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  • Ruth Walker

Naked Cowboy is still strumming


All photographs: Denice Flores Almendares

“It's day 54 since they declared a national emergency, and I’ve been here every single day.”

While the rest of us have been working from home, growing fat, lazy, and unflattering mullets, Robert John Burck, better known as the Naked Cowboy, has been showing up at the “office” – in trademark underpants and boots – to do what he's been doing for the best part of 21 years.


“I love it,” he said when we spoke last week. “It's been amazing. And I can't wait. I'm excited to get out there in the sun, get my vitamin D, clean my lungs, drink my Clorox, and keep moving.”


Every day, he drives from his home and parks in a garage in Times Square. “No-one’s touching my stuff,” he says. “I have the hand sanitizer, I wear a mask out there. I wear a mask when I go to the 7-Eleven. That's the only other place I've been in 54 days – 7-Eleven, Times Square, and my own apartment.” He runs in the morning, and works out in his garage.

"Oddly enough, going out in my underwear, boots, and hat keeps me sane."

Why does he do it? Why, when the world’s tourists have deserted Times Square and the city’s residents are tucked up at home making sourdough starters, does he still show up every day, regardless of the weather or the empty streets?


“Well, why does the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have a valiant soldier walking back and forth all day in the rain, snow, and shine with nobody even looking at him? It's respect.


“I've been in Times Square every single day for almost 21 years. It's what I do. It's my ritual, it's my routine. Oddly enough, going out in my underwear, boots, and hat keeps me sane.”


He’s reduced his shift to just three hours, during which time, he said: “I probably have a thousand people drive by and honk their horns. I'm making muscles. I'm having pictures taking from a distance. I got [interviewed by] the Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Post. I've gotten every news outlet across the entire world for 50 days – more than I've ever gotten news in my entire life – because of the spirit of that.


“When I got here 20 years ago I was a big success. Then you had all the characters come in, and the place kind of got awash with all kinds of other entertainment because they made it a pedestrian mall. This kind of got rid of all the riffraff.


“I mean, in many respects this has been the greatest boon of my career, because I got the opportunity to stand out.


“I understand that there's a virus and it's prudent to stay home,” he added. “But in my particular instance, it was an opportunity to show the New York City spirit.”


Who’s there to benefit? “Nurses,” he said. “I see nurses all day long. Hundreds at a time. I, of course, say, ‘Thanks for your service.’ With everything that's going on, I cheer them up. They take pictures – selfies – from a few feet away, and they're smiling.


“I don't want to minimize that people are suffering,” he added. “But I always try to make the most of whatever's going on … and be impervious to the world, and project positivity into the world. So, even in a catastrophic situation like this, I’ve found a way to keep working on my passion and doing stuff. My message with anybody else will be the same. You just got to keep doing what you do and in the way you can, respecting the situation. And if you keep up on your skills and keep up on your motivation, when it's all over, you'll be better than you were.


“I say, God did a spring cleaning all over the world. Everybody has to go home, think about what they're going to do with the rest of their life for a while, and then get back out and start all over. You have to reassess your values in a time like this.”


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