His sister told him to try the corner bar up on Broad Street, a couple blocks southwest, and ask for Zeke. The bar had no name, no sign out front, but she said he’d know the one by the jukebox painted outside on its front wall. A few patrons sat sipping their drinks, each stealing a quick glance as he placed his case on the barstool beside the one where he placed himself.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked.
“Just seltzer water, if you don’t mind, and is Zeke here?”
The bartender’s eyebrows rose behind boxy black glasses, wrinkling the chestnut forehead under his close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. “Okay on the seltzer. What you need Zeke for?”
“My sister said to ask for him. I’m lookin’ for a steady gig.” He patted the top of the case.
“Who’s your sister?”
The bartender extended his hand and a smile. “I’m Zeke, pleased to meet you. You’ll have to excuse me, you never know who might come callin’ around here, Mr. Tindell.”
“Friends call me Silas. Pleased to meet you as well.” Silas smiled back, green eyes gleaming, grey beard bunching up on his black face.
Zeke nodded. “I can’t place your accent. Sounds southern . . . where you from?”
“Spent the first sixty three years of my life in New Orleans, and the last three days here.”
“Welcome to Philadelphia. How you like it so far?”
“New Orleans it ain’t, but I reckon I’ll survive. Gotta get used to cheesesteaks ‘stead of po’ boys.”
“Try a roast pork sandwich, it’s the latest Philly favorite.”
The two men regarded each other in silence as Zeke sprayed seltzer water into a cup of ice, threw in a lime wedge. The bar behind him was mirrored between gold and black tiles, the booth seats and barstools topped with tattered red cushions, the same décor since the place opened in the ‘70s.
Zeke handed Silas the drink. “So what you play?”
“Just about anything, but my specialty’s zydeco. Brought my accordion if you’d like to hear a little something.”
“Give it to me.”
Silas turned and strapped the accordion over his shoulder. Without so much as a single warm up note, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and launched into one of his favorite old Boozoo Chavis tunes. The music came straight from his soul: the sound of a hard, but happy life. The few people there stared and listened as he sang with a Creole twang not often found this far north.
“I can pay ten an hour base,” said Zeke, “more if we get busy. Start next Friday, 8:00?”
“Obliged, see you then.” Silas packed his instrument and left the bar. Walking back to his sister’s place, the unfamiliar streets looked a little less foreign.
published 21 May 2012