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In a typical evening ritual, I circumnavigated the central plaza of Washington Square Park looking for a music jam. I had a number of choices but I was drawn to this particular man who I had never seen before. He looked like a man passing through.
His voice was very good, his playing style confident and his repertoire quite extensive. The more I listened, the more I liked him, so I decided to make a commitment and sit down. I took a few photos.
Between songs, a number of friends and I learned a few things about him - he was a native Alaskan on the road. A broken G String offered the opportunity to dig deeper.
He seemed extremely accommodating and as we spoke, I took out paper and pen and began making notes about the details of his life. I slowly began to feel there is a good story here. But nothing as good as what was to come.
At one point I told him that I hoped he did not mind, but he was going to be the subject of the next day's story. He appeared pleased and I was also, so now with a green light, I filled in the details of his life.
Gaby Lampkey is 54 years old and was born in Juneau, Alaska to a Filipino father and a Tlingit mother* who busied herself raising nine children. Gaby is a member of the Raven Tribe, Seagull Clan. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was young. He served in the coast guard for 6 years where he worked as a captain's cook and was married for 13 years and has two girls.
Gaby has been on the road for 10 years, with no real home, living by his wits and sleeping wherever he can (he plans to move into the Manhattan hostel on the Upper West Side). His income of tribal dividends is supplemented by work as a street musician playing guitar. We spoke of hobos and trains, which was not his preferred mode of travel - he is an itinerant hitchhiker. Gaby described himself more as a traveling hippie, a participant in the annual Rainbow Gatherings and a recent attendee of the 41st anniversary of Woodstock, where he performed. He said he was an avid reader and read everything he could get his hands on, including the sides of iodine bottles.
In a very surprising shift, he said he was a juggler and spoke of how juggling changed his life with anecdotes. I acknowledged his experiences, only half hearing them, my mind intoxicated with the possibility of the obvious connection. If this was going were I think it was, it would be as astonishing as Walid Soroor (see story here).
But play your cards slowly I thought - don't reveal them now, go for the knockout punch.
I have a hard time keeping a secret or containing my enthusiasm, but while Gaby spoke, I contained myself and very casually reached into my bag for a stack of business cards.
I handed him one and asked him if he had heard of the company. He immediately responded, yes indeed and that Brian Dubé was the person that made him his first set of juggling clubs.
He recounted how, for most things in Juneau, he had to order from a catalog. He had poured over the Dubé Juggling Equipment catalog as a boy and ordered his first set of juggling clubs. He also told me, that unlike most other products that did not live up to catalog imagery, when his new clubs arrived, they were just like those pictured and he worshipped those objects which he kept in his room. I was beaming.
You have him now, I thought, no need to belabor this any longer. Deliver the one-two punch.
I asked offhandedly if he knew Brian Dubé. He answered that he had never met Brian personally. I said "Yes you have, you have been talking to him for the last two hours."
Gaby and a handful of friends around me who were privy to this conversation were just stunned and burst into a virtual applause. This was a connection just too amazing to believe and we spent quite some time exchanging more notes, anecdotes, mutual friends and acquaintances. I expect to see him again and give a copy of this story. Only in New York with a fortuitous set of circumstances and an intersection in time and space with a man who is on the road...
*The Tlingits are a matrilineal indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast. You can read more about the Tlingits here.