Posts Tagged ‘Jazz Flute’

Rachel and the Backpack

September 7th, 2011 | Rachel

Davina and me (with backpacks) on a train to Tibet — January 2011

I recently weathered Hurricane Irene at my own apartment in Murray Hill (New York City).  This is the same apartment that was featured in Time Out New York magazine last fall, and if you are friends with me on Facebook, I probably harassed you into voting for it in a CB2 contest.  Thanks again if you voted.

The hurricane, which was really just a torrential rain storm, gave me lots of time to sort through the clothes and other belongings still in that apartment.  I had a new sublessee take over my room today, so this was the last opportunity I had to grab anything I am going to need during the fall.

Steve and I have been talking a lot about camping lately.  We are planning on taking a trip out to California next month to look at houses, drink wine, and camp underneath the redwoods.  My backpacking backpack was still at my apartment, so this morning I loaded it full of light-weight jackets and long-sleeved shirts and headed to the bus stop.

Of the luxuries in life I took for granted before moving to the city, dishwashers, garbage disposals, and cars are at the top of the list.  Having a car would have made all of this apartment switching a piece of cake.  Instead, I had two options: pay for a cab — which costs the equivalent of working two hours at the bakery — or take public transportation.  I splurged on a cab when I was hauling a large suitcase and my KitchenAid mixer (hooray!), but I forced myself to take the bus and the subway for the other two trips.

I’m sure I was an interesting sight this morning, dressed for work in a black and white polka-dotted dress and with a Kate Spade bag on my arm and a large backpack on my back.  As I waited for the bus, I prayed that it would be empty.  One abrupt stop on a crowded bus and I could single handedly take out a dozen people.  It ended up being somewhere in the middle.  All of the seats were taken but the aisle was almost clear.  I made my way to the back of the bus and cautiously turned around to face the front, taking great care to not swat anyone across the bus with my backpack.  The passengers around me eyed me cautiously.

Behind me, a woman moved from the middle of the five-seat back row to the end, opening up two seats together.  “Would you like to sit?” a man asked me, gesturing to the empty seats.  He didn’t seem to know the woman but he seemed to share her concern for me.  I politely declined and said it would be too difficult to put my backpack back on if I took it off.  A few stops later, another pair of seats opened up, and again I was asked if I wanted to sit.  Again, I declined.

The bus took me to the corner of 34th and 7th, where I descended into the subway.  I squeezed through the turnstiles and walked down to the far end of the platform where only a few people were waiting.  With a heave and a grunt that was probably a little too loud, I dropped the backpack onto a bench.  The noise attracted several suspicious glances.

When the train arrived, I carried the backpack by its side handle into the car, stepping over the feet clad in Converse hightops belonging to the angsty college student, and parked myself and my belongings in the corner.  My backpack was partially blocking the door that led to the adjacent car.

After a couple of stops, a man started talking.  “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, sorry to bother you.”  I was on the 1 train, and it seems like every time I have been on that train over the past month there has been someone asking for money.

There are a few varieties of panhandlers in the New York subway.  Some people sit silently with a sign.  Others sit and ask for money as people walk by.  Still others actually come onto the subway and walk from car to car asking for money.  Often they will say something about themselves or why they are asking for money.  A fourth category, and my personal favorite, are the people who share some sort of talent — such as singing, dancing, or playing an instrument — and then solicit money.

Sometimes people get creative and wear costumes.  One day I found myself on a train with a guy dressed in medieval clothing and playing a lute. My all-time favorite is a trio of gospel singers I encountered in the Time Square station while waiting for the 1, 2, 3 train.  That is the only time I’ve ever seen a subway platform full of people applaud at the end of a performer’s song.  I missed my train just so I could listen to them a little longer.

There are a few regulars on the 1 train, such as a mariachi band, a singing quartet, and a jazz flautist.  It was the flautist — faux flautist — that stepped into my subway car this morning.

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, sorry to bother you.  Now… I don’t have a cowboy hat or a guitar or  fancy dance moves…

I wish I could remember his whole shpeal.  I’m not going to do it justice.  In previous versions he introduced his flute as the “Wonder Stick” or “Magic Wand” or some other ridiculous name.

I play the jazz flute, and all I have to offer are some sweet, sweet melodies.  So sit back, and enjoy the ride.

The irony is that he can’t actually play the flute.  He sounds like he found a flute on the sidewalk one day and figured out how to make a noise with it.  Then he learned a couple of scale-like progressions and now attempts to pass it off on the subway as jazz.

Meanwhile, the subway door beside me opens and two teenagers enter the car.  I pulled my backpack closer to me as best I could, but they didn’t seem to care it was there.  For a few minutes, we all sit quietly listening to the spastic fluttering of the flute, followed by a dramatic pause and a deep breath, and then more spastic fluttering.

The subway door opens again.  A gruff voice starts saying “Excuse me.  Excuse me.” as an old man barreled into the car.  Again, I pulled my backpack out of his way and apologized, but it wasn’t enough for him and he started pushing my backpack into my legs with his foot.  “Get out of my way,” he growled and gave my backpack a swift kick before pushing his way through the rest of the car.

One of the teenagers, who also had to jump out of the old man’s way, yelled after him, “YOU ARE RUDE!” and then asked me if I was ok.

Who says chivalry is dead?

The teen spoke to his friend in Spanish as we all watched the man barge his way through the subway car.  The two of them looked like they were thinking about going after the old man, who had sat down on the other end of the car and was eating a container of soup.  Fortunately, they didn’t, although I appreciated the solidarity.

By this time, the self-appointed flute player finished his “song” and was doing the rounds asking for money.

Quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, euros, francs, shillings, anything that even looks like money… I’ll take it.

He reached my end of the subway car, and I could tell he was heading for the door, so I again tried to move my backpack further out of his way while apologizing.

“Honey, you don’t need to apologize to me,” he said.  “I will gladly step around for you.  I’d give up two seats for you.”

Um… thanks?