The shallow corridors of Arlington Station provide a walkway for bustling businessmen, a means of transport for blundering tourists and the perfect acoustics for a classical guitarist who finds peace in his daily grind of playing to the passersby.
Playing with upturned lips, David Gonzales, knowingly picks at his guitar but without the pride of a man who has played for as long as he has. Rather, he shyly gazes upon the crowd with a humble smile, and you’d swear you’d known him for years. His thick fingers play soft chords and gentle rhythms that would soothe the most hurried of subway travelers. He first picked up the guitar at age 8. The music comes easily now.
A 3-foot blonde strolls by, dancing in her yellow raincoat. She can’t be more than four years old, but she is one of the few who takes notice of Gonzales. At that moment, he glances up and plays just for her, and they share a smile.
There is a stigma surrounding him simply because he plays music in the streets. “People can say what they say,” he offers. And while his guitar case stays empty for large parts of the day, a casual smile remains on his face. Gonzales plays because he wants to, not because he has to.
“It’s not about the money,” Gonzales says. “My God, you have no idea how much money I could make doing this is Europe, in Asia.”
Dressed in a pink and white striped polo with light-colored khakis, Gonzales has the appearance of a casual businessman. He owns 22 pairs of tennis shoes. “I am dressed like rich, and I play in the streets,” he says in his still thick Argentine accent, though he has survived in the US for more than eight years. “This is who I am. This is my life,” he says, without apology. “The key is, you must do something to survive.”
Gonzales grew up very poor on the streets of South America. In appearance, he is unlike most Argentinians, with dark skin and eyes the color of molasses. Because of this, Gonzales says he experienced discrimination very early, even by his own stepfather, who never offered him money or life lessons. So he grew up poor and without role models.
“I was born very, very poor. We were sleeping in a king bed, four people, maybe five. So I know how much value you can learn from life,” he says.
But that is all he talks of his past. Instead, he focuses on the future and on his place in society.
“Everything I want I can make true in my life,” says Gonzales. “It’s confidence. If you have truth, confidence and determination … everything is possible. I can decide and design the life I want and have it.”
And he has. Gonzales worked as a photographer for an international magazine for three years, he worked for Delta airlines, he learned to scuba dive off the coasts of Brazil, he played professional rugby in France, he’s worked as a personal trainer and he owned a landscaping company. “I like the difficult things,” he says. “Every part of history to my life is big.”
One of his bigger moments came, Gonzales says, when he began getting acclaim for his photography and seeing the seedier side of journalism. He once was asked to take a picture of a prominent South American lawyer caught in an affair. So on a Brazilian beach, he found them, and he photographed him holding hands with his mistress. The controversy surrounding the picture is what drove Gonzales out of the field. “I am a journalist. We are the worst people in the world,” he says. “Where’s the love man?”
Each job tells another story. And he is not finished yet. “There are many things I long to do,” he says.
When’s he not playing music, Gonzales still plays rugby for the Boston Irish Wolfhounds and has since 2003. He loves the game. “It’s a gentleman’s sport,” he says proudly.
One of his teammates, Mike Kerry, spoke of Gonzales in an excited Irish brogue. “He’s a good guy,” he said. “Workways, he seems to have always jumped around to different things. But he seems to have found his niche … seems to be happier playin’ the music.”
“I am happy,” Gonzales says. “It’s not only the music, it’s the way I am.”
“I like the guitar,” he says. And pauses to grin. “I like food.” And though he makes a living strumming the guitar, he plays for the love of it and for the people who listen. “It’s not about the money,” he says again. “It’s an exchange of peace.”
“Everybody is afraid,” he says, of the economy, of Iran, of the swine flu. Gonzales plays for them.
There is a man who passes him by often, a Boston judge, who once remarked to him, “your music gives me a lot of peace,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales, who believes in karma, says “peace and love” are the only things he carries, and distributes alongside the music.
“I have many good things to give. I don’t want one person to say I didn’t learn one good thing. Wherever I’m going, I’m bringing peace.”
It is up to him, where that may be. Perhaps a professional rugby coach, perhaps back to Delta. But one thing is for sure, Gonzales is not scared of anything,
“Each time you pull me down, I go up,” he grins broadly. “And when I die, I wanna be like this.”