to be there. It’s cool.”

Nathan considers himself an entrepreneur from the start. “I guess I’ve always had it in me,” he says. “Just like I’m sure you do too.”

The conversation shifts and the boys talk about themselves some more. They had an idea for a company they wanted to start when they were in school. They weren’t doing too well in their classes, and uninterested in continuing their education, jumped at some advice to pursue their dreams. The dreams failed, and they started to look for other jobs with little success.

Nathan says that like them, he sucked at college, but finished. He grew up in Lubbock and decided to go to Texas Tech for a year, but ended up transferring to the University of North Texas. After bouncing around a few majors, the Entrepreneur decided to double major in rhetorical studies and Spanish, instead of something like business administration.

“I ended up really liking the communications department and the next thing you know I am back in Spanish which I hadn’t taken since junior high, why not get a degree in it?”

Nathan says the coolest thing that probably ever happened was in his first three jobs out of college working for the man, he got laid off. Each one, laid off. One after another. He ended up going to work for The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. Nathan finally landed a job where he wasn’t laid off, but quit instead.

“I met a man who is now 63 working in digital technology with a resume you wouldn’t believe,” he says. “He has been my mentor to this day.”

The man had a small private company in 2005 and asked Nathan to jump on board randomly, so he left Bear Stearns.

“I left this job at corporate America at a company with roots so thick you wouldn’t think anyone could tear the tree down,” Nathan says.

It was the biggest gamble of his life and they still work together to this day. They have made good money together and helped a lot of companies out. It was a good role of the dice.

“I mean this guy headed up the YTK project for the US postal service so his level of knowledge in digital is extensive plus he’s a tinkerer, he’s a genius, let’s say that, he’s a genius,” Nathan says. “He’s got some strategies that he developed that are on the cutting edge of digital marketing. God, that’s so boring to even say, but yeah, we’re going to use him for some things.”

They all have another sip of their drinks and look at the stage as the band begins to play an old Duke Ellington dance hit, “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”

“I always say dance with the person that brought you and he’s just been a good person,” Nathan says, emphasized by a slight Texas drawl.

Nathan jumped ship at the right time since Bear Stearns shut down in the 2008 financial crisis and was sold to JPMorgan Chase.

“I kind of wish I would have been laid off. I would have had a severance package,” he tells the boys. One almost spits out their beer as they snort with laughter.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening now,” Nathan says. You need to be worried about what’s going to happen.”

“How do we do that?” one asks Nathan as the other looks panicky.

“You go and learn, you know, you always learn,” Nathan says. Not the answer they were expecting. “You try to better yourself.”

“We don’t have any money,” they say to Nathan.

“If you can’t gamble on yourself, who can you gamble on? If you can’t gamble on what you love, what can you gamble on?” Nathan says.

Nathan goes on to discuss his most recent gamble, a job as the Chief Marketing Officer for a company he’s launching with his best friend soon. Menguin will be an “online tuxedo rental solution” for all the men in major metro areas that hate to go out to Men’s Warehouse or Joseph A. Bank.  Now you can now go online, build your tuxedo, rent it right there.

“We actually have a technology that will measure within an eighth of an inch using your computer camera,” Nathan said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

The boys show some enthusiasm, ask a few questions about the tech but their eyes sparkled with the hope of a job, from their new mentor. One, shaking, looks at the other who nods. His voice wavers as he asks Nathan for a job.

“That just tells me right there you don’t believe enough in yourself to even go and get higher education, like step outside, change the game, change the game, that’s it,” he says to the bewildered faces. “That’s all I could ever ask. I always say this, impress me. Impress me.”

The boys can tell the conversation is over when Nathan spots a documentary producer he met the week before and walks away.

Denton Music, Denton Square, Denton, Street Music, Acoustic Guitar, panhandling

Myles Wood

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday,” Myles Wood belts uncannily resembling Paul McCartney.

Apart from being a beautiful song, The Beatles hit has sentimental value for the street musician. Myles loves that he can do it well enough that people can actually recognize it. But what’s the most important, to Myles, is “Yesterday” is one of the songs he grew up listening to his dad play. He smiles at the thought that he didn’t realize it was a Beatles song until he was 15.

“My dad played the guitar since he was 5-years-old so I literally had guitar in my life –in utero as they say,” Myles says. “And so I was able to pick it up pretty easily, never took lessons.”

One day, in high school, Myles found a song he wanted to play he was really in to at the time. A friend was learning to play guitar and he decided to dabble to see what it was like.

“He walked in the room and was like man you really suck,” Myles said. There was something about that shook him up, so he practiced until he reached his first milestone- to outplay his friend.

“Like I’m better than he is! Fuck that, I’m going to show him,” Myles said. “From there, I just couldn’t put the guitar down afterwards even after he moved on and just quit all music altogether I was like I’m going to stick around with this and try to find some other music friends.”

Myles notices a man standing there, only moving to let people pass, appreciating the music. “I’m going to play something I haven’t played in a while,” Myles says. “On bright beautiful days like this it’s just appropriate.”

He adjusts the strap on his shoulder and looks up, squinting into the sun as he tries to remember the chords. He smiles and starts to strum the intro to a song immediately recognized by his audience. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1” by The Flaming Lips is a fun uplifting song about overcoming hardship.

The man can see it makes him happy to play it and starts nodding his head to the beat, making Myles smile more.

Myles regularly plays mostly Beatles tunes- preferably when he can sing like Sir Paul.

“I got a small repertoire of the Beatles I can use pretty often,” he says, “then James Taylor, easy listening kind of stuff then any kind of rock and roll kind of stuff I can play on the acoustic guitar, I can try and make that work.”

Myles comes out to the square three times a week mostly for the love of the music, but if he can make any money on the side, it’s a plus for him. It’s the one town where he can actually play and not be harassed. He hasn’t had any panhandling problems, and a number of times, police come to chitchat or hear him play.

“They’ll never throw in money,” he said, “but at the same time they don’t harass me saying I’m panhandling or anything like that.”

Myles tries to be respectful to the people shopping on the Square. If you want to look at something in the window behind him, he’ll move out of the way for you.

“I think that was one of the things the cops have seen,” Myles says, “is that I don’t cause trouble I’m really just out here to have fun for the most part so they’re cool with it. I see a lot of musicians out here and if they get stopped, they get pissed off and are like I’m trying to make some money here.”

Myles thinks the point of playing street music is to get to know the people maybe even get some inspiration for songs. Many times, people who do not pay are the ones that appreciate it the most.

“The just thoroughly enjoy the music,” Myles said. “That’s what they’re there for and they don’t feel like they need to do charitable work for the day tossing some change in.”

Myles recounts the coolest thing that has happened in his time on the Square.

“I had a couple gentlemen come up to me because they noticed my guitar and they liked the sound of it and they asked me what I could play,” he said. “So I started playing the Beatles for them and these two gentlemen jumped in and started singing harmony with me.”

The next thing he knew they had their own crowd of random strangers, when a group of 3 to 4-year-old girls started jumping around, twirling and dancing, laughing and having a great time. It was a culmination of everything he loves about music in one moment.

“It made my entire day- my entire fucking year at that,” he says.

To Myles, there are two very different worlds and he’s still not sure he wants to go into the profession world. In his career as a musician, Myles has never actually played any real venues or paid shows. He was too shy about it and didn’t think he had enough to put himself out there.

“So that’s why I started playing on the street,” Myles says. “Someone had started suggesting it to me over and over.”

“When I went out there so it was really just bad timing to start college,” Myles says. He ended up dropping out and “kind of doing the drifter thing” for a while figuring out what he wanted to do.

“One thing I’ve gone back and forth on,” he says, “is making a living with music sounds really cool but at the same time I don’t think it would have the same kind of effect as this sort of free performance stuff I do on the street.”

There was one guy who came by and we decided to do some freestyle collaboration and that’s the best part about it, just some random collaboration with people.

“I’m not as much of a lyricist as I don’t feel like the things I write sound good in any way, shape or form,” Myles said as his new friend Poe comes up to talk to him. “It feels contrived when I try to write words and lyrics and stuff but at the same time nobody wants to just listen to an acoustic guitar.”

Every now and then, Myles will try and bring out a few songs. Right now, he has partial lyrics for one song that he wrote and he’ll play on the square– but he usually ends up repeating the same verse and chorus until he decides to end the song. It’s enough, and for the most part, people can’t tell.

Occasionally he’ll just play some instrumental piece he’s working on.

“Some people like it,” Myles said. “But for the most part, they want singing or something else on top of that so that’s what leads me to cover songs instead of write most of the time.”

Myles and Poe start to chat for a while about a possible collaboration in the future, with a natural lyricist and a natural musician as Poe will have music behind all his stuff, whether it’s the guitar, piano or violin, or just two other instruments all mashed up together.

“I just never really get too deep into it because even though I’m not showing it to anybody it’s not good enough for me,” he says as Poe strikes up a tune and Poe walks away. “It’s the perfectionist aspect of an artist I guess.”

Barista, Coffee, Coffee Shop, Denton, UNT, Big Mike's Coffee, Texas

On a Cold Day

On a cold Monday in February, Jenna, my girlfriend wakes up at 6:30 to get ready for work in Denton and wakes me to get ready with her. It’s our normal routine. Today I’m headed up to Denton though my Quantitative Research Methods isn’t for another 12 hours.

While we eat breakfast, she says it will be cold today, but I don’t listen to her, she’s always cold. So I mistakenly wear a light jacket, not anticipating the wind and shiver as I walk around the university area to grab some interviews before finishing some assignments. A light drizzle wets my hair and I can hear my stomach growl over the cold. I forgot to eat breakfast.

I pass Big Mike’s Coffee, and realize I have never been in before, so peek inside. It looks empty. I step in and ask what’s good, planning on ignoring their recommendations anyway. I know what I want. Since nobody is behind me, I realize now would be a perfect time for an interview, if only I can have a few sips of that coffee.

___

Sadie Ryckoff, a barista at Big Mike’s Coffee on Hickory in Denton, shows up for work at 5:45 a.m. She turns on the espresso machine to get it heated up to temp and begins to roast the coffee, the same way she has for the past three and a half years.

Sadie continues her routine as she goes around and make sure everything is clean and organized, straightened up, ready for a super busy day here at the coffee shop.

“Monday through Friday is pretty hopping,” she said as if she had four cups of espresso herself. “Usually when you get set up you are really efficient and it makes for a smooth morning and a lot of fun for everyone.”

Sadie’s morning is going really well. The weather, when it’s rainy, can be hit or miss. Either people sleep in or the shop will be slammed as guests seek something warm and cozy to drink.

“I love making espresso, to be behind the machine is where I’m most happy,” she said. “I love serving people.”

On cue, a swarm of young men enter the shop seeking refuge, pulling off their gloves to order drink that will warm them more efficiently.