Where Is My Space?

Let me begin by saying I'm virtually computer illiterate, so when I say "my space," I mean, where is each physical body allowed to exist and feel comfortable with that existence without someone saying, "This is my space, and you have to move on"? In the wake of job loss, foreclosures, and increasing homelessness, perhaps I am not alone in this query.

In high school I was shy, introverted, some might even say close to autistic, by societal standards at least. Growing up in many small towns in Ohio in a lower-middle-class family, I didn't have a car, didn't date, and especially wasn't savvy in the cliques of high school life.

After school, I went on the road, soon after my family moved to Maryville, Tenn. For 15 years I hitchhiked and studied all types of religion and Eastern philosophy I came across in thrift stores. My faith and peace of mind as my sense of belonging within my own being was my solace and oasis when I had no external place indoors to reside. From 1971 on, I started writing poetry. Perhaps 7,000 or more poems flowed through me, many of which I traded for meals in Waffle Houses and other all-night restaurants so I could be in out of the weather.

I didn't panhandle, but learned to be a good listener—and as a psychiatrist might agree, people are happy to give something of value for a good listening. Most of all, I strive to overcome resentment quickly. I found that the quicker I gave up resentment, the quicker I could receive the things I need. I endured much and tried to be grateful.

In the past three years, after the development and resurrection of downtown Knoxville, I began playing music on the street in Market Square. Whereas I previously knew mainly the druggies and alcoholics, the rebels and the unevolved in mental and social skills, I began meeting all the better people of Knoxville. These are the ones with vision and compassion that reside in downtown today. For this I am grateful and have made many good friends of intellectual and professional status.

Now, the stumbling blocks. The only adversity to my pulling myself up from adverse poverty was some police officers who were not fully aware that there was no law against playing music for tips in this city. In 2006, two officers on Market Square were educated on such. After four months of stopping myself and another musician from playing, the clarification was settled, thanks to all the business owners who e-mailed the mayor's office and Law Department for the facts. The corresponding statement in the Metro Pulse should have settled it, and I have had no problem since.

At least, until May's First Friday, when I was again stopped on Gay Street by two young officers who—after I quoted the law and the assistant to the mayor's statement in Metro Pulse in 2006—said they would have to cite me, and then went on a fishing trip. One officer said the vacant building I was playing in front of was a federal building and someone may need to move something in and out of there. To which I responded, if that was the case, I'd be happy to move while this was done. Next, he said I was blocking pedestrian traffic—to which I responded to him to turn around and look at the 4-foot space pedestrians had in front of the Riviera Theater (whose security guard was my first complainant), compared with the 8 feet or more of sidewalk in front of me.

The next cast was the fallback onto the law of not being allowed to sit or lay down on city streets, which he admitted was geared toward the homeless by the mission on Broadway. Mind you, I was only on Gay Street because there were 25 or more drummers sitting in the grassy area of Market Square, making it difficult for anyone to busk there. I don't believe any of them were cited.

Finally, after my citation—which was marked as a charge for "Other (narrative)," without any narrative—the response to the Metro Pulse article "Busk or Bust" [Ear to the Ground, May 13, 2010] by the KPD was that I was sitting there with my dog and my blanket. Several people who saw me that night failed to see that blanket anywhere. Is this a true or false statement? Nonetheless, this was the first time I found out what I was cited for, when someone I knew looked at metropulse.com and saw the KPD response.

Oh well, we'll find out June 10 at civil court. In the meantime, I'll be trying to maintain "my space" somewhere on Market Square or other streets in Knoxville, playing family-oriented Americana with my dog Jake.

Bill Page


Ed. Note: On May 7, Page received a citation that he and others say was blank; in an e-mail to downtown resident Art Carmichael, who had raised concerns about the treatment of the busker, Deputy Chief of Police David Rausch said "the ordinance number as well as a very clear description of the violation is written on the citation," which was for allegedly impeding sidewalk access.