LYNNWOOD — He’s the guy rocking out with a guitar by the side of the road.
Bushy beard. Leathery face. Toothless grin.
He may sleep in the woods and bathe in a creek, but that doesn’t stop Jim Morris from twisting and shaking like a rock star.
“ ‘Wolfman Jim,’ that’s what they call me,” he said, his gravelly voice punctuated by a raspy, repetitive laugh. “I’m an entertainer. I’m an icon.”
Morris, 57, has been playing his guitar for handouts along busy roads in Lynnwood for seven years. He’s a fixture for travelers along Highway 99 and 164th Street SW.
“Attention. That’s what I like,” Morris said. “I want to be the center of attention. I’ve been wanting to be an entertainer since I was a little kid. Now I am. Except I don’t got no mansion in Beverly Hills.”
Again, there’s that laugh.
His campsite is deep in the woods off Ash Way, a short commute to his current corner on 164th near the Chevron gas station.
Morris shuns the use of a cardboard sign to solicit. “Everybody does that,” he said. “An ‘I’m homeless’ sign, that’s so old.”
The way he sees it, he’s not begging, he’s performing. “I’m giving the people something for their money,” he said.
“Jim makes more money than I do,” said Matt Mighell, a buddy who holds a sign on a nearby freeway off-ramp. “Everybody knows him. When I walk down the street with him people come up and hand him money. Little kids hang out the side of the school bus yelling ‘Jimbo.’ ”
Chevron worker Tony Azar calls Morris “a personality.”
“He’s good. He doesn’t bother people,” Azar said.
Morris said peak earning time is around noon.
“In the morning they’re in a bad mood going to work. During rush hour, they’re not happy either,” he said. “I’ve had days I made a dollar out there. I mostly buy food, beer, cigarettes, batteries. I go buy a 10 dollar sack of weed if I have extra money.”
Morris doesn’t make excuses for how he lives or what led to being homeless after years of scraping by doing odd jobs around the Pacific Northwest. He has a daughter he hasn’t seen for years.
“I didn’t pay child support,” he said. “I was a heavy drinker. I quit the hard liquor because I got tired of waking up in jail, tied to a chair. I guess I got pretty ornery.”
Court records confirm his checkered past.
He’s been kicked off a few street corners. “I get a little overzealous,” Morris said.
His callused, nicotine-stained fingers sweep over the strings to make an upbeat melody. He works the audience, a captive crowd of motorists jammed in the gridlock.
He prances along the curb, flashes a double peace sign and chats up those within earshot.
“Rubicon, what’s up, girl?” he calls to a stern woman in an open Jeep with Rubicon emblazoned on the side. She keeps her lips pursed and her eyes ahead.
“See, she’s not happy. She’s got a nice car,” Morris said. “It’s hard to say what would make her smile. That’s the challenge for me, to make them smile. The thing about it is, if I’m this happy living in a tent in the woods, then they should be as happy as me. They have cars and homes. The least you can do is be as happy as me. But they aren’t. Hell, no matter how bad your day is, smile. If you see me, just smile. Just give me a smile.”
And a few dollars.
He darts into stopped traffic to accept a dollar bill from a passenger in a Nissan SUV in the middle lane, then scurries between other cars in hopes others want to give, but no such luck. A guy in an old Honda Accord snaps a cell picture. Morris poses, but doesn’t hold out his hand for money.
“It’s publicity,” he said.
Dogs in passing cars bark at him. Some people roll up their windows or clutch their handbags.
“When people grab their kids and go, ‘Don’t look at him,’ that kind of upsets me,” Morris said. “I’ve been spit on.”
No laugh this time.
He’d rather talk about the kindness of strangers.
“One time a state trooper pulled over in the wintertime and gave me a Starbucks cup of coffee. I’ve had delivery guys give me some pizza. Every once in a while I get people who are, ‘Hop on in,’ ” he said.
In December, he dons a Santa suit. “One time during Christmas a lady handed me 600 bucks. I bought myself a Christmas present.”
That present is his lifeline. It’s the Yamaha guitar around his neck.
“Even through the rough parts, learning to live in the woods and the winters, I get to play guitar all day,” he said. “I’ve got some music that people might be interested in. Not just anybody. Somebody with prominent status.”
Some strangers take more than a passing interest.
Kat Huppert, 48, a mortgage loan processor from Edmonds, takes him food and toiletries.
“My friend Sandra and I saw him about six years ago. He entertained us. I said, ‘Let’s go back and give him a sandwich or something,’ ” Huppert said. “So we started asking what he needed. We got to know him. A lot of times he’ll say, ‘I’m good.’ He doesn’t ask for much.”
She also takes him places.
“We took him to a Chinese restaurant. He has great manners,” she said. “I’m not afraid to take him anywhere. I’m not ashamed. I’ve had him at my house for Thanksgiving.”
He uses her address for mail.
Morris said a homeless friend occasionally gets a motel room and invites him to sleep on a real bed and take a real bath. It’s nice, but it’s not home.
“I got a creek going through there. In the summer I use the creek. I got the whole place to myself, I don’t want anybody else. They got those other camps around with these youngins and stuff doing that heroin,” Morris said.
“It has been a hard road. The first two winters I was freezing my buns off. Over the years people gave me blankets and sleeping bags. I’ve got a radio. I try to keep in touch somehow with the regular world out there. I’m getting old. I just want to live another day.”
— Andrea Brown (@reporterbrown) August 31, 2015