A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“I go by Plain White Tom. I’ve been street dancing for 15 years. I started out as a kid taking tap, jazz, and ballet. I got away from it because I didn’t like the way kids treated me in school. Then I found street dance, and it gave me the voice I was looking for. I do a kind of dance called ‘liquid and digits.’ It’s based on spatial isolation—playing with space, making things be there that aren’t there.
“My favorite place to perform is Michigan and Washington, in front of the Walgreens. You get a lot of good cross-traffic there because it’s across from Millennium Park, and all the CTA lines dump out around there. And I’ll be performing at the North Coast Music Festival this year.
“The newest form of street art I’ve been doing is poetry. I run up to groups of people and ask them for random words, and with those I write a piece of poetry, and then I perform it for them. If people want to take the poem home, I ask for something to trade. I’ve gotten trinkets, books, utensils, a map of Illinois.
“I’m an extremely extroverted person. I’ll get on the CTA and instantly just interact with people, just ask how their day is, see if there’s anything they want to say to me. So for me, street performing is a chance to connect with a variety of people at an accelerated rate. To come into contact with 3,000 to 5,000 people a week, it satiates the beast.
“When I was about 16, a friend of mine told me to go get a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I went to the Oak Park library and checked it out and never returned it. I’m not proud of that or anything. It just means I kept reading it. Ever since then, I wanted to do what was in that book.
“Now I’m saving up a little chunk of money, and hopefully by the fall I’m gonna start hitchhiking, doing some freight-train hopping around America. I’ll be posting updates at pwtsthoughts.blogspot.com. The saddest part about my journey is that I will be leaving just as the football season starts. I recently got to meditate on the 50-yard line at Soldier Field. I was like, ‘Super Bowl win, Super Bowl win!’
“I was in the military for six years, and I was in the Boy Scouts before then, so I have a pretty good sense of survival. When a situation of panic pops up, most people lose their shit and get really excited, but I don’t. I usually laugh, and that calms everybody around me down, and that gives me a few good seconds to take in my situation. Death has never been one of those things I worry about. When I’m called, I’m called.
“We live in a world where everybody wants to know everything. ‘Oh, just google that; just look on Wikipedia.’ But I very much enjoy the not knowing.”