On a dreary weekday morning in the late fall of 2015, I veered off my usual path to work for a quick pit stop at a post office on Market. As I waited in line, a man struck up a conversation. He had a somewhat worn look with small tattoos that reminded me of tears under each of his kind, brown eyes. I don't remember how the man - who introduced himself as Ronnie - started the conversation, but my initial caution began to wear off as an intriguing geniality and positivity emanated from him.
Ronnie had stories to tell and I listened intently. As we waited in line, he told me how he had grown up in an Irish-Catholic, working class family in Boston. His father had killed himself when Ronnie was a child, and he had joined a gang in high school. Ronnie moved to San Francisco and became abstinent from alcohol and drugs on July 3rd, 1996, the 27th anniversary of his dad's death (who had passed at the age of 27). Ronnie loved San Francisco, but struggled to maintain inner calm and purpose these days. He had recently decided he could wake up every morning and make a conscious decision to pursue happiness. We chatted about fulfillment, what it meant, and how we were each looking for it. I told him about More Fatter (only a few months old at the time) and he talked about his days drumming in different bands.
Ronnie told me had recently gone back to try to finish college, but eventually left and returned to Boston for the first time in a very long while. When he had returned, his mom could barely look at him because he resembled his dad so much.
Though Ronnie's stories were heavy, they floated out of him with honesty and ease. I was struck by the smiling, crinkling tattoos under the eyes of this man who was sharing such a raw part of himself with a stranger. We went our separate ways after chatting for a few minutes outside the post office. As I got on my bike, a feeling washed over me that somehow, somewhere Ronnie and I had been friends, brothers before. It was as if we had met spontaneously again after a very long while. The feeling was mysterious and lingered throughout the day as I sat at work. On the train ride home, I began to frame the morning's adventures into lyrics to some chords Gustaf (our previous bass player) had recently shown Tommy and me. That was the beginning of "Smiling Tears".
The months passed, we built out "Smiling Tears" as a band, and it eventually made it onto the stage when we began playing shows in 2016. In August, we chose "Smiling Tears" as one of the eight songs to put on our debut record. Ronnie stayed in the back of my mind as we recorded and continued performing "Smiling Tears", but I didn't see him or find him after that chance encounter. Over a year after the post office encounter, as we were completing the mixing and mastering for the record, we decided to create a music video for "Smiling Tears". I immediately knew I had to find Ronnie and ask him to be a part of the video. But by the time we started planning the video in March, I couldn't even remember Ronnie's name.
After a few days it came back to me. Ronnie responded to my facebook message and was super enthusiastic to take part in the project. On Sunday, 3/25 we blocked out a full day in SF with our videographer, Kevin Kitsuda, the band, and Ronnie.
I remember waking up that day with a good dose of skepticism, anxiety, but also deeply rooted purpose and excitement churning around in my stomach. The dudes had trusted me and gone along with my weird idea to center our video around a stranger I had talked to for 5 minutes in a post office over a year ago. I had put in hours planning the video shoot with Kevin and I was listening to my gut instinct that it would all work out.
It ended up being a beautiful day of camaraderie and story telling. Ronnie was a class act through and through, and rapidly befriended Tommy, Danny, Adam, and Kevin. We all had a blast shooting scenes around SF that were important to Ronnie's life and the story of our chance encounter. Ronnie also told us he was re-enrolling at City College SF in August to pursue his dream of becoming an English teacher. I slept like a baby that night.
Less than a week later, Ronnie came to our show at Boom Boom Room on 3/31 and heard us play "Smiling Tears" live for the first time to a full crowd. He was overjoyed, and let us know a few days later that the $100 we had given him for taking part in the video had allowed him to buy nice uniforms for the restaurant-waiting job he had just been hired for. About a month later, I texted Ronnie the link to our completed video, just released that day. Ronnie responded that he was on his first date in several years when he got my text. He showed it to the lady he was with, she loved it, and they were now planning a second date!
Ronnie thanked our band for bringing him luck several times with his job and now his dating life. I realized what had transpired between Ronnie and our band had nothing to do with luck. It was a consequence of several people from very different walks of life all at once opening up and listening closely to each other in unlikely circumstances. The universe can sometimes show us some pretty curious things at the most unexpected times when we're truly willing to open up wide our hearts, eyes, ears, and... listen.