Veteran Marine strums guitar for smiles in Pa.
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — He sits in his motorized wheelchair, strumming one of his 25 or so guitars and watches the world go by, hoping to put a smile on at least one person's face.
Greg Predmore, 48, a disabled veteran of Desert Storm, plays the blues, but never sings the blues. Despite having several reasons to be down on life, Predmore's combative spirit gets him through each day in a style filled with optimism and good will.
He has become a significant part of the fabric of downtown Wilkes-Barre, which is still struggling to return to its glory days. But Predmore tries to contribute to the downtown's resurgence in a positive way that people have become accustomed to.
"Life is a journey, not a guided tour," Predmore said between riffs on "Amy," one of his 25 guitars named after women he has known or dated. "My goal every day is to make somebody smile."
On this dreary Thursday, Predmore accomplished his goal many times over as downtown workers and visitors walked by, saying hello and smiling at downtown's best known street musician.
Predmore's journey has taken a few turns — some he will talk about, others he just smiles and says, "Let's let that pass."
Predmore was a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marines, and he was deployed during Desert Storm. But he won't say exactly where what happened to him happened. All he would say was this:
"The guy in front of me got blown up. What didn't hit him or went through him, hit me. And here I am."
The other soldier died, and Predmore said he saw a lot of death during his time in the military. He carries those images with him every day as well.
Shrapnel hit Predmore hard. He can't walk and his arms show the deep scars of war. He says his right hand — the one he picks and strums with — is numb, but playing the guitar has given him back movement and dexterity. Sort of a self-taught musical therapy.
So when he's not at the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center getting treatment or fighting for it, Predmore doles out pieces of songs he can remember — he admits his memory is not what it used to be — to an appreciative pedestrian public that usually hears just a few bars of his rhythm and blues.
"I wanted to stay in the Marines," he said. "But they have this thing about Marines who can't walk."
Humor from a soldier who manages to smile through the difficult parts of his life's journey. He enlisted in the Marines at 17 on the day after his high school graduation.
"I have no regrets," he said. "Nobody forced me to sign the contract."
Predmore has never played in a band. The closest he has come to that has been when other local street players stop and jam with him. They sit and strum with him, making downtown music for hours at a time.
"I just play whatever comes to mind at the time," he said. "I can't remember most of the songs I used to play."
Predmore has lived in Indiana and New Hampshire, but he really likes Wilkes-Barre. He calls it his home.
"It's a nice city," he said. "The people are friendly. Some offer to buy me a soda. There are a lot of good people here."
Except for the two women he saw fighting the other day. That scene was difficult for Predmore to witness. And there are others who have been less than kind, like the two college kids he said spit on him, or the homeless person who kicked his tip cup down the sidewalk.
"You're going to have some downs with every up," he said.
Predmore said people notice his scars. They run the length of his arm.
"When people ask to compare scars, I always win," he said.
Laura Adams has been Predmore's girlfriend for two years. They share an apartment and they share their lives. Adams said Predmore is "a character," but she said his guitar playing keeps him going.
"He looks forward to the interaction with people," she said. "It's good for him physically, mentally and socially. It gets him out of the house and into the world."
Predmore said his parents live in Jim Thorpe and he talks to them on a weekly basis. A brother, he said, is struggling and they don't talk.
Predmore found out in 2005 that he had a daughter. He was so moved by the news, he relocated to Indianapolis to be near her. They spoke for two hours. The next day, his daughter disappeared and the two have not talked since.
He returned to Wilkes-Barre — his home — where for three days a week, five or six hours each day, Predmore performs for whomever will listen.
"I don't play for the money," he said. "I play for maybe an hour and I talk for five hours."
Predmore watches people. He especially likes senior citizens who walk hand in hand.
"I like to see them still in love after so many years," Predmore said. "I remember faces, but not names. I like to hear the comments."
Predmore says playing the blues is music without a net. Ashley Caruthers works at Bottleneck's. She said she will bring her guitar one day and jam with Predmore.
"He brings a smile to my face every day I see him," she said. "Just seeing him here playing his guitar has a positive effect on everybody."
Predmore said he's an atheist. He won't talk much about it, but he said death scares the hell out of him.
"I don't believe in God, but when I die, it would be really neat if there was a God waiting to meet me," he said.
Predmore said he's been through a lot and has learned much.
"But I don't think I know everything I should at this point in my life," he said.
He said people ask if he is OK with his injuries.
"What choice do I have," he said. "I love my city and its people. I hope I'm appreciated not just for my music, but for my service to my country. I'm glad I came downtown today even though the weather was gloomy. Maybe my being here will brighten everyone's day."