We all know by now how New Yorkers can stick together in difficult times, but they are also known to like their private space and to mind their own business. Neighbors don't have dinner at each other's homes, and most of the time we keep to ourselves to avoid awkward situations with people.
We keep to ourselves mostly because we all know that New York has some of the most eccentric and odd people in the world: overly made up bag ladies, neighbors who have 10 cats, the men with tatoos all over their bodies, people with Turette's syndrom cursing on the streets, amongst many others. These people are part of our society, and even my children have learnt to accept them and not fear them.
So just the other day, I stepped on the 6 train going uptown, to pick up my youngest from school. It is an unspoken rule on the subway to mind your own business, not make physical or eye contact with anybody when possible, and let your mind go to your book or your day dreams. We all get off and on the subway trains, in such a hurry and usually never notice anybody around us. However this ride would be different... A few stops into the ride, 3 Rastafarian men, with djambe drums and little chairs step on to my train car. This happens often, where they perform for the riders and hope to make a few dollars.
I usually welcome this entertainment because they are often quite talented and the music is a pleasant break from the monotony.
"Good afternoon everybody" says one.
Of course, as true New Yorkers, nobody responds, averting their gaze.
"I said good afternoon everybody" he says again, this time louder.
Maybe 3 people mumble back "good afternoon".
"Some people need to learn their manners". He says, but not in a threatening way, more in a cool Rasta man tone. "All I get are 3 people to respond to me. Man!"
A few people giggle, I smile.
He then approaches an Asian-American woman, sitting gaze averted from him.
"Usually Asians have values and know about respect. But you've been too long in America"
"You don't know anything about me or Asians."
"Yes I do. And you have been in this country too long."
She rolls her eyes and looks away. So he starts singing, and of course it's catchy. I can't remember which Bob Marley song it is, but it was one of the happier ones.
And before I can do anything, Rasta Man number 1 throws a maraca at me, and tells me to shake it to the beat.
I look around me and everyone is smiling or laughing. I especially didn't want to get lectured by the Rasta man on my lack of "joie de vivre". And then, I thought of my boys who shake maracas in their silly music classes. For what? So that maybe one day they will be able to perform as I did on a subway car? The absurdity of it all made me comply. So there I was, shaking to the beat till the next train stop.
"And a special ovation for the maraca lady!" Everyone clapped and laughed, and I turned bright red, so embarassed was I of having performed on a NY subway car.
I guess there is a first for everything, right?