The Other Way
There was nobody at the Music Under New York spot at the Union Square subway station when I got there. A man was sleeping on the bench and another man was reading. On the opposite bench a lady was counting change.
The homeless guy with a hook hand asked me to play the theme from ‘Star Trek’ for him followed by his all time favorite ‘Over the Rainbow’. He told me that he remembers that he owes me $3. He also told me that he drinks too much.
Luan, the refugee from the former Yugoslavia, came to say ‘hi’. He just had his mid-term exams. I asked him how he feels he did and he said he doesn’t know how well he might have done but he thinks he passed. He said he remembers my coming concert at the Lincoln Center Library and that he will try to attend.
J. Keith, the host of the stage show ‘What’s My Line’, was down stairs on the platform and heard my sound. He knew it must be me, since I played on his show a couple of days ago, so he came up to see me.
Two Norteño guys wearing black hats passed by me on their way to the train. One had an accordion, the other a guitar.
Bo, Chill and Romero, the acapella singers who sing on trains, came to tell me they made business cards for their trio. They now have a name, too: ‘The Fellows’. Besides their names and phone numbers their card also says “Old School Singers”.
I was really tired this morning. At about 12:35 I felt a surge of energy and happiness. It was the energy from the people passing by, stopping to listen and to say a few words that picked me up. It always does, without fail. That’s why playing in the subway is so addictive.
The elevator from the downtown platform was receiving maintenance.
At 2pm Romero, the singer, returned, but this time he was with the guy who walks with a cane and a 3rd singing partner. He told me that Bo and Chill went home, but he’s still working, singing on the trains with this other acapella group. The third singer said he was just thinking of me today as he passed through the Times Square subway station. He was wondering where I was at since he used to see me there all the time and now he hasn’t seen me for a while. And there I was, at Union Square.
The homeless guy with a hook hand returned. He fell asleep on the bench.
I could hear the sound of an accordion drifting up from downstairs. This must mean that Ilie Radu showed up for his favorite spot to play at.
A guy asked me questions about the musical saw. When I said it is tiring to play the saw for a long period of time because I am constantly bending steel with my left hand, the guy asked me if I could play “the other way”. By that he meant holding the saw with my right hand while bowing with my left hand. He explained that Mickey Mentle and Babe Ruth could swing the bat both ways. He also said that a painter (I can’t remember his name) had a stroke and as a result he had to teach himself to paint with his other hand.
Photographer: © Aaron Porter
At 3pm I was done for the day. Albert, the messenger who passes through this station a lot, wanted me to play more. But guitarist Andy Friedberg (who plays jazz guitar and calls his act ‘New York Express’) showed up with a permit for the spot.
I told Albert and Andy how some guy gave me a fake $10 bill. Andy said people stole money from him – they snatched his donations box and ran.
Albert told me that the name of the homeless guy with the hook hand is John. I like how the subway is like a community – people who frequent it often (like people who work as messengers, musicians, homeless) know one another. Anyway, John was really drunk today. He was pretty wobbly when he left the station.
Photographer: © Aaron Porter
As I traveled back home the train passed 34th street. When the doors opened I saw a guy playing the erhu. At Times Square I could hear steel drums. Every station has its own musician providing the sound track to life as it passes them by.