I believe in tipping. Not, as the quirky hand lettered signs in Waffle Houses across the country would say, a mysterious city in China, but in a light conpensation given to people who do a service of some kind. I’ve seen signs that say that good tippers make better lovers, and I believe that too.
I am a professional string bass player and I live in Austin, Texas, a city famous for its vibrant and colorful music community. One of my favorite things about Austin is its community of street musicians. By street musicians I am referring to people who will sit on the sidewalk or in doorways, put out a hat, a case, or a bucket, and play their hearts out to whoever is walking by.
My family and I make a portion of our income from tips we receive by playing on the street in Austin and occasionally in New Orleans. We are a family band and we play our own irreverent version of old time gospel music. My brothers and sisters sing and play guitar, banjo, and autoharp. My uncle plays tambourine.
The things that go into our hat and the motives behind them are always a mix of compassion, humor, gratitude, admiration, love, and on occasion, some kind of religious zealotry. Besides cash, we’ve also over the years received cleverly disguised gospel tracts, handwritten letters, party and wedding invitations, plastic dinosaurs, and pesos. Someone has offered us a free trampoline. Sometimes we get 20 dollar bills. Sometimes cookies or pie. Once a sparkly orange motorcycle helmet. If our friends walk by, sometimes they grab the hat and dance it around the block. On Sundays, we are rewarded with migas tacos and beer. Sometimes people will send rosy cheeked toddlers to shyly throw us quarters. We’ve been tipped for reminding a man of his childhood, playing the first music a woman’s mother heard in America, and playing lots of people’s favorite songs.
Once a man, dressed in dirty jeans, missing all his teeth and bearing the tanned leathery hide of the street stood and watched us play, smiling for a long time. Before he left he pulled a carefully folded dollar bill out of his plastic shopping bag and told us “That’s all I have, but you guys are worth so much more.”
If any job were to send me home every other Friday with the sentiment of “that’s all I have, but you are worth so much more”, I think I might get a job someday. For now however, I believe in tipping.
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