I love Gabe, though I barely knew him. He considers himself a “Hobo”. A good one, but a Hobo nonetheless. He left Santa Cruz, CA years ago to take to America’s crosscountry rails–the scenery, the off-road types, the freedom and the suffering this life provides. I met him, waiting for another guitar. He was resting on the sidewalk in Portland with his dog, Bailey.
Just asking. Winsome but tired, “Do you possibly have a guitar in your pocket?”
I stopped at the cardboard sign, it all hitting me as I repeated his question aloud, “do I have a guitar in my pocket?”
“Yeah, I lost mine. Left it on the train.”
I miss it–and I need it to play, and make a little money. If I get enough –maybe, I can take the cash to a pawn shop and buy one.”
This began 24 hours of heartrending moments for me. Why? ‘Cause I had an extra guitar on the ship…But at first I didn’t realize Gabe really needed a guitar. I thought it was a clever, indirect, way to ask the passersby at Portland’s annual Rose Festival for a few dollars.
But the Holy Spirit of God nudged me, as I knelt down in my summer dress whites, and talked to sincere, kind and tired Gabe.
Sleeping on trains or sidewalks doesn’t lend itself to wakin’ up with a spring in your step. The Spirit nudged me, I believe, “You have a guitar. Go get it and give it to this man.”
“But Lord” my heart asked back, “I can’t give a guitar to Everyman I meet on the street who asks me!”
“No, but you can give it to this man.” By this time, Shakes, Gabe’s friend from Texas, had come. He looked more like an easygoing Australian Outback adventurer than a railrider. Gabe in explaining his profession, has raised his right fist, seated there on the sidewalk. “I’m a hobo.” Tattoed on his four knuckles, it was right there, “h. o. b. o.”
So with a weight on my heart, I leapt up.
Seems easier to do hard things quickly.
Without explaining myself, “If you come with me to my ship, I’ve got something for you.”
Gabe hesitated. I wasn’t sure why. But he had set up shop and it was prime sidewalk time to ask the question, “do ya have a guitar in your pocket.” Plus, I hadn’t explained myself. –Wasn’t ready to explain, the nudge.
So, I said, “Well Shakes, why don’t you come, wait at the Entry Control Point in front of the ships. Then I’ll come out quick as I can.”
“Okay.” He got up out of “indian-style’ seated position.
We walked to the ECP, in front of Portland’s Steel Bridge.
Shakes waited. 20 minutes later, I emerged with a brick-colored, cloth guitar case. Inside was the best sounding $90 Fender I’d ever heard. I saw it at a Goodwill Bookstore in San Diego. Played it. Damaris was there. We were impressed. Googled its list price. Worth $200 plus. Bought it. I brought it onboard for our Tuesday, out-to-sea, jam times called Riff & Rhythm. Wouldn’t be surprised if 15 Sailors have jammed on that guitar in the last 16 months.
When we reached Gabe he was still hanging on the sidewalk across from Dan & Louis’s Oyster Bar. I took the guitar out. He was curious but glad to see one.
I confess I was torn. Should I give it away? Had I heard right? I said, “here’s my guitar, check it out. Do you want to try it?”
Gabe proceeded to play. I was impressed and touched. The man breathed music and story-telling, melding with the instrument, –honestly like a cane might help a man, or a stick guide the blind, or oxygen to an exhausted patient…
He played a song about the rail. It was beautiful–all I can remember is the movement of the tracks sound from his riff pattern, and the words, “so tired my back and shoulders sleeping on this street car” it was more poetic than that.
His music-heart felt like singer-songwriters we all admire. Dylan. Cash.
A woman came by. I’m still in my Whites. “I saw what you did.” What had I done? I hadn’t given it away yet!
And she dropped a bill or two in the jar.
I wondered–what if I lend this Fender to Gabe for the night. He’s actually really good. He might make $75 on the Rose Festival weekend. He can buy that guitar he wanted from a pawn shop, I’ll extend some trust. Then tomorrow, I’ll get it back and CG-52 Sailors can keep jamming on it for Tuesdays indefinite.
Ahh, I didn’t like the plan that much. Gabe looked so tired, the grease from the train and the dust had found its way to his skin and clothes. Was it fair to offer the instrument in a deal he couldn’t keep? It would be so easy to just keep the guitar, a genuine source of livelihood given by a well-meaning Sailor with a steady income–surely the nice guy could buy another one. He might think, “I mean I don’t even have a place to lay my head or much food left for Bailey my dog. Surely he’ll understand if I can’t return it.”
Where would he even sleep tonight? I wondered.
But something inside me, the Nudge seemed to say, “he is a good man. A genuine person who’s shared his story and even his music. Lend it to him.”
So I set the terms, doubtful of my decision. Gabe asked, “could I keep the case with it?”
“Absolutely.” I said with some bravado.
“I will guard this.” The way he said it was like, I’ll guard it with my life Kristian.
“Well tomorrow at 3 pm, I’ll meet you here by VooDoo donuts?”
He and Shakes nodded in agreement.
We exchanged contact information.
They started packing up.
I walked away.
Unsure. But without regret.
What would happen tomorrow at 3pm?
I showed up to VooDoo donuts a few minutes before 3pm.
No problem. It’s early. Nobody’s here.
Minutes went by. It was 3:10 pm now. Maybe I should stop sitting. He’ll see me if I stand. But I’m in my Whites. I don’t want to draw all that attention. Security reasons. 3:15pm
Well, if I take off my black Eisenhower jacket, maybe they’ll see me.
My friend, Seaman Luke Smith, had come.
“Hey, would you keep an eye out here? I’ll walk around the block.” 3:20pm
I made it from 3rd to Burnside Avenue.
Talked to Scott, a homeless man with back against a building on the sidewalk. He said, “Accept the blessings that come your way my friend. Some people won’t take what God is giving them.”
Turned, now I’m on 2nd Avenue.
And there was Gabe, walkin’ with Bailey, right across from the Oyster Bar where I met him. Brick-colored guitar case slung across his back. He looked tired. He was by himself.
“Yeah my friends, headed out. I’ll catch up with them.”
“Gabe! Good to see you man.” I gave him a hug.
“Ha, you loaned your guitar to the right hobo.” He laughed.
“Not sure everyone out here’s as trustworthy.”
Portland like San Diego has many unsheltered folks.
“How’d it go last night?”
“Ahh, I didn’t make as much as I was hopin'”
“Oh.” I responded.
I said, “come on. Let’s get my friend Luke. Think you could play him that rail song you did yesterday?”
“Um, sure.” He looked worn. Maybe like, “Kristian, can we part ways, this is hard.”
We got Luke and walked over to an open Sidewalk away from the crowds.
Gabe almost seemed shy, alone, depleted.
He got out the guitar and started to play.
Apologies. “I’m sorry man. Just really tired today. That one’s kinda hard to play.”
“No worries. Gabe you don’t have to play.”
“No, it’s okay.” He starts again. I imagine Bailey looked up, with a supportive look.
She looked like one of the best bird dog companions a man could find.
Then Gabe played this song ‘Harrisburg.”
And I told him, “Gabe, the guitar’s yours. Couldn’t imagine it in better hands.”
His reaction was wonder. He said, “you may not be able to tell, but I’m excited. Like out of my mind. Kristian, I can’t tell you, how much this means to me. Both for the music, and for a way to get by. Thank you.”
I said, Gabe I’d love to share the song, take a picture with you. Is that okay? If not, I totally don’t care-don’t need to. And I meant that.
“No, please do. Appreciate you telling my story.”
Here’s the pic we took together.
I’m sharing this not to look like a nice guy. But rather cause I was so blessed to meet Gabe. I thank the Holy Spirit for his matchless love for each of us and for Gabe.
He needs prayer. Being an American Railrider has its dangers. Gabe frankly told me, “I’ve been threatened seriously more than once.”
But not just prayer.
I can’t help but think of Jesus. “Foxes have holes. Birds have nests. But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Ohh Gabe the lessons you’re teaching ME.
In a world of Instagram, Facebook, online degrees and a lively Tinder and nightclub hook-up scene, We have Gabe. Gabriel Lara who hit the road with his dog and guitar to meet America. He’s a lovely person and loved by the Lord.
As he finds his heart’s desire, I pray he’ll start recording music and share the wisdom and passion with us. I pray he’ll feel the Son of Man’s nearness.
Thanks again Gabe; & Lara family for sharing him with our Nation.
Credit for this song, “Harrisburg”, goes to Josh Ritter, named a top 100 American Songwriter. I’d never heard the song before Gabe.