He parked his snazzy new orange Honda Fit, which he bought only because it had a sporty stick shift, at the 57th Street Antique Row in east Sacramento. He grabbed his clarinet and a black case holding a Bose speaker and a MacBook Pro, and found the door to Evan's Kitchen, sandwiched between two antiques shops.
Well, this must be the place.
David Clark, 88 and still on the hustle for gigs and adventure, girded himself, ready to play for his supper once more.
It was a Monday in early May. Evan's Kitchen is closed Mondays, but chef Evan Elsberry, his mom, Laurette, and her granddaughter-in-law, Felishia, were doing the books in the office. Laurette looked up and saw a stoop-shouldered, balding man with a jaunty, snow-white mustache and goatee saunter in.
"May I help you?" Laurette asked.
Clark began the hard sell.
"I looked up on the Internet for 'best breakfast place,' and Evan's Kitchen popped up," he began in gruff warble. "Would you be interested in a proposition?"
What on earth could this man be proposing or, more likely, selling? He seemed nice enough, earnest and sincere, but with a whiff of rascal about him, Laurette thought.
"OK," she said.
"I play the clarinet and was looking for places that would enjoy some music. I'd just play for tips."
In minutes, Clark had set up for a quickie audition. He hooked up his computer to the speaker, cued up his background music from his iTunes library of 700 big-band tunes, put his lips to the reed and blew.
Near the song's end, all the Elsberrys were listening. They hired him on the spot, not just for weekend brunches, but to play a French wine dinner they were hosting. They'd pay Clark $50 an hour for the dinner.
They shook on it. Then Clark hopped back in his orange Honda and went to the next restaurant on his list.
By the time he reached Had's Steak and Seafood in Sacramento, Clark was on a roll. Owner Julia Hadley took one look at him and agreed to let him play Thursdays at dinner hour.
"It takes a lot of gumption to do what he's doing," Hadley said. "Besides, he's just so cute."
He now plays six gigs a week in town, but Clark is still hustling a buck, still hitting the road like a combination of Jack Kerouac and the Ancient Mariner, telling his story and blowing his bebop clarinet for whoever will listen.
"Ninety percent of the places throw me out on my ear before I can get the clarinet out," Clark said. "But I have to keep going. I'm saving up for my old age. I was too dumb to put away money when I was younger."
That's because Clark was too busy exploring the world: first astride a horse in a cavalry unit loping along the Lago de Guarda hills in northern Italy during World War II; then becoming the prototypical ski bum after a brief stint as a schoolteacher; later trading skis for a tie so he could sell insurance; then chucking that career and spending the next few decades as a sailor solo-circumnavigating the globe.
His trusty clarinet was a constant companion.
Now, in his golden years, Clark finds himself landlocked in Citrus Heights, all because of the love of a good woman his third wife, Lynda, who moved here from the Bay Area to be near her daughter.
For a guy who rarely had a fixed address, who was struck with wanderlust at age 11 after his parents shipped him from Oakland to relatives in Oregon at the height of the Great Depression, who proudly calls himself a "nomad and gypsy," Sacramento is an adjustment.
"I feel confined," he said one afternoon in his apartment. "I've lived on either the ocean or the mountains most of my life. I don't like the flatness and traffic. I don't like big cities. But I care about this wife. I want to live with her. And I'm able to play here."
Play, he does. No slacker, Clark has three gigs on Saturdays alone.
That's when he's not off traveling, of course. He vacationed in India this spring, which put a dent in his savings account. Last month, he ventured south to speak to the Adventurer's Club of Los Angeles about his exploits, including being the oldest sailor to circumnavigate the globe solo, accomplished in 2001 at age 77.
What keeps Clark going?
"Lynda thinks I've got ADD," he says. "One of my friends said, 'I've got some pills that'll take care of that.' I've always been this way. Lots of energy. But I'm 88 and I'm slowing down. I don't have the energy I once had."
Nonsense, says Lynda.
"He's always been an adventurer and restless," she said. "It's hard for him to stay in one place. I just got used to that early in our marriage. He thinks he can do anything. His age is actually what's keeping him keeping on. He feels like, if he slows down, he'll stop, you know. He wants to keep moving."
Clark is more blunt.
"If I just sat around here all day, it would kill me," he said. "I know that. The idea there's no work for someone my age is ridiculous. There is work. Go out and find it."
That Clark can make a modest living augmented, he concedes, by his Social Security check from playing the clarinet at restaurants or on street corners is impressive considering that Clark didn't even know which end of the instrument was which at age 50.
Then again, that fits his autodidactic profile. Clark taught himself to ski and ride a horse as a young man, learned to sail in middle age and eventually figured out how to keep a wife after two failed marriages.
When he decides to do something, when he gets another wild hair, there's no stopping him.
"I am a Taurus, you know," he said. "I've always been stubborn and hyper. That's not a great combination, but you get a lot done."
Take his drive to learn the clarinet nearly 40 years ago. Clark was living in Florida and wanted lessons. He rode his bicycle all the way to Boston, where he tried to be admitted to the Berklee College of Music. That didn't work out, but the head of Berklee's woodwind department gave him private lessons. A few months later, Clark was in New Orleans, busking on street corners and getting the occasional club gig.
That was about the same time he got the urge to sail. The fact that he didn't own a boat or know the intricacies of sailing?
"I was standing on an inlet between Naples. Fla., and Marco Island, where I rented a house," he said. "I see this 36-foot sailboat come in. It had a dog and three naked women on deck. Well, I really love dogs, so I decided to get a boat. That started it. I hadn't done any sailing.
"So I got a boat and paid it off. I was free to do what I wanted. I said to Lynda, 'What's the biggest thing I could do? I know, sail it around the world.' She said, 'You'll never do that.' "
Never tell Clark he cannot do something. It only encourages him. In 1991, at 67, he accomplished the feat. (Clark did not sail continuously; he stopped in ports along the way.) But when he wrote the people at the Guinness Book of World Records, they told him someone had done it before him at age 68.
Clark knew what he had to do: try again. He set off in 1995, but his bid ended with a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean. He was rescued by a vessel carrying sheep.
He tried once more in 1999. Off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, a storm capsized his boat. Clark was rescued by a Russian tanker. Back in Cape Town, Clark played his clarinet for money and solicited friends and sponsors to help him buy another boat to finish the final 7,000 miles of the excursion.
When he arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 7, 2001, two years after he set sail, Clark was greeted by his wife and five children from a previous marriage, as well as a marching band and media types. His son, Jeff, told a reporter, "I wasn't sure if we were going to see him again."
Clark has fond memories of the trip but, smiling broadly, says it didn't quite meet his high expectations.
"I'd been thinking, 'Gosh, I'll be rich and famous and all kinds of 72-year-old, bikini-clad, buxom women will bow down scraping at my feet," he said. "Well, I never got the women. I never got rich. I had a little fame, but it was fleeting. But I had the greatest adventure of my life."
He sold the boat in 2005.
"I miss it," he said.
Now, Clark slakes his thirst for adventure by playing the clarinet. He likes the feel of his gnarled fingers on the keys and the rush of wind escaping his lungs into the mouthpiece.
"It's a gorgeous sound," he said. "It's rich and melodious."
Plus, there's another advantage to playing the clarinet it's portable.
"My entire gig fits right there in that (box)," he said. "Within a day, I could be gone and, with this skill, be working in any city in the world."
But, for now, he's embedded here, all for the love of a good woman and good music.
DAVID CLARK'S TOP 5 CLARINET TUNES
88-year-old clarinetist David Clark has a library of more than 700 instrumental tunes from which to choose when he plays at local restaurants. Here are his top five:
1. " 'S Wonderful" (1927) by George and Ira Gershwin. Clark: "George was a great composer. It's hard to pick just one."
2. "All the Things You Are" (1934) by Jerome Kern. Clark: "This one has great accompaniment for the clarinet."
3. "What a Wonderful World" (1968) by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss. Clark: "I don't know who did it, but it's a classic. People love when I play it."
4. "Summer Wind" (1966) by Heinz Meier and Johnny Mercer. Clark: "I play a lot of (Frank) Sinatra. This one, along with 'New York, New York,' is my favorite."
5. "At Last" (1941) by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. Clark: "I like the Glenn Miller Orchestra version."