Cam Smith is the lead vocalist of Porterville, CA’s Hotel Books. Smith also travels as a spoken-word poet and public speaker.

A good time to be alive

I remember some guy nudging me and asking if I wanted to buy meth while I was checking my bank account on my phone. Seeing that I had six dollars left, I began wondering how I was going to finish the last three weeks of the tour I was on. I was standing outside of a Rally’s fast food restaurant waiting for someone to answer their phone. I did not have a reason to talk to anyone other than that I just desperately wanted some company.

For whatever reason, I can walk through the most dangerous areas and not be afraid, as long as I have someone on the phone talking to me. Conversation helps so much when I am on tour. When I was walking down this alley way alone, I knew I needed to stay in front of the Rally’s to stay in the bright lights of the store front. My anxiety was really high, I knew I needed to pace around to keep my sanity, so I just began pacing back and forth in front of the restaurant. After about 15 minutes of trying to calm myself down, I still had not gotten a hold of any friend from back home, so I called the band I was traveling with and asked for them to pick me up.

As I was waiting for them to arrive, an employee of the restaurant walked out to me, handed me a burger and a drink and said, “Here you go!” I immediately handed it back and responded with, “Oh no, ma’am, I’m not homeless.” She had a giant smile on her face and responded, “You didn’t look homeless, you looked stressed. You need to eat something before you drive yourself crazy.” I took the food back and thanked her. As she walked back inside, I approached a man who looked homeless — the same man who offered me meth — and I gave the food to him. He said thank you and began eating.

About two minutes later, the girl walked out again and handed me another hamburger and drink. She spoke sternly this time: “This is for you. I saw that you gave the other one away. I want you to have this.” Stressed and angry, I replied, “Look, I’m not homeless and I’m not hungry. What is your game here?” Looking back, I wish I would have never been so rude to someone being so kind to me.

She replied, “There is no game here. I gave that man food earlier. I wanted you to have this because I know what it’s like to be stressed. You really do need to eat something before you have depleted your energy with stress.” I took the food and waited for the girl to go back inside. As she walked in, I yelled, “I’m very sorry. Thank you very much.”

I sat down next to the homeless man and began to eat. The man looked over at me and said, “She is a really nice lady. She always helps out. Some people are like that. It’s a good time to be alive.” As he spoke, the gravity of my situation seemed to disappear for a moment. I was on tour, I was playing music that I worked hard on, and I was surviving. I did not have money, I did not have energy, but there was still someone there to help out. That moment meant so much to me. An angry and stressed person sitting next to a grateful and pleasant person.

The journey of playing in a band is a crazy one, and tours hardly ever run perfectly smooth, but it does not change the fact that this is a good time to be alive. If you are ever blessed with the opportunity to travel and play music, please understand how incredible and bizarre of an opportunity it truly can be. Music is a gift we were given, and I want to do my best to live a life where I deserve such an amazing gift, even though I know I never will. When a band is out on the road, bring them food, bring them conversation and help them, because it can be stressful. But more importantly, if you see someone hurting at all, help is often appreciated. I never thought I would learn such a valuable lesson from a homeless man and a cashier at a restaurant a thousand miles from home, and I am grateful for them both.