He was standing in the same spot I met these guys on October 15. Tall and skinny, he had a hat turned up on the ground in front of him and was picking away fast on a tiny little worn down guitar. A brindle dog was curled up right next to him. The guy’s playing was good; I could tell before I even got out of the car. He just had a commanding presence about him – like he knew what he was doing. As I headed toward the store I passed him and slowed down a little. Yeah, his playing was real nice. Bluesy and sweet.

John James

Across the street was the “regular” guy selling his Street Roots newspapers. I give him a dollar from time to time but I’ve never stopped to chat.

I finished my shopping and was leaving the store; the guitar player now had the hat on his head and was crouched down, packing up his instrument. I said hi and told him I had admired his playing. He thanked me and smiled the sweetest smile.

“You’re not from here, are you?” I asked. He told me he came from Louisiana to play lap slide guitar with a band for a few weeks. He’s been playing guitar and banjo since he was about 12. I asked how he got to Portland and he said he “rode freight trains.” It took about a week and people helped him all along the way. He said it’s a great way to travel, unless you’re in an open car in the rain. He smiled. “That can kinda stink.”

He said he had done pretty well and was going to head up to Alberta for the rest of the afternoon. I asked his name and he introduced himself and his dog, Luna. He said his name was John James. While we were talking he had one eye on the guy across the street with his papers. “I wanna give that guy some space, you know?” He told me it was his first visit to Portland and he was amazed at how friendly everyone was.

Luna looking adoringly at her best friend

John put his tattered coat on. The Street Roots vendor was packing up his papers. John had been watching him the whole time. “I’m gonna go give that guy a dollar before he leaves,” he said. I stuck my hand out and he took it. I watched him cross the street and talk to the guy as I put my groceries in the trunk of my car.

He crossed back to get his stuff and I decided I had one more thing to do. I went back and told John I had something I wanted him to have. I said it was a gift in honor of my mom, who had died a year ago. “I’m really sorry about that,” he said. I told him she had left me an unexpected gift and I wanted to pass some of it along to him. I handed him the hundred dollar bill. “Oh, wow!” he said. “Thank you so much!”

I wish this picture really showed how sweet this man is

I could have stayed and talked for a long time, and listened to him play. He said that “people are just amazing,” and that yesterday someone had bought him the pants he was wearing. “Those are nice pants,” I said. “Are they the only ones you have?” He said they were. “But they’ll last a real long time,” he assured me. “They’re brand new!”

He hugged me once, then again. As we were saying goodbye, he said, “Now I’m going to buy that gentleman lunch,” cocking his head toward the Street Roots vendor in front of the store.

I’d asked him to write his name and the name of his band on a card for me. When I got in the car I looked at what he’d written. It said, “John James and Luna Dune with Pat Reedy and the Road Runners. ♥ With love.”

I loved this guy, even if his generosity did put me to shame.

Tying up Luna. Then lunch for the gentleman.


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3 Responses to John James

  1. Fabulous.Just fabulous

  2. Pru McDonald says:

    So often, it seems, those who have the least also have the biggest, most generous hearts. What an inspiration to the rest of us! A lovely story! Pru

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