Train Panhandler Retired to Florida


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November 9, 2008
By Posted in Union Square Subway Station | No Comments »

Nobody was playing at the Music Under NY busking spot at 14th street when I got there. As I was setting up my busking gear a European sounding lady asked me: “sorry, can you tell me the time, please?” Immediately after that two Japanese ladies asked me how to get to the ‘L’ train. I’m an information center :)

A little girl told me it’s her birthday today. She is 4 years old. So, I played ‘Happy Birthday’ for her.

A lady from Argentina bought my CD. I told her that 100 years ago, in the history of the musical saw, Argentina saw players were an important part of the art form. She told me that today in Argentina she never heard any musical saw playing.

Saw Lady at Union Square
Photographer: © Shawn Grimes

A very short lady with a deformed body who used to beg on the trains came to say ‘hi’. This was a huge surprise for me, because I haven’t seen her for a couple of years and I thought she was dead… She was arrested for panhandling a number of times and she had a heart attach back then. She looked very bad the last time I saw her. Turns out she lives in Florida now. She has family there. She’s visiting NYC for a month. She looks really good and her health is good now. She said she is not working the trains while she is here – she is just walking around.

Guy: “Where have you been?”
Saw Lady: “I’ve been away for a while”.
Guy: “You’ve been away a LONG while”.
Saw Lady: “It’s good to be back”.
Guy: “See you around”.
OK – people notice when I’m here, that’s nice; But they even notice when I am NOT here! That is really wild.

A guy carrying a saxophone case stood at attention in front of me and saluted, as he always does when he sees me.
An MTA track worker said I remind him of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (the sound track of this movie is full of the musical saw).

Ellen – a pianist who plays in the subway on the west side told me she doesn’t do well on the east side. She wants me to play at her church in NJ. She said her church, which is music & dance based, is on the shore and has a Manhattan view.

Saw Lady at Union Square by Emilio Mercado
Photographer: © Emilio Mercado

A guy told me he remembers me playing ‘It Had to Be You’ followed by ‘The Swan’. I told him that must have been many years ago since I haven’t played ‘It Had to Be You’ in years. When people tell me they have seen me before, I can tell when that was by the music they remember me playing. I played ‘The Swan’ for this guy and he sang along with my playing – I was amazed that he had lyrics to both ‘The Swan’ and to ‘Swan Lake’.

A guy told me he is from Argentina. Again I told him about Argentinean saw players. Just like the previous Argentinean person he hasn’t heard any musical saw playing in Argentina today.

A young MTA guy wearing a yellow & orange top placed what looked like three “music stands” without the top part, one next to each column in the mezzanine. Then he attached a transparent plastic tube to the top of each stand and connected them all with electric wires. Then he turned something on and noise came out. Now, I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff in the subway, but this got my curiosity. I asked the guy what he was doing. “Air sampling”, he said.

Natalia at Union Square
Photographer: © Aaron Porter

Two young ladies stopped to buy my CD. They sounded foreign so I asked where they were from. “Poland”, one of them said.
Saw Lady: “I just returned from Poland! I played in Warsaw, Krakow and at a little town called Bialystok”.
Lady: “I’m from Bialystok!”
What are the odds – such a small place! She is studying to be a teacher and a therapist in NYC.

Albert, the messenger, who has disappeared for a while and had other messengers and me worried about him, came to tell me what happened to him: he had a tumor in his neck and had it removed. He was in the hospital with no phone so he couldn’t let anybody know. I don’t understand why he didn’t tell his boss and his friend Arnold (another messenger I always see in the subway) about it before hand. The main thing is that Albert is feeling good now. He is back to work, running up and down stairs with no time to sit on the bench at Union Square like he used to when he worked for the messengering company which closed down.

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