Busking may not be the most glamorous way to make a living, but one thing's for sure - one never gets bored! And I've certainly had my fair share of (mis)adventures...
It can be pretty grueling to play the same 30-40 songs on repeat day after day for pocket change, if anything at all. And there's hardly anything more discouraging than pouring your heart and soul into your work for a car-ful of commuters who don't look at you, much less donate anything.
But a single word of encouragement ("keep it up" or "nice voice" or "that was a beautiful song"), a single smile, a single applause can turn my entire day around.
I was riding a Manhattan-bound E train when a man began requesting artists. I didn't know the first two or three. Then he asked, "Billy Joel? The Beatles?" Now we were getting somewhere, I played Piano Man and Yesterday as per his request. Everyone on the train applauded. As I played another song or two, it felt very much like a concert. The crowd tipped well =)
On another occasion, a woman applauded for a song I'd played; caught off guard by her reaction, I wheeled around and thanked her.
"No, thank YOU. I really needed to hear that."
THIS IS WHY I DO WHAT I DO! I could busk all day and night on the fuel I get from others' positivity. Symbiosis at its best.
As for the negative energy, I don't even entertain it.
I stepped onto a train car at 34th street and one not-so-gentle-man grumbled loudly, storming off to the other end of the car. He didn't say anything directly to me but was clearly very upset with me for some reason. Again, I pulled out the Flaming Lips tune Do You Realize, as the first line continues "...that you have the most beautiful face." And I meant it.
The man exited the car at Bryant Park. I continued the song. Apparently he had only switched cars there because he again made an appearance at Rockefeller Center. He made a concerted effort to appear in the doorway window after the doors were closed and walk in step with the train so that his profile and middle finger could clearly be seen as the train rolled away. I ran up to the window with a gentle smile and held up a V for VICTORY because peace always wins.
One must be careful busking in NYC, especially on the trains, because it is very much frowned upon (the word illegal comes to mind). Still, most police officers will turn a blind eye.
I stepped off a B train at DeKalb Ave in Brooklyn, directly in front of a police officer. I pretended not to have seen him and inconspicuously made my way to the next car. I heard him call me from behind, "Hey."
I continued. He called again. How long could I feign deafness?
I looked back with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights, "who, me?" expression.
"You know you're not supposed to be here."
It was true. I nodded.
"You need to be more careful. If you look down there," he pointed over my shoulder and I turned to see a dozen police patrolling the platform, "you'll see my lieutenant. If HE saw you, he would make sure you didn't leave here without a summons. Do you have any ID?"
He wrote down my name and asked for my New York address (I still use my Florida driver's license). He didn't even write it down! The whole procedure seemed very unofficial. He then let me go without a ticket or even so much as a reproach! I walked onto the next car and continued my day of busking.
Anyone who rides the trains often is prone to see homeless people. Often. Having a heart for the homeless, it pains me to see them sleeping on the trains. I know they have nowhere else to go. There was one night that I saw a black man sleeping on the train. He sat in the middle of three seats with large black plastic bags on either side. I first noticed about him that his clothes were incredibly ragged and that his short pepper-colored hair was already dreading. He must have smelled to high heaven because people were keeping a real safe distance. I stood just across the aisle from him, poised in the opposite doorway.
I began playing Mr Tambourine Man, an ode to my brother sleeping on the train before me. I saw that his clothes were not just ragged - his pants were torn from the cuff all the way to the groin. I saw that his ankles were so ashy they appeared to be covered in a chalky powder. His socks, which were supposed to be white, were dark with dirt and soot. Finally I noticed that his penis hung out as well. This man was not well-prepared for New York City winter.
My heart was broken as I assumed the role of Tambourine Man, hoping he could say that in his dreams I accomplished everything that Dylan wanted from his muse:
Take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow...
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.