I met Rhonda and Larry on a recent trip to Mexico. They were my neighbors at the campground where I spent four months last winter. When Rhonda asked me to contribute a story about either helping or getting help from
someone for her book I at first thought it should be a fairly easy task to think of something.
At first I was thinking of sharing something profound and life changing, a life-or-death story perhaps, and then my mind turned to maybe something not quite so serious, a little comedy maybe. Like I said in my bio, I’m retired which means I should have a lot of stories to choose from. Sometimes small acts of kindness can mean as much as something that is much more involved.
It’s just coincidence but I had a friend I hadn’t heard from for quite a while call me from out of the blue to check on my wellbeing after he heard about the recent flooding near my part time residence in Tennessee. He lives in New Orleans and plays music for a living.
I will use his stage name, Spider Murphy as that’s what I mostly knew him by, although he told me his real name and I had occasion to see it on legal papers over the years.
Spider and I were neighbors for almost 20 years but didn’t know each other except by reputation for quite some time. I had heard the name, but his house was about a mile down the road from mine in the mountains west of Colorado Springs and not easy to find. He had many trades, as did I, but we were both interested in playing music and performing.
One day when I was not busy I heard about a little jam session with some local musicians in a small
town about five miles away. I wrangled an invitation and showed up about 6pm at the bass player’s house.
He needed a ride in a car that was big enough to hold a standup bass, so I think that is why he invited me.
No matter, we had to roll the windows down and stick it in the back seat and thankfully it was a short ride as it was cold.
I had thought ahead and brought a few beers with me, and we were soon all gathered in someone’s living room jamming away. I had been working for quite a while and subject to random drug tests, so I hadn’t smoked any pot for a long time. I was impressed with Spiders licks on the guitar, whatever I played, he was able to make
it sound better. Much better. I found out later that he had gone to The Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was way more talented than I was. Soon it was break time and the joints came out. Spider loved to smoke pot. They got me so high it took me forty-five minutes to make the five-minute drive on the dirt roads back to my house.
I didn’t see him for a while after that. He got a gig out of town somewhere and took off, I went back to work and was commuting to Denver
for quite a while. Eventually the job in Denver ended and I had worn out the engine in the little Mazda I had been using. I had time on my hands and had bought a newer car, but I decided to replace the motor in the Mazda. It was the middle of the winter in the mountains and all I had for shelter was a tent garage, but I got it done in a few weeks. I’d work until I was too cold then go inside and warm up.
Springtime rolled around and I went over to Victor, the small town where we had first met, and walked into the bar one evening. It had been a while, but Spider had a unique look to him that was unmistakable.
I sat down on a stool at the bar next to him and said, “Hey Spider, remember me?” I was surprised but he did remember me. Soon we were catching up on our stories and adventures.
Soon after that he got a gig playing music at that bar, The Headframe Tavern. That was why he was there when I ran into him, he was lining up a gig. I asked him if I could set in with him, and as it was a small bar and not a lot of customers, he was agreeable to that for a while. He took me under his wing so to speak for playing bar gigs. I had already done a few by myself in Mexico but he was a much better negotiator as far as getting paid and getting free food and drinks. We never made more than $30 or so but we always had plenty to eat and drink and he would always get me stoned
at break time. The gig didn’t last more than a couple of weeks, two or three times a week. He soon got a much better gig in Manitou Springs, down the mountain, at a big hotel and restaurant in the bar.
There had been a major wildfire that wiped out a lot of the trees and undergrowth above Manitou the year before. I don’t know the acres, but it was large enough that when there was a heavy rainstorm, the water all ran down the mountain and flooded Manitou. Spider was playing his gig at the bar on Saturday afternoon. He said, “I looked up and saw all these people running over and looking out the window, so I stopped playing and went to see what was going on. Water running down the street just like a river! Then I saw my car go floating by!”
Needless to say, he was bummed out big time. His gig payed pretty good but not that good and now he had no transportation. I saw the fix he was in, so I told him I had a car for sale, cheap. I sold him my Mazda for $600. I had just spent more than that on the new engine but for some reason I felt compelled to make him a good deal. He came over and peeled off six-hundred-dollar bills and handed them to me and away he went.
Time went by as it always does. His wife died from cancer, and he moved to New Orleans and met a new girlfriend and they are still together. During this time, I went through a nasty divorce, several arrests, and a lot of hard times. I was barley scraping by on what few jobs I could find for cash and playing down at Amanda Mays Coffee shop in Cripple Creek. My child support and mortgage payment took all the money I was getting from unemployment and if it hadn’t been for Amanda I would have probably starved. She let me play three times a week and fed me and would throw money in my tip jar even when nobody else was. It was lean times.
I was borrowing money against the house in a second mortgage and couldn’t afford to buy propane. I had bought a small chain saw and had a wood stove in the house so I scoured the woods as far as I could and cut down all the dead trees for a half mile radius. It got to where I was freezing most of the time and hating winter more and more all the time.
One evening I had decided to burn some waste oil in a coffee can in my wood stove, along with the little bit of firewood I could scrape up.
It was about 10 below zero and I was sitting by the stove playing my guitar when I heard a funny sound coming from the roof. I opened the sliding door to the backyard and looked up at the roof and didn’t see anything. I sat back down and heard it again so this time I opened the front door, it was on the downwind side of the house, and smoke was rolling off the roof! Shit! I climbed up to see if there was any chance of putting it out and it was burning the whole lenghth of the house. I ran back inside and grabbed three guitars, two amplifiers and a bag of clothes and made sure I got my passport and stuck them in my car.
I had called the fire department as soon as I found out it was impossible for me to put out.
I was about 5 miles from the volunteer fire department and 45 minutes later they finally showed up. The snow was about five feet deep in the yard and they had big fire trucks that weren’t very maneuverable. They finally started the job of destroying the rest of my house. I guess they did save a few things but mostly it was totaled.
Of course, the Teller County Sherriff sent a deputy and he promptly asked for my license and went to his car. I was about out of gas; it was 10 below and I was stuck watching my house burn while I was freezing. After about an hour and a half, he finally returned my license and said I could leave. I had called my friend a half mile down the road, and he said come on over, he had a bed for me. He kicked his kid out of his bedroom and I got his bed. Joel and Airey were the best. They let me camp out there as long as I needed. Thankfully it wasn’t long. I went to the insurance company the next day in Woodland Park and told them all about it.
They set me up in the best motel in town and gave me a little cash to operate and eat on. I got to know all the girls working at the motel and the owner gave me a gig playing in the bar at his motel. I saw the bill when I moved out two weeks later. It was somewhere around $4500 for a two week stay. I would have taken the money and rented a house somewhere, but they insisted
it was all covered. Hot tub jacuzzi in the room, maid service and a gig.
I soon got to meet the insurance adjuster. I was still unsure of what had caused the fire. It looked like it had started at the end of the house away from where the stove was to me, so I thought maybe electrical fire.
The adjuster came out in the middle of the afternoon and walked around the house with me. He pointed at the chimney, which was still
in one piece and said, “ Right there is the start. See that little black spot on the chimney?” I was a little worried as I knew I had left a can of waste oil in the stove, but it never came up.
A day later he asked if I could meet him somewhere we could sit and talk. We met at a casino in Cripple Creek.
He started asking me about my personal property that I had lost. I told him that I maybe had $3000 of possessions in the house. I told him I was divorced and poor. He started telling me “No, I think you had a lot of good stuff. I think you had a $5000 bedroom suite; I think you had really nice living room furniture and I think your kitchen was top of the line.” I told him no. My ex had taken most everything of
any value, $3000 would be pushing it. He got a big smile on his face and told me, “You don’t know the insurance laws in Colorado. You had your house insured for $120,000 of personal property, and the law says we have to pay you at least 1/3 of that no matter what.” “Here’s a check for $40,000.” Well now! My ex had done me a favor without knowing it. I would have never insured it for that much.
Next he started throwing money at me for teardown, rebuilding and trying to set me up with a contractor to replace the house. I was able to pay off my first and second mortgage, I had money to spend on rent until I had a new house put up and $120,000 in the bank. That would have covered the cost of moving in a new modular house and set up but just barely. I had been trying to sell the house anyway as I didn’t need a three-bedroom two bath house since my divorce.
Housing was impossible to find in that area at that time of year or mostly any time of the year. At least anything livable. I had been watching Spiders empty house for him while he was trying to sell it. One call and I had a house. It was pretty run down but it was a roof and a kitchen and bathroom. I was scared to light the wood stove for quite a while.
Soon I saw the dark side of the insurance company. Two months later they cut me off for living expenses and told me I should have a house put up by then. That was crazy talk. The snow was still so deep that I don’t think I had been able to get the burned-out structure torn down yet. I had arranged for them to pay Spider $800/ month for rent, but they cut that off and his house was getting repossessed by the bank, so I went to the internet cafe, Amanda’s, and looked on Craigs list. I saw my new RV there.
It had been posted about three hours before I called on it. I drove down to Canyon City and walked through it and grabbed my check book. I got Joel to help me move it back to Cripple Creek and started moving my things in from Spider’s house to my new abode.
In the period of about three months, I had gone from freezing and barely scraping by to money in the bank and new motor home. I forget the moral of this story, if there is one other than be good to your friends when you can, and they might be there for you when you need them. No storm lasts forever. Karma is a two-way street and no man with friends is ever completely broke. Next time I saw Spider he was still driving the Mazda I had sold him.
Retired heavy equipment mechanic/welder, musician, singer/songwriter and traveling vagabond.