Friday, August 31, 2007

Subway Stories

I think I want to start a new thread about what all I see on the Subway. I'm on the subway a lot, cuz I don't drive. Not "I don't drive cuz I don't have a car"... more like "I don't drive cuz I don't know how, and its' highly likely I ever will. I even let my permit expire and they're good for like 7 years."

I have become quite proud of the fact that I can get most anywhere in the Big Apple and various far-flung reaches thereof, all on public transportation. Most times it takes me 2-3 times longer than people who drive, though sometimes not--seeing as how the traffic in the Apple is not to be believed. And getting worse every day.

One of my favorite things about the Apple and it's subway system is the music. Virtually all big "hub" stations in the Apple will have some performer in them. Singers, dancers, drummers, guitar players. Some good. Some god-awful. And like the city they perform in, the performers are all very diverse. The performers tend to represent the neighborhood of the station they've chosen as their stage.

You won't see the guy who plays the Asian lute-like instrument on 'Two-Five, for example. He mostly stays on the platform of the train that goes to Flushing, Queens where the Koreans live. Nor will you see the badly-playing-Jimmy Hendrix dude uptown. He sticks to the Chelsea area. And even though this kind of music tends to be universal, the soul-brother singers all tend to stay uptown.

There are of course, the "roving" performers who tend to pick a line and stay on it; the Tejano Trio who I only see on the east side with their two guitars and an upright bass. Cowboy boots and white Stetsons complete the look. (Used to be "El Barrio" was all Puerto Rican, but they have all moved up and into gated communities in the Pennsylvanian mountains, and the Mexicans have taken over). Then there's the conga-playing brothers who stick to the 2, 3 line through Harlem. But often there's a few steady regulars that pick one station and do regular shows.

There are two such performers that frequent 'Two-Five on the IRT 4,5,6. One is a rusty-looking group of rag-tag-homeless-shelter-looking brothers--4 or 5 of them--who when they open their mouths have the most amazing do-wop harmony you've ever heard. And there's another old dude who sings nothing but Stax/Volt type stuff, with some Temptations thrown in.

The latter was the featured performer on East 'Two-Five yesterday. I met the Sun in the train station (his Nana brought him) so that we could start that foolhardy trek to Yonkers to the dojo. The old brother was in rare form, except for a few seriously flat notes. On the whole, he has an amazing voice... with no mic he belts over pre-recorded tracks and you hear him all along the platform. His voice doesn't match his looks; he looks like he's seen better days. But man he can sing.

Yesterday he was singing Sam Cooke when we got to the platform: "I was born by the river in a little shack/Oh and just like the river I been a runnin' ever since/It's been a long, a long time coming/ but I know/A change gon' come oh yes it will..."

The rush hour crowd paused to listen. Someone dropped some change into his hat.

He broke into Jackie Wilson: "Shooby Doo Wop bop bop (hey hey)/Shooby Doo Wop bop bop (hey hey)..."

The crowd started smiling in approval. The old Puerto Rican dude said something in Spanish and smiled. A lady started dancing. The singer got up off his seat and started dancing with her, still singing.

"Come Home, Come Home/Just Say You Will/Say You Will..."

"I will!" the dancing lady shrieked. "I will!!!" People started laughing. The singer jumped and did his best Jackie Wilson pirouette. You wouldna' thought he was capable.

Our train was coming... the singer fast-forwarded his CD and the beginning bass line "dum dum dum dum dum dum-dum dum-dum-dum" and the chorus of"oooooooooh, ooh ooh...." started. "Each day through my window/I watch her as she passes by....." The Temptations, "Just my 'magination." The crowd moaned it's enthusiasm.

The Sun and I boarded the train....

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