Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wild Bill And Me

Wild Bill And Me

The first two weeks I was in town I had enough money to rent a room at the San Davis Hotel. It was downtown, just off lower Broad. I owned a backpack, a few clothes and a guitar. I was twenty-four and had written some songs and was ready to start some more dreams.
I had hitchhiked all over the United States more than once over a period of seven years and now I quickly fell in love with Music City. I played for tips in the bars, but soon realized that I couldn’t make enough money to survive by singing my heartfelt songs or even songs by the Great Hank Williams Sr...or Bob Dylan.
My money was running out fast, but I was determined NOT to leave Nashville. I would stay there, hell or high water and I would make it love me, too.
In the beginning of my third week in town I began sleeping in a couple of different places. In a churchyard and in the park. The cops never bothered me and the nuns were kind to me, so I never considered myself to be one of the homeless. There were a lot of homeless folks. Men, women, and children, but I was never one of them- I was merely sleeping outside.
One day in that third week I walked into a place called “Tortilla Flat”. It was small, and, as I recall, a little bit stinky. Just my kind of establishment. I set my guitar case off to the side near the makeshift “stage”, and took a stool at the bar. There was no one else in there except me and the bartender. He was at least in his sixties. His name was Wild Bill. After just a few minutes Wild Bill said,
“Looks like you need a job, huh?”  I didn’t  even think about it. I just said,
“You’re right, I do.”
Well, I slept in one of the booths that first night, after washing the dishes and sweeping and mopping the floor. The next morning, Wild Bill showed me how to make tacos and burritos and re-fried beans. He showed me how to hook up a keg of beer.
Opening time was ten a.m., I think. “Don’t burn the beans, and no credit to anyone!”
Believe it or not, folks started strolling in by five after ten. By happy hour at three o’clock, which actually lasted three hours, the joint was jumping. Pabst Blue Ribbon Draft was twenty-five cents a pint-sized Mason jar-full. The beer was cheap, the food was good as well as cheap, the jukebox stayed busy and I was in my element.
On about the third or fourth day of my new job, my new life, I was sitting on a stool playing my guitar and singing my latest ballad. Wild Bill came in from the kitchen area and walked over and handed me the key to the front door.
“You go ahead and open up. I have to go to traffic court. I’ll see you later on.” Well, I did not see him all that day. Or the next day, or the next. In fact,  I never saw Wild Bill again. I was told he went to work in one of the bars down on Lower Broad. I just kept opening up every morning and serving the beer and cooking the Mexican food. I counted the money at closing time and put it in a zippered bank bag and put that in the freezer in the kitchen.
One day, after ten days or so, a guy walked in and looked at me behind the bar and said, “Where’s Bill?”  
“Uh, he went to traffic court...uh...ten days ago.” I replied.
“Well, who’s running the place?” He asked.
“I guess I am,” I answered.
“I guess you are.” He said, as if this was no surprise.
His name was Terry and he owned Tortilla Flat. Heck, I’d thought Wild Bill owned it.
Anyway, I worked there ‘til he sold the place and then I kept on working for him after he bought another bar just around the corner. In the new place I didn’t have to sleep in a booth. I had my own little room with a T.V. and an air conditioner. Even with all that, sometimes I slept on the pool table. Sometimes on the stage. I would close up at three a.m., stash the bank bag and sit on the raised platform--the “stage”, and play to an imaginary crowd. Then I would lay down right there, my guitar as my pillow, and go to sleep only a dozen feet or so from the spot where the Great Hank Williams Sr. had thrown up in 1950!
I worked there for the next few years and got to meet and even get to know some of the best singers and songwriters in that incredible town.
Wild Bill left before I could get to know him, but I think he knew me. He’s gone now and so is Tortilla Flat, but Terry is still there and he still owns that bar. It’s called Springwater Supper Club and Lounge, and whenever I go to Music City I always stop in and Terry and I raise a hearty toast to one another...and to Wild Bill.

“There’s a bar down in Nashville right beside the park
No matter what the time of day the place is always dark
I used to meet some friends down there and sing and play guitar
And solve the World’s problems, one by one.”

...Thanks for reading!

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