Talented or Lucky or Homeless?

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I rode around the city of Seattle yesterday, mainly in the rain, and just checked out some of the neighborhoods.  It is pretty hilly, the roads were wet, plus there are a ton of painted lines, crosswalks, and leaves on the ground.  My broken hip was whispering, “be careful, be careful” all day.

Anyway, it was a pretty good day other than I got super cold before I got back.  One thing I noticed was there were a ton of homeless people.  I guess the climate is good enough that they can stay here all year long, because most of the ones I saw seemed like permanent fixtures.

I got thinking about this last week when I went through Venice on the way to the Mike Nosco ride.  There are a bunch of down and out people there too.  It got me thinking about what turns in a person’s life gets them to the point they’re sleeping on the sidewalk.

Some of the people are obviously mentally ill.  At least compared to general society.  So, they can’t function within the normal parameters of our society.  But others seem alright.  It seems like they just had a few unlucky breaks and next thing they knew it started spiraling out of their control.

I watched a street musician in Venice when we were eating lunch.  The guy was super good.  I wish I would have video’d some of his music.  He should have been a super star, a rich artist.  Maybe he was and was just out on the street doing what he enjoyed?   I don’t know.  All I know is that it seemed out of place for a guy that good to be sitting on a step and playing for a few bucks.

But that is the way of life.  People that have the same talent sometimes have vastly different lives.  I know it’s the way of music and acting.  It is sometimes that way in sports.

I’ve run into quite a few cyclists throughout my lifetime that are super talented and possess nearly all the goods to ride at the Pro Tour level.  They just never had the contacts, or maybe just the luck, to get the opportunity to be seen.  So they just do the local stuff while all the guys they race against just shake their heads in disbelief.

There is a saying that is something like, successful people make their own luck, or you make your own luck, something like this.  I don’t agree much with that.  I think some people get super lucky and some people get bad luck.  And when the bad luck comes, it sometimes starts a cascade of events that hardly anyone could overcome.

And then, you end up sleeping on the hard, concrete sidewalk some.

This guy was really great, singing, what seemed like, original music.  Most people, like this guys, just walked by without a glance.  Funny the guy is wearing a cycling t-shirt.

This guy was really great, singing, what seemed like, original music. Most people, like these guys, just walked by without a glance. Funny the guy is wearing a cycling t-shirt.


I think there were a couple people sleeping under these blankets near Venice Beach.

I think there were a couple people sleeping under these blankets near Venice Beach.





21 thoughts on “Talented or Lucky or Homeless?

  1. The Cyclist

    Depressions cause a lot of this shit. Looks like the bike t-shirt guy’s girl is checking you out…

  2. Joe

    In this day and age of music, it would nearly be a safe bet that busking on a corner in a crowded area pays more than the pennies one would get from iTunes. Having to cover studio and production costs, and all the other aspects that go into the original music business, many artists come out behind. Playing locally, and having regular gigs, or even just open air can be more lucrative.

  3. jayne

    Thank you for noticing that the homeless are human beings who “there but for fortune, go you or I” and who have obviously encountered so much adversity in life that they stopped at some point, being able to field the blows and just gave up. It is a spiral, and not one many people can relate to, unless of course they’ve been there themselves.

  4. Wayde Tardif


    I’m just seeing this now. We haven’t spoken since a race in Tennessee in maybe 92, but it would have been good to connect again while you’re out here.

  5. Clifford

    Indeed – without a familial safety net it doesn’t seem actually all that hard to go from, say, poor or even lower middle class to being out on the street. They say there’s something like $8000 separating the average/lower class New Yorker from being in an apartment versus being homeless. Maybe less. So I think it’s very easy to imagine. Mental illness is certainly part of it but honestly, after the 2008 “Great Recession,” a lot of people who were just scraping by and keeping a roof over their heads ceased to be able to do so. I was living in Texas at that time and it certainly happened a lot in Austin where people would lose their homes/apartments, had no savings, and just like that were in a shelter or worse.

    Now I live in NYC and man, you see some really rough stuff, even considering how “cleaned up” (hidden) it’s become since Giuliani and Bloomberg.

  6. Bill K

    It’s very easy for people to fall through the cracks. Once you’re down there, it’s very hard to get back. It’s hard to say for sure, but I see a trend in this country to make the cracks larger and wider.

  7. Mr. Taquito

    Hi Steve!
    I really enjoyed the fact that you wrote about this.
    I work in a high-stress field and at the same time have suffered heavy clinical depression and bipolar disorder for years. Every couple of years I have a breakdown, and I know exactly where I’d be without great friends, family, and the opportunity to have received a great education because of an extended family member.
    The point is, if I never got a bike in college and started and riding, I’d be homeless. If I didn’t have a great family, I’d be dead. I’m Very LUCKY!
    Go forth and love one another! Life is often simpler than you think and it always helps to give someone a hand.

  8. memogaribay

    Good post! So easy to ignore the homeless folks and not see the humanity we all share. I agree with your point that not all “successful” people have made their own luck. Appreciate what you have and don’t look down on those not so fortunate! When you do an act of kindness toward a stranger you are benefiting at least as much as they are.

  9. H Luce

    Robert’s the one in front. He was a talented classical pianist, able to play Mozart sonatas from memory (the subject of a lost $5 bet). He played the keyboards on “Hang On, Sloopy” and was the keyboards player for The McCoys from 1965 onwards. He played keyboards for Johnny and Edgar Winter when they would come to Gainesville (or other major cities nearby) to play concerts, and he had numerous jam sessions with Bo Diddley at Bo Diddley’s house in Hawthorne, Florida. Somewhere I’ve got a pic of Robert talking with Bo Diddley, with NoFX playing in the background in someone’s front yard. Photo here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1362172383204&set=t.1498413216&type=3&theater

    From Dirk Drake: “Robert was a well-known “street person” here in Gainesville for many years. He was in pretty bad shape. I was told that he did have some type of illness that had affected his brain, although I forget what it was and he never said anything to me about it. He drank quite a bit and was not too fond of bathing. One of the popular clubs here at that time was called Richenbacher’s and he often stood outside there or outside some other clubs. Musicians and others, like myself, who were involved in one way or another with the music scene here had heard about his time with the McCoys. (I actually may have heard Robert back in the mid-60s since I heard The Candymen a couple of times at a local teen club called The Place) Club owners generally wouldn’t allow Robert inside due to (trying to say this nicely) his lack of hygiene, but occasionally a band would convince the owner to let him come in and sit in if there was a keyboard in the band and he wasn’t too rank. Despite his appearance, he was always completely lucid when I talked with him and was obviously intelligent. People would often give him some spare change but I never once saw him begging or bothering anyone – he would just stand there. He looked like he was crazy as a loon though – constantly scratching his head with one hand while chewing on the collar of his (usually filthy) shirt. So, not surprisingly, most people gave him a wide berth!

    Well, despite his appearance, that sumbitch could still PLAY! If you hang out around any local music scene for a while there are always some moments that you will always remember because they were PURE MAGIC. Having read quite a few of your blog entries over the past year, I know you know what I mean. Well, one of those for me was the time I was at another club in Gainesville (which is still in business) called Market Street Pub. I was there to hear some friends, Britton Cameron & Jack Sizemore, who had a great duo and band. That night they were playing there as a duo. Well, they finished their set and someone convinced the manager to let Robert come in and play during the break between sets. They had an old, funky and somewhat out of tune, upright piano which was up against the back wall. Although it was still functional, I don’t think it got much use. Robert came in and and proceeded to play jazz which was pretty much improvised and was some of the best jazz piano I’ve heard in my life! At first, not many people paid much attention but, as he continued, much of the crowd was in awe and sitting there with their mouths open in a state of shock. After the normal 15 minutes of break time had passed, nobody said a thing and Robert, who was obviously in a state of reverie, continued to play – probably for almost an hour in all. To this day I feel blessed to have been there!

    Sadly, Robert also died on the streets, quite literally. Late one night he was crossing University Avenue to a beer store that was near where he was staying and was hit by a car. I’m not sure exactly when that was – I’m thinking about 1996 or ??? There was at least one article in the Gainesville Sun newspaper about Robert and a memorial jam or two.”

    here’s a music video of Robert at the piano playing on “Hang on Sloopy” with the McCoys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zic_DBbI0kc

  10. jed schneider

    Steve, in that vein, if you haven’t read it, Outliers is a great read about the factors that contribute to success of an individual. Spoiler alert: success is rarely a factor of “making your own luck”, even in rare stories like Jobs or Gates or Ford, its more about timing than it is specifically about personal will. Certainly no hypothesis on success is water tight, or definitive, but it is a perspective worth the read.

  11. The Cyclist

    Gates and Jobs and Fords are the main reason there are homeless ppl to start with. Two sides of the same coin.

  12. Rob Bell

    I wonder if there are any studies on whether mental illness causes people to become homeless, or if it is an effect of being homeless and hungry.

    If you’ve ever bonked hard on a ride, you know that a lack of calories has an incredible effect on your ability to focus. There’s been times where I could barely put together a coherent sentence after a hard ride or race. Imagine what being malnourished for weeks or months could do to your mental state.

  13. The Cyclist

    Countries that have dismantled their mental care facilities and let the mentally challenged ppl out in the society have experienced a steep rise in homeless ppl. Even when the governments provide flats for these ppl and pay the rent they still tend to end up on the street for various reasons. Many of these ppl also suffer from addiction problems (and yes cycling can become a sort of addiction but nowhere close as bad as addiction to drugs and alcohol). Unfortunately mental illness and drugs abuse often go hand in hand. Sometimes cycling and drug abuse go hand in hand to. There’re far too many examples of that such as Pantani, LA, Vandenbroucke, Gaul, Simpson etc. Not sure if cycling can qualify as mental illness though but sometimes I ask myself if that is not the case, especially when riding with a smile on my face through winter blizzards.

  14. mark

    Every homeless person has a story, and if you stop and listen you may be surprised. I enjoyed your post, Steve, and I think it helps address the stigma our society has towards the homeless. Years ago when I was in school my mom & I lived at a shelter a few years, and quickly became aware of how others look at you differently. Yes, there are those who may take advantage of the system however many just need a temporary safety net until they can get back on there feet. If I may say so, if one spends any time at a homeless shelter one quickly see’s not only how little you can get by with, but also how materialistic our society has become.


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