The subway in New York is not just a means of transportation, it’s a travelling show. Entertainment on Rails.
There is so much people watching to be done, conversations to be listened into, madness to avoid. And there is always someone asking for cash. The entire city of New York is one giant hustle. If there is a buck to be made, there’ll be an enterprising New Yorker on the case. The last time we travelled overseas it was to Phuket and we expected to be harassed for money. I didn’t anticipate that it would be the same – if not worse, in New York.
Subway passengers are a captive audience. Hurtling along in a tin can, no way to escape at least until the doors open. Three times in the last two days we were treated to a Subway Spiel. The first time a shabbily dressed woman walked into the carriage and projected her voice across the carriage “Ladies and Gentleman, I am a struggling artist. If you can help me in anyway, if you have a dollar to spare. I am going to sing you a song by Sam Cooke”. She then took up position by the doors and belted out her tune with an impressive and soulful voice. It was an arresting performance. She had a lot of guts to get out there and sing from the heart. I gladly parted with a dollar bill.
Next we had a charitable cause. A man with a big tote bag announced his request “Ladies and Gentleman – most of you probably know me. I am here to feed the homeless and keep them warm. Any money you can spare – even a dime. Or if you have any food or warm clothes, I’ll take them with me and give them to those who need them. And if any of you are hungry or cold, let me know and I can help you out”. I was carrying a box of Dunkin Donuts. I thought about contributing a couple, but I wasn’t sure how well they’d fare in the tote bag. Phoebs wanted to give away the pink gloves that she’d bought from a street vendor yesterday, but missed her chance. However, we all had a few dollar bills that we wanted to give. As the man walked through the subway car shaking his cup, we all made a contribution.
But our favourite hustlers would have to be the dance crew. In direct defiance of the no ghetto blaster sign, a group of cool young guys hopped on the subway, briefly announced that they would be performing for cash, turned on the music – loud – and proceeded to cavort up and down the corridors. We loved it. Of course we’d pay for that! Especially when their sidekick holding out the hat was a gorgeous little kid. Three dollar bills. I need to make sure I always have change on the subway, there’s always more to pay for than your ride alone.