So over the past few weeks, in my existential despair, I've been telling myself I'll just go back to busking. Finally on Monday this week, I made good on that promise. I snuck out of the apartment with my guitar around 10 pm and took the A train down to Times Square.
If there's a part of New York City that really never sleeps, that's it.
I opened my guitar case between two entrances to the uptown A train platform and started singing some songs of olde; but not five minutes into my set, one of New York's so-called finest approached and calmly told me I couldn't play there.
This has happened to me many times in the past, and in such circumstances, I've quietly succumbed to police authority and "moved on". But this time, I knew that the actual law (the MTA code of conduct) was on my side. So despite my inward rage, I asked with measured calm, "why?"
His demeanor changed in an instant. I was not obediently following his every whim and he was suddenly, as the kids say, very much butt-hurt.
"Because I said you can't play here."
"But the MTA code of conduct explicitly states that I am allowed to play here," I said, picking up the pamphlet which was conveniently waiting in my guitar case for exactly some such scenario. I proceeded to recite:
The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules... artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations.
I was sure that I was not in the way. There was plenty of room around me for folks to maneuver. I called his bullshit and simply said, "I'm here trying to make my rent and I know that I am permitted to play right here where I am. If you want to arrest me, I'll be glad to sue the city and make my rent that way."
I was not backing down. And what's worse, I was totally 100% in the right.
He told me to hold on and moved a few steps away, looking at his cell phone; I started playing another song. After a couple minutes, I watched him quietly walk away without another word. And he never returned.
This incident made me wonder whether the police officer was aware of the rules himself. And it made me very grateful that I had a copy of the code of conduct, which is no easy task to procure! (Thanks are due here to Busk NY, who have worked hard to legitimize busking in New York City and have distributed these MTA pamphlets to scores of subway performers such as myself).
I proceeded to play for a couple hours. Several other police officers passed me by throughout that time but didn't bother to approach me. Then around 1 am, the MTA maintenance crew began pressure hosing the floors and it became too noisy for me, so I packed up and headed home.
On Tuesday, I performed in the tunnel walkway at the 190th street A train station and yesterday at the 168th street station in Washington Heights. I'm getting into the swing of things again and I think it's fair to say that -- as the subject of this missive suggests -- I'm back to busking.
Please help spread the word -- busking is legal on train cars and platforms!
Then support your friendly subway performer. Cheers!