Thanksgiving Day at the Times Square Subway Station
When I got to the Music Under New York spot at the Times Square subway station at 11:30 this morning, there were two police officers standing right at the spot, one of them with a police dog. There was yellow police tape and police barriers blocking the way to the escalators. As I showed the cop with the dog my MUNY permit for the spot, a guy wanted to pat the dog. The cop shooed him away, saying to me: “they don’t even ask me if it’s allowed!”.
A guy ducked to go under the yellow police tape. The cop caught him, saying “see this tape? It’s here for a reason!”
The cop was really nice. He told me that this is his first time at this location. He also said that I can’t play there just yet, even though I have a permit. The Thanksgiving Day parade will be over in 1/2 an hour and then his boss (the sergeant) will be by. He would have to run my permit by the sergeant, because before there was a busker on the lower mezzanine and they had to throw him out.
As I stood by, waiting to be allowed to set up and play, I saw people wearing pink, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tiaras. I also saw the first two people wearing a Santa hat this year.
I was amazed how many people tried to ignore the police tape, or they would ask the police if they may pass by it (all were refused, except for an elderly gentleman who walked with a cane).
The nice cop was posing for photos with tourists who wanted a souvenir from the NYPD and the cute police dog. The dog was jumping on the cop and hugging his leg. It seemed like the cop and the dog have a great bond.
Three guys with bongo drums and chairs came to check out the spot. One of them greeted me and told me that today he is playing with his family on the trains.
A group of hip-hop dancers hovered by the railing, coveting the spot, too. I was glad the cops were there…
The bongo drum guys went into the music store. The owner of the store came out and asked the cops to get the bongo guys out, which they did. The bongo guys then tried to set up in the middle of the mezzanine, but a different pair of cops shooed them away.
I asked the nice cop if it was legal for the store to blast out music so loudly. He said he didn’t know and asked the other cop. The other cop said the store always blasts music, and that since they are a store and they pay rent, they can have music inside the store. They were not going to do anything about the sound leaking out of the store so loudly, but the nice cop suggested that I ask the store owner nicely to turn the volume down. I did, and they turned it down for a short while, but then cranked it up again…
Frank, the guitar player/singer/whistler was trying to find a spot. He had been playing at his usual spot on the 1/2/3 platform, but a tall Chinese guy was playing the dulcimer really loudly there. So loudly, that the police told him to go away, but he didn’t… Frank then tried the N/R/W platform, but because he is wearing an MTA hat, 15 different tourists asked him for directions, thus preventing him from playing. So, he was relocating his busking act once again.
Barry and the acapela singers greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving” as they went by.
At 3:40 Wayne and his break-dance group showed up for their permitted time slot at the spot. They told me they were excited to have seen me on TV.
At 3:55 I played my last song for the day: every year at the end of my Thanksgiving Day busking session I play ‘Silent Night’, acapela, for the first time in the year. This is just for me, to signify the beginning of the Christmas season.
As soon as Wayne and his group set up, a cop shut them down, despite the fact that they have a permit! Wayne said he will file a civil complaint against the cop. He said he never wanted to go that rout, but that he will this time. He got the cop’s badge number. One of the guys in the group told me that the reason the cop gave for shutting them down was that there was another hip-hop dance group there previously, who were not permitted, and they gave people a hard time. So, because of them, the cops are now shutting down Wayne’s group, even though they are permitted…
Photographer: © Rachel S. Geylin
Barry, one of the acapella guys who sing on the trains, came back to see me after his group was done singing for the day. He told me that he is worried about Heidi Berger, the singer/song-writer – she hasn’t been seen in a month, nor does she answer her phone or return messages. I told Barry that I MySpaced Heidi a while back and she didn’t reply…
Barry told me that his mother, who is 85 years old, had a stroke and she is in the hospital. He has to take four buses to get to the hospital to see her. He is worried that they don’t treat her well at the hospital – they had her not eating for two days now, and they don’t let her move. He has to get her to shift positions so that she doesn’t loose her mobility.
I had endured three and a half hours of battling the record store, playing against their loud music and their video screens which lure people to stand with their backs to the busking spot. This spot today is all about how loud you can be. It’s not fun because I have to sacrifice quality for loudness. But we can’t give in to the harassment from the store and loose what has been the most prominent busking spot in NYC for the past 20 years.