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A Conversation with Josh Loughrey

Josh Loughrey, 27, spends his lunch breaks from Oakland Typewriter & Office Supply (yes, they still have typewriters, and no, you can't get one with WiFi) on Meyran Avenue in South Oakland, busking his blue-haired head off.

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Who's buying typewriters now?

 

We still manage to sell at least one every week. Older people are buying typewriters, a lot of younger people -- a lot of writers just prefer typewriters.

 

Do you think there's any sort of writerly nostalgia with people buying typewriters, or is it just a preference?

I think a little of both. Especially the writers tend to buy the old manual typewriters as opposed to the electronic. What they've been telling me is that with a computer, you just type. When they're typing on the old manual, they really have to push that key; they really have to know that that's the letter they want.

 

You have to mean it.

Right. So for a lot of people psychologically, it just gets them into the frame of mind; it's what they look for when they're trying to write. I'm a pen-and-paper guy myself.

 

What's the oldest typewriter you've ever seen?

I'd say probably around the turn of the century. Really old ones don't come in here very often, because there's not much we can do in the way of repairing them. Once you get to a point where there's no parts available for it, if it's dead it's dead.

 

Are there still typewriters being made?

Yeah, in addition to the office machines and the electronics, there's actually new manual typewriters being made. We don't keep them on hand, but we've on occasion ordered them for people. The old ones were sometimes pretty heavy; the newer ones are pretty lightweight.

 

So, you busk on your lunch break.

Yeah, there's a couple benches up on Fifth Avenue near South Bouquet. I just stand out by those benches and it's a half hour of playing music. Some people like it, some people don't. I have fun; I've improved a lot as a musician from doing it. And every once in a while, there's people who really, really get into what I'm doing and that's good.

 

Do you make decent money doing it?

I've had really good days, but I'm not doing it really seriously. I just play music for a half hour every day, weather permitting. The best day I ever had was $25 for a half hour. Not too bad. It's not as much about the money; it's about getting out there and practicing, focusing on these songs.

 

Oakland's kind of becoming a little sterile. I like to think that what I do, not only here in the store but out on the street, we're providing people with something cool, making it more open. I'm trying to share and give something back to the community, so to speak. Occasionally people see fit to throw me some quarters, and I'm pretty OK with that.

 

How do students react to busking?

Like any other people, it's kind of mixed. I don't see any of the students getting particularly irate about me playing my music. Some people do. I mean, you'll get the people making fun of me. That's fine: As long as they're getting entertainment out of it I'm fine with it. And students, not being the most wealthy demographic, don't often have much change to tip but often they'll hang around and listen. I've got people that sing along with me every once in a while. That's what I really like.

 

What's the meanest thing anybody ever did while you were busking?

Well, one old woman was literally screaming in my ear that I should stop playing because I wasn't really making music, I was just banging on my guitar and making noise.

 

What do you do in a situation like that?

Smile, say, "Sorry you don't like it," go back to the song and ignore them. Somebody once asked me, a younger kid asked me how much money it would take to get me to stop. I turned to him and I said, "I'll stop as soon as you grow the balls to come out here and do something."

 

How long have you worked here?

Like, four or five years now. There's not too many jobs that would let you keep a funny-colored Mohawk. I often wear it pulled up in a topknot. That's from watching way too many samurai movies. I dye it every couple months. I'm pretty lazy about it. It's growing back in already. It's usually blues and greens; that's what I happen to like.

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