Jun 29, 2005

random acts of humanity

Every now and again something happens in New York that I don't have a name for. It doesn't happen that often. When it does it's quite a spectacle to watch. If you've ever seen The Fisher King with Robin Williams you'll remember a scene in Grand Central Station. I'm convinced that this scene is a way of paying respects to this event. Let me set the stage.

Summer has arrived in New York. The heat and humidity are something akin to my days back in Minnesota but my constitution has flagged dramatically since those days. The absolute worst place to be in this kind of weather is in the subway. It can be stifling. Not to mention the aromas that come alive under that kind of heat and the sweltering vapor transport that spreads the love around.

To compound matters it's a work day. People are in suits and ties. Carrying heavy bags filled with stacks of reports and laptops. Everyone is tired and anxious to get home. You try to move slowly to the station to keep your body temperature at a minimum. If you are lucky, the moving cars above you happen to be aligned perfectly to send a few puffs of polluted air down the grates to cool you off a bit. You face the breeze to maximize the cooling. You feel drops of perspiration collect on your back and slowly make their way down the small. You wonder how long before large patches of sweat announce to everyone, "Hey! I'm a little ripe."

To make matters even worse this happens to be present day New York where the subway is deep in debt. Random fires are starting in the subways. Trains are dirtier than they used to be. And on this particular day your F train is curiously missing from what you guess to be it's time slot for arrival. In fact 3 or 4 trains seem to have taken the day off and gone out for a drink.

Meanwhile next to you a man takes his hat off, puts it on the floor, and slings a guitar over his shoulder. "Oh God what is he going to play?", you think to yourself. "What unbearable song am I going to have to put up with for the next 5 minutes."

And then something strange happens. I see it about once a month.

The man is in his late 20s. African American. Well dressed. Especially considering the heat. If he wasn't playing in the subway you would just think he was any other person that you see walking on the streets. And so he begins.

"How Deep is Your Love?" by the Bee Gees. You think you are going to scream. But about 10 seconds in you realize this guy is good. Really good. I'm thinking to myself, "Now...why did I hate this song so much?". You notice people around you too. A few non-chalantly look over at the man. A young man next to me starts tapping his toes and bobbing his head. People start swaying. A lady to my left turns around and faces him. She has a very perplexed look on her face. She's mumbling the lyrics under her breath. She's very confused. The singer knows exactly what the problem is. He's probably seen this before. The song is played so well, and he's adding such interesting guitar embellishments to the song, that she just doesn't know what song it is. It's driving her crazy. He pulls back from singing and just plays the guitar.

"The band name begins with a B". She stares at him. Nothing. People are watching the conversation. "The band's first name is Beeeeeeeeee," he draws out. Nothing. "Beeeeeeeee." A moment goes by and then it slowly dawns on her. He starts singing again. She smiles. The song ends and unlike the normal silence two or three people start clapping. He moves into the next song.

It's at this point that I have no memory of what song he was playing. But after he sang the first refrain he looks back at the lady he was talking to and notices she's lip synching with him. I'm not sure what he did but on cue he stopped singing and she picked up. After a little confidence was gained from the fact that no one was laughing, she sang a little louder. People now fully turned around to see what was going on. A few more started tapping their toes. A few more started bobbing their heads. Others started lip synching as if they wanted him to pull them out of the crowd to join in. The whole section of subway I was in was smiling and dancing and enjoying themselves.

As the song came to a close both trains coincidentally pulled into the station. Most people started clapping as the song ended. A few "Wooo Hooo"s. The lady ran up and gave the man a hug. A huge smile on her face. She quickly backtracked to get into her train car. People ran over to place money in his hat and then ran to get into their train cars. In a matter of seconds the station was emptied and quiet. The doors closed. Inside everyone was hot again. Expressionless faces. No one looking at anyone. I glanced outside. The man was standing looking down into his hat with a smile on his face. He had made 100 friends in a few minutes and now they were all gone.

And like that... it was over.

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