It’s 10:15pm outside Minute Maid Park on a Wednesday evening and Melvin the Trumpet Man is warming up his amusing post game patter. “Hey! You don’t count a man out if he still has as much as one toe left tapping,” he growls.
It’s the top of the eighth inning and Melvin is gently chastising a group of Astros fans leaving the game. “Awww, how can you be going home early?”
Perched on top of a garbage bin at the corner of Crawford and Texas, Melvin swivels and twists to catch the attention of fans as they walk by. Some pick up their pace as they pass. Some give him a slight nod of the head and a gentle smile.
Then he sets his sights on me. “Hey, Hey..HEY!” he beckons. I freeze for a moment and look his way. I find myself entertained by his earnest attempts to engage the crowd. “Hey, what song do you want to hear?” he asks.
As my brain starts delineating the complex matrix of what I might want to listen to compared to what he might know, Melvin starts the show. “Tell me if you think you know this,” he says.
He begins playing something that sounds familiar but I can’t quite place it. It sounds so familiar though. He stops after just a few bars. “Can you tell me what that is?” he quizzes.
“Umm, yeah. It kinda sounded like When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“Oh, no, man…” He sounds upset but quickly becomes a teacher. “Well, that’s not bad. It’s similar. That was Sweet Georgia Brown. You know Sweet Georgia Brown, right?”
“Uhh, maybe.” About now I’m guessing those years playing tenor sax in Mr. Pinto’s junior high school jazz band didn’t really pay off.
“Sure, you know it. Do you remember what they played every time the Harlem Globetrotters took the court? Sweet Georgia Brown. Now, this is When the Saints Go Marching In.”
As he raises his trumpet to his lips, I ask if I can snap a photo. “Sure,” he says. “Most people don’t even ask.” Then he begins to play.
Hearing Saints is nice but what he just said about the Harlem Globetrotters – it’s like a little piece of my childhood just came back. I start to remember a time when my parents were still alive, my brother was still alive and life was about as complicated as playing the Globetrotters board game and watching their cartoon on TV – 2 things I often did with my brother as a kid.
Melvin’s life is undoubtedly harder than mine. A tag on his trumpet case alerts us to the fact that he’s a disabled Vietnam Vet. Some might say he’s making that up. I guess its possible but I don’t get that feeling. He served his country and now he serves baseball fans as they head out of Minute Maid Park. I guess its a living.
I want to ask him to play more of Sweet Georgia Brown but by now my wife is halfway across Texas Avenue. Melvin sees me glance her way and he looks over too. “Do you have someone…? Are you…?” He then yells over to my wife, “Sorry Ma’am. Didn’t mean to keep him.”
I’m glad I met Melvin tonight. I just wish I’d given him more than 3 bucks.