I Didn’t Forget How

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February 15, 2008
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It was 32 degrees (with a promise of a high of 39) when I left my house this morning to go play in the subway. I could see my breath in the air, and as I was walking towards the subway station I thought “do I remember how to busk?”
You see, I was overseas for a month, and even though I’ve performed at 3 concerts while away, stage performing is so different from street performing, that I felt as if I might have forgotten the art of busking…
I lugged my busking gear up the first two flights of stairs to the subway station. Some guys passed me by but didn’t offer to land a hand. Then when I got to the 3rd flight of stairs a nice gentleman offered to help. At the top of the 4th flight of stairs (it’s quite a workout getting to the platform of an elevated train) he said “wait, aren’t you the one who plays the…” and he mimed playing a musical saw. “Yes, I am” I said. “Nice to meet you!” he said.
Wow, even after a whole month away I’m not forgotten!

stairs in subway

When I got to the Union Square subway station there was a Chinese lady on the platform, banging on a metal and wood thing, producing two tones over and over and over…

Nobody was at the Music Under New York spot. Two policemen were hovering by. The MUNY hooks for hanging the permit banner were above the ‘Union Square’ tile sign. I like the sign to show (it makes for better photos when people take my picture :) ) so I put my own hooks below the sign.
It was cold. Setting up I realized I forgot my CDs’ sign. I’m out of practice… On the wall behind me there were huge black advertisements saying: “Zig. Zag.”. I have no idea what it is advertising.

Advertisement on wall behind me

11:45am. Some tourists were sitting on the bench near my spot. One of them was pointing a video camera at me. I was about to start playing my first song after being away from the subway for a whole month. I was a bit nervous.

A girl asked me where I was from. She was from Columbia. She said “my mother told me to find you and buy your CD”. I asked her to give my regards to her mother.

One of the tourists sitting on the bench gave me a brochure. It turned out they were from England and they run a fantastic space for the arts called Media Shed.

By 12:10 I realized all was well – I didn’t forget how to busk, and my whole body felt like it was smiling. It felt like NYC was giving me a Valentine.

Three teen-agers thought the sound of my playing was not real, but rather a recording coming out of my CD player. I asked them how much they are willing to bet. One kid showed me a $20 bill. I turned off my amp and disconnected my CD player, then proceeded to play. The kids immediately realized they were wrong. I told the kid he can keep his $20 but that next time he should believe.

Three Nortenos carrying a bass, accordion and guitar walked by and greeted me hello.


The guy who does street art came to say ‘hi’. He wasn’t carrying his usual huge canvas. He explained that when it’s windy it’s impossible to handle the big canvas, so on days like this he sells painted ball caps. He was on his way up-stairs to the Union Square park.

1:30 – a lady pushing a cart full of cinnamon sticks went down to the platform.

A guy with a girl carrying a guitar stopped to listen to a song. The guy told me that 8 years ago he worked with the Barnum & Bailey circus where there was a lady clown who played the musical saw in her act.

It’s Valentine’s Day – people walked by carrying red and pink flowers and balloons. Nice. I love playing in the subway on holidays – you get to really feel the holiday atmosphere.

Valentine's Day

It was good to see my old subway friends again – Albert the messenger guy who always claps his hands after each piece I play, Luan the refugee from Yugoslavia who is now studying business, and the guy who loves Bach music. Since I know he likes classical music, I invited the “Bach guy” to my concert at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, which will take place on April 26th. He then said to me that this is a date that is easy for him to remember – that is a week before his birthday and that is also the time his father was killed, when he was 10 years old. He said every year he looks for something to do at that time to escape the sorrow, and that my concert would be the perfect thing.

At 3:20 I handed over the spot to an old-timey band named ‘Baby Soda’: 5 guys playing washboard, “wash tub” bass with a wooden resonating base, guitar, accordion and banjo. These guys are from Brooklyn and they usually play in the subway at night, but today was an exception. The accordion guy said he used to play solo in the subway, but prefers to have the band with him.

Baby Soda

On the platform below a guy was banging on four buckets. On the opposite platform further up Elia Radu was playing the accordion.
New York City as usual. It’s good to be back.

Elia Radu


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