HARRISON HAMM, Opinion Editor—You’ve probably seen this man sitting in the main center of Granville. His presence is at once conspicuous and ordinary.
He wears a distinctive hat emblazoned with the phrase, “WHO CARES” in red and white lettering, sitting at a table with his legs crossed and his eyes calm, looking around.
He has solid white hair that pokes out around the hat. Anyone who goes to Granville in the daytime will recognize him, and perhaps even have a passing relationship with him.
He is mysterious, though. Bring him up to Denison students who’ve walked to Granville recently and you’ll get an immediate recognition, the kind where they relate to what you’re talking about but hadn’t thought about it before. Spend a little time around him, and you find yourself coming away with even more questions.
For example: his last name. His first name is Dan, but he declined to give a surname. Dan lives in Columbus, and identified some sort of housing situation, but his living arrangements are ambiguous at best, in part because he does not appear to have a job. He says, after a bit of hesitation, “I get a little help from the government right now.” Retired may not be the best descriptor either, because he doesn’t cite any prior jobs aside from working as a delivery man at one point.
Oh, and he’s an aspiring singer-songwriter. “Honky-tonk country,” as he puts it, is his genre, and he makes music “every chance I get.” His dream is carving out a late-in-life music career.
His full-time work, for now, is hanging out in Granville. Every day Dan can be found sitting at a table, often outside Whit’s Frozen Custard, and conversing with whoever happens to be passing by. He doesn’t seem to use technology, and he exudes calmness as a result — he’s in the moment, and has no distraction waiting for him. Sitting back and looking around, open for a conversation, is his default mode.
He speaks with a southern twang, often adding a “you know?” to the end of his sentences, bridging them together and keeping the other conversant involved. There is no rush when he talks; he leans back and takes on the appearance of an older wise man who yearns to give sound life advice to younger people. His chillness affords him a unique approachability. Walking up and talking to him is easy because it’s exactly what he wants — it’s why he’s here.
Sit with Dan long enough and you’ll find that people in Granville know him. In a span of 20 minutes, he nods and says hello to multiple people passing by. Sometimes he’ll nod and wave even if he doesn’t know you. His presence is constant and welcoming, though you may find yourself wondering what this man’s deal is.
His life story is blurry, and he seemed reluctant to give specific details. But an outline of his past crystallizes the origins behind his simple pastime of hanging out in Granville.
He was born in Utah, and lived there until he moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1993 to be closer to the music scene. He describes his childhood as “pretty wild.”
“I just got around a lot of the wrong kind of people, you know? Doing a lot of the wrong stuff. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go in life.”
Dan speaks almost wistfully, pausing between sentences as he chooses the right words. When he talks about his past, he keeps a careful tone before breaking the seriousness with a call back to the present and a laugh.
“I’ve changed a lot now. Thank God for that,” he adds, with a chuckle at the end.
He dropped out of school and didn’t go to college. Asked how he made a living, he says “delivery work, and just being around people all the time. Most everything I’ve done has been people related.”
One gets the impression that he languished a bit in Utah. He always loved music, but it took him until his move to Nashville to realize it could be anything more than a “pipe dream.” His eventual move to Columbus, he says, came from a desire to change things up. He arrived a couple of years ago and gave no reason why Ohio became his destination, aside from his childhood watching of Cincinnati sports teams.
Over time, he improved as a person. He says that he had been “arrogant” and dealt with anger problems earlier in life.
“I’m a lot more humble than I used to be,” he says.
A Nashville radio show helped get him on track. He doesn’t cite a name or a station, but he brings it up a couple of times and notes that he formed a relationship with the person he heard on the radio.
“I heard a guy on the radio talking about positive stuff, and I just thought, ‘man, you don’t hear that on the radio or TV,’ that (positivity). He just really enticed me, you know, so I got to know him personally. I was listening to a lot of programs (with) people that have been down that are up now. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of people like that.”
His music career is making incremental progress now. He has a demo with a couple of cover songs, including “Tulsa Time,” a song performed by both Don Williams and Eric Clapton, two of Dan’s favorite artists. He notes that he met the man who originally wrote the song, Danny Flowers, at Nashville’s famous country music club Bluebird Cafe, the place where a 14-year-old Taylor Swift was discovered.
Any time he talks about people he admires, he expresses a desire to meet them one day. He is, at heart, a people person, and he desires these kinds of relationships. As he raves about Clapton’s expert guitar ability, he says, “(I) hope to meet him one of these days” with a chuckle that suggests he believes he may someday run into Clapton, somehow. He says a similar thing about the late John Prine, a folk singer for whom he also expressed admiration.
For Dan, there is nothing more important than being around quality people. As little detail as he would give about his earlier life, the constant refrain was that he had been around bad people, and that when his life improved, it was because he was around a better crowd.
“There’s a lot of good people out there, you know? Whether you believe it or not, (there are) a lot more good people out there than you realize.”
The goal of his life in Granville is to maximize his opportunity to meet those people. Everything he’s done in his life, he says, has been around people. Now, he spends his time sitting in the center of a quiet but bustling town with a constant stream of people passing through. You can find him there every day.
Does he have a job? “No, just getting around people all I can.” He leaves a certain mystery, to be sure. But he is clear-eyed about the way he wants to live life.
“(I’ve been) getting to know some really good people. You know, because I’ve changed my ways, like I said, I’ve been able to meet some great people. I’m very thankful for that.”
“Successful people, you know, a lot of their qualities rub off on me … I believe you can do anything your heart tells you you can. Get around the right people, treat them right, and they’ll treat you right.”
His life lessons are simple and pleasant. He is content with where his life has ended up. It seems as though his path has been a constant search for the right setting, the right people, and he’s found it. He has never had a wife or kids—“too wild” early on, he says —and he never mentions his family. But he cherishes the relationships he’s made and the people he’s met, from those in Nashville who complemented his music at contests to the many people he’s met by just sitting around in Granville.
By now, his perspective on life is serene. Asked if he has any worries about the pandemic (he does not wear a mask when he sits in Granville), he says, “No, like I say, if you’re positive, with positive thinking, I believe we’re getting through it. All of us (are) working together; just gotta have a strong belief.”
The tense presidential election inspires similarly vague, but positive, thoughts. He declines to give an opinion. “Politics and religion, I try to stay away from if I can.” He goes on to say, “I just want the best person that’s gonna run the country the best.”
Next time you walk through Granville, you’re likely to see him. His hat is his most distinctive feature. He will surely be ready and willing to have a conversation, imparting his wisdom or discussing music. He’s found his people.