Today was a lovely, almost Spring- like Saturday in NYC…the first all year in fact.
I made my way up to 59th on the Downtown A,C,E¬† and scoped out the platform. There was¬† a Four Piece jazz Band that was¬† just taking a break.
“How much longer do you think you guys’ll be?” I asked.
“We’re just taking a break here” the drummer answered as he leaned down to pick up some more of the ones he was steadily counting from the large, round drum case, “We’re just switchin’ bass players here” and he pointed to one bass player who was packing up and then to a second one who was wheeling his large upright bass around to slide into the recently vacated spot.
“Is it ok that I play behind the news stand? Will that bother you guys?”
“No, that should be ok – you won’t bother us none behind the newsstand”
“Thanks, you guys sound great”
I walked over past the newsstand and set up. I felt at home in the warmest of ways. “Finally, I’m back home. Finally, I’m back in my element. Finally I get to sing.”
I began in against the familiar hum of the trains, the clapping and ones flowed towards me. Then the Jazz band started up again. Break over I guess. Anyway, they were right, I did not bother them – but man did they me.
“Darn, I gotta pack up al this stuff, CD’s books, guitar etc”
Pack up I did and after scoping out the Uptown side and quickly realizing that jazz trumpets cut through even four rows of train tracks – I headed up to the 1 train.
As I ascended three flights of stairs to get to the landing that was the 1, my days underground suddenly flooded back as it hit me, “This was the very first spot I ever played underground in NYC…wow…time warp here”
As I was digesting the passage of time, I walked back and forth across the platform a few times to ‘feel’ the energy and decide where the best place was to set up. I stopped in a well, lit, open space in between two pillars. In front of me was a large expanse of platform, in back the same and side to side the landing sprawled out on either side. “This is is, this is where I feel good” I thought to myself as I leaned down to unpack.
Once again I set up, this time with lots of light to spotlight my stack of books and CD’s. The space felt wonderful. I began to play and the energy was bright, happy and the response was fabulous. Dollars were coming in fast and people were leaning down to check out The Subway Diaries. People walked from all ends of the large platform to drop dollars in my case and share with me a nod of approval.
One man was particularly interested¬† in the book and was pulling money out of his pocket while he listened to the tunes when I felt a light darkness at my right shoulder. I turned around and there were two Transit Cops sauntering toward me. My heart sank. “Damn! Not now, not again!”
“You have to move on, you know you can’t play on the platforms, right?”
I hate when they ask me this question ’cause legally I know the answer is, “You’re wrong, I can play on the platforms. I ‘m in America and there’s this First Amendment thing” but I always have to bite my tongue and play super ‘dumb’ instead. That in and of itself burns me up inside.
“What about the jazz band downstairs?” I asked wondering if any platform was safe in their eyes and kind of testing to see if they were just picking on me alone. “Or the trumpet player across the tracks there” I said as I pointed to the lone player visible through the rows of steel pillars.
“We’ll be getting to them next” the cop responded.
“hmmmm…” I thought to myself, we’ll see how true that ends up being. My bet is at this pace those other guys will be free and easy and sans any hassle.
The two cops stood there as I continued to pack up all my gear at which point the larger of the two said “Do you have an ID?”
omg – you’re kidding me? Now that I’ve spent ten minutes packing everything up, now you want my ID???? Once again, tongue biting time…”ummm, yeah, just minute…” And I proceeded to unpack everything all over again to reach my wallet. I handed two forms of ID to the cop and he said,, “You can follow me”
Down the stairs the three of us went. I had no idea when he said I had to move on that meant I was gonna get ‘kept’ – shit!
Into through the double glass doors flanked by Police insignias I was ushered.
This was really not lookin’ good. Damn, I’m in the Police Command Center at 59th Street/Columbus Circle. This is not at all how I’d planned out this day out.
Looking around, absolutely no one looked like me. There were cops, lots of ‘Wanted’ signs, a fake flower garden chock full of a wide variety of plastic flowers complete with a¬† tiny white picket fence (don’t ask, I have no idea…) and a bunch of smarmy looking guys in handcuffs spouting off things like, “Well, how’migonnapaymyrent?” Oh my God, what was this fake flower garden ting all about ? I mean honestly, were they expecting The Easter Bunny, Alice In Wonderland or Mr Rodgers’ toy train to suddenly race by? Even though I’d have much preferred a visit from Alice or The Bunny, the show remained the same in front of the oversized synthetic garden display; guys in handcuffs removing their shoes one by one with their feet and leery eyed cops, staring, staring…just staring at me.
As odd as it may seem, there actually was one similarity between the now shoeless, raggedy, handcuffed men and I. We were all wondering, now that we were being held in this place and obviously not ‘working’ (and I have zero clue what ‘working’ meant for them), how were we gonna pay our rent?.
Just as I was contemplating my strange connection to these random, now shoeless/beltless guys in handcuffs, and trying to avoid the overly flirty stare of the cop behind the tall, oversized desk, ( I think they make them that way just for the intimidation factor), I heard my name and noticed the two cops bent over a large computer monitor with my ID’s in hand.
Great, their checking to see if there’s a warrant out for my arrest. How I love this part..not!
Guess my last ticket payment got logged and nothing was found because within five minutes or so , the tall cop sat at a table and began to write on a thick notepad. I was hoping he was just writing¬† a ‘note to self’, but I know that ticket book by now and I knew what he was writing.¬† He asked me a few more questions, pointing out spelling errors on my ID’s – They always mess up Heidi, God knows how, but they do – then he walked over and handed me the pink part to what looked like a seven layer cake of a ticket.
On it I expected there to be a number, a fine, something digestable – but no, it said “SERVED” and the reason, “UNREASONABLE NOISE”.
Are you kidding me? Unreasonable Noise? It’s the NYC Subways for Christ’s sake – oil those screeching wheels on that “A” train – THEN talk to me about unreasonable noise., I thought to myself…
“So here’s the deal” The tall cop said, you have to go to this address in April…”
“April? April? Can’t I just pay something now and get it over with instead of waiting two months with this on my record only to miss another day’s work and have them decide then what I have to pay?”
“Sorry, maybe you can go sooner” the tall cop said.”It’s right over here on 54th Street, see?” And he pointed to the faint address on the thin carbon copy of his multi-layered ticket. The smaller cop had barely said a word this whole time except to check numbers and codes for his tall counterpart.¬† It was obvious they were both very new to this game of pulling in musicians. The tall cop walked back to his table, leaving the silent shorter one ‘standing at attention’ beside me.
Damn! I thought to myself, not only have you eliminated my pay for today, you’re asking me to take another day off work to go sit in a hearing room for some arbitrary person to decide how much I have to pay for doing absolutely nothing wrong?¬† For singing. This is so not right.
“You know…” And I turned to the quiet cop, “You guys are giving me enough material here for a whole other book.” The cop looked at me more than a bit surprised. That expression was most I’d seen from him all day. “Yeah…” And I looked at the both of them, ” And I dont’ think either of you are in the first book”
Then, miracle of all miracles the little cop spoke, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Ha ha – well, it depends on the chapter I suppose…” The small cop grinned. I stopped and looked down at the wheels of my cart for a moment, “This is one changed New York” I said quietly. And once again, the small cop¬† broke his silence via a half whisper, and nodded, “Yes it is, yes it is…”
I put my ID’s back into my bag, folded up the gossamer thin piece of pink carbon paper they write those tickets on and¬† stood up. I put my coat on and grabbed the handle of my dolly, sad, so sad that this train station that began such a phenomenal journey for me five years ago is now where I’m being hauled in and Served with tickets and summons.
“This makes me happy you know” I turned to the small cop once again. He looked at me with an odd, confused look. “The singing, it makes me happy you know. It’s how I’ve supported myself for the past four and a half years and it makes me happy to sing. Happier than anything else in the world.”
“I’m really sorry” the cop said not even able to look me in the eye this time, and I turned to go.
I found the natural light in amongst the turnstyles and iron maidens and followed it out and up the stairs towards Columbus Circle. I stopped a few stairs form the top as my gear felt extra heavy at this point, and leaning on the railing for balance I turned around for a second only to see the two cops coming out of the station not five steps behind me. So much for “taking care of those other musicians” I guess. I suppose all that was needed was my one ticket for today’s ‘quota’.
I turned around to face the last few stairs, hauled my gear to the sidewalk and readjusted my grip for the walk home.
“Sorry to put a damper on your day” a pair of voices behind me said.
It was the two cops.