I’m a Jersey kid – Jersey born and bred. And all Jersey kids have an inherent tie to NYC – that’s New York City. It’s a magnet for all Jersey kids, primarily because everything that Jersey isn’t, NYC is!
I miss a lot about NYC – I went to college some 30 miles north of the City, and often I and a few friends would drive down to Yonkers (where the subway began) and slip into Manhattan for 15 cents for all kinds of fun. Mostly, I miss the food – NYC was really my first introduction to the foods of the world – and in those days (mid 60s), you could eat very well for $5 a meal. Our central sphere of interest were the thousands of little family run ethnic places where one could discover the culinary world on the cheap. Boy, do I miss that.
I also miss the never-ending world of entertainment. I learned how to find out where all the good music was being played – but not at the ‘full price’ venues like Carnegie or Lincoln Center – we only went to the little clubs and back-water halls to hear the up-and-comers (I’d love to tell you that I caught Bob Dylan in the Village once, but no!) – we’d go to Julliard student recitals on what they called ‘Papering the House’ tickets, which were often simply given away. And those were the days when you could get preview tickets to new Broadway plays for a couple of bucks – Off Broadway for less.
I miss too the culture of the City – and there was an entirely specific culture of the NYC subway – and here’s an example:
Maybe you don’t think it’s strange to walk down into the subway and discover an Asian guy singing opera. But if you knew the old culture of the NYC subway, I think you would! In those days, it was important subway behavior that each rider sat as quietly as possible, eyes down (one NEVER made eye contact while on the subway), and trying as hard as possible to be an independent, private entity – all the while being squished together tightly in a mass of humanity. No one spoke to anyone else – and if you were riding with a friend, and you were talking, you could easily be the only voices heard during the ride – that was somewhat intimidating, since you didn’t want to say something dumb for everyone to hear, so soon even you and your friend were quiet too. You were learning the culture of the subway.
I think maybe the culture of the subway is changing – it’s certainly changed from the time when I first heard subway buskers – in those days, you’d often hear a guy playing a guitar, maybe even singing too – sometimes a homeless guy playing a violin, but you’d never hear anyone break into song while riding the subway – today you will. And that tells me that a lot of the old subway culture has already changed. I wonder how much of that change can be attributed to the roving entertainers of the subways? This next video explains a little how this phenomenon got so healthy, and how the City is not only allowing it to happen, they are supporting it!
And in case you were thinking that, for the most part, the public pretty much just ignores the buskers, you may want to re-think that – this guy is relatively famous as a subway busker, and seems to have a cult following as well – some of these performers have admitted that their take as a ‘street performer’ is often far more than their pay from their regular gigs. I would not doubt that this guy does very well.
Sadly, subway culture is no longer part of my life – but I think I’d be willing to trade a goodly chunk of my skin for the ability to go home again.