For the last few weeks, Eric Bogel has been putting on red-light shows, making ends meet entertaining folks stuck in traffic.
But Bogel is not simply a street busker looking for a few bucks. He was working music festivals around the nation until COVID-19 stopped the live-entertainment industry in its tracks, and about three months of work and stability evaporated in an instant. His company even used to give him a place to live.
“When I lost my job, I also lost my source of housing,” he said. “This is the only way I’ve made money since March, because my unemployment has not come through.”
He picked up juggling when he was traveling through Europe. It’s pretty common for people to make money throwing pins there, he said, and he used his skills to earn a living when he traveled abroad.
“I haven’t really done it in the States too much,” he said. “That’s because, when COVID was not a thing, I had a regular schtick.”
He returned home, to Florida, when the festival circuit closed. He was living with his older parents, who were staying inside to avoid rapidly spiking infections there. Leaving the house for work scared him; he didn’t want to bring the virus into the house. But when it was clear he wouldn’t receive unemployment through Florida’s program, he decided he needed to do something else.
“I gave up on that about a month ago,” he said.
So he bought a car and drove to Denver, where he’s got some friends. Bogel said he’s hoping he can earn enough to get into an apartment here. For now, he’s sleeping in his car and charging his phone at outdoor outlets he’s found around town.
While he’s dealt with bouts of homelessness in between gigs, he said the pandemic has “absolutely” put him in a tougher spot.
Friends have offered him couches to crash on, but he doesn’t want to impose.
Nationwide, renters have been striking in fear of evictions and mass homelessness due to the COVID recession. On July 1, Denver Public Safety Director Murphy Robinson signed an order allowing evictions to resume in the city. Denverites have been living in cars as a result of the pandemic, and landlords have been stripped of reliable income.
“People are dying” from COVID-19 Bogel said, so he still counts himself lucky. And he wonders if the people giving him money might also be in need.
“Sometimes I’m torn by the moral quandary of: I’m probably making more money than the people who are giving me money,” he said.
But he’s comforted that he’s not begging. “They’re not giving it to me out of pity.”
Indeed, the feed on his Venmo account — @JuggleStruggle — shows people are very entertained.
“AMAZING,” reads one comment attached to a donation.
Others say, “Great moves, keep it up,” “Made my day” and “I respect the hustle, brother!”
We watched him for a half-dozen red-light cycles. He didn’t walk away from one empty-handed.
Bogel does not consider himself a professional street performer: “Maybe a professional traffic-light artist.”
Whatever he calls it, the short shows he’s perfected over the last two weeks are chipping away at his sudden loss of income. He doesn’t see his old job, cleaning up after festivals, returning.
“It’s looking like it’s not coming back any time soon, which is fine,” he said. “I would be hesitant to go there anyway.”