July 24, 2006
Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis
I first heard him outside my third floor window. He’s got a loud voice.
“I got false teeth. I’m deaf in one ear. I been shot at, stomped on and stabbed. I’ve run with the Hell’s Angels Minnesota, Hell’s Angels Los Angeles, fought the Outlaws in Joliet. I’ve seen it all, man…” I went to the window and he was standing down on the corner across the street holding forth to no one and everyone. “…and like a lot of roadies do in the off season, I ran coke for the C.I.A. out of Bogota…”
With that, I snatched up my camera and dashed out there to lend him an ear.
As I approached he panhandled me for a dollar and when I obliged he introduced himself as Bradley Bartell (“you might have heard of me”) and we headed east on Franklin Avenue. “Used to play bass for Emmylou Harris back when we were dating,” it began. “Mostly I was her roadie – did that for her on the Stones ’69 tour, and off and on for the Grateful Dead in the early 70s. I filled in for John Paul Jones one night when he was too drunk to go on. Emmylou started jamming with me after that night…” The wildflowers in his Mountain Dew bottle were for Emmylou. He gushed nostalgic about her for the next two blocks.
As we passed by the Holiday station he spotted some guy leaving on a Harley and dashed – midsentence – out into traffic to beg a ride, nearly getting hit. The dude on the hog told him to fuck off. When I caught up with Bradley, he was was in a foul tongue and threatening passerby. “Motherfuckers never give you a break. Egg sucking dogs have NO CLUE who I am!” Then he hushed himself and passed me the dewbottle, looking both ways and behind himself as he reached in his pocket. On his thumb he presented a gold ring. Proof. “This was given to me by the Virginia Freemasons.”
Then he smiled at me the twinkling smile of secret knowledge, tipped his hat and went on his way, head high. I turned toward home and had walked a block before I realized I was still holding Emmylou’s wildflowers.