Guitar man

It’s rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a television, or 10 televisions, blaring sports or news programs. People seem more interested in watching than listening, so from a business standpoint, banks of televisions make perfect sense.

But in food services, as in all things, there are still a few that buck a trend. One is a sandwich spot we hit from time to time. Around lunchtime, for as long as I can remember, a thin, graying guitarist sits in a corner singing his heart out while flipping the hand-written pages of his songbook.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that “(Sitting On) The Dock of The Bay” is a favorite. Same with Beatles tunes and Eric Clapton. These are songs radio people call “classic rock” at the moment but likely soon will be known as golden oldies.

It’s not my job to pass judgment on this guy’s talent, but one day while chomping through my sandwich and listening to his version of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” I wondered what kind of person spends his lunch hour entertaining disinterested people who, as far as I can tell, would be just as happy watching television.

So I asked.

“Sometimes, there’s very little engagement,” says Bill Martin, 65, who retired after 23 years with Dallas Parks and Recreation striping softball and soccer fields in our neighborhoods. 

“I’m there, but I’m not really there. I guess I like that, because I get a little nervous when people are paying attention to me.

“I’m content to be the background ambience. I’m happy to do my craft in obscurity.”

Martin’s story sounds like most of ours, although he is a little shy about telling it. His life has been eventful if not particularly newsworthy.

He grew up in Colorado, bounced among a bunch of colleges without bagging a degree, somewhere along the line meeting and marrying a woman he describes as the love of his life.

Marriage didn’t stop his self-described drifting and pot-smoking, and he wound up divorced. So he prayed for help to quit pot, received it, and then remarried his former wife, had a couple of sons, took a job with the city and made it a career.

These days, he and a few buddies play together as the Purple Martins, but you’ll have to look pretty hard to find their music. You can check out William Dale Martin on Reverb Nation. Click on his acoustic version of “Fish Out of Water.”

“I sound pretty good on that one,” he says.

And here’s where he sounds like the rest of us.

“I’m so grateful, after all these years of mistakes and bad decisions, that I’ve been able to make a few good decisions and reap the benefits. The fact that Melissa and I are still together and happy is good enough for me.”

He probably won’t be a big star, it turns out, just a small light on a smaller stage in a sandwich shop, sometimes earning the attention of otherwise-distracted diners willing to be entertained by a guy enjoying life with a guitar and a harmonica.