Public transportation is great. We whole-heartedly support it here at The Global Loop.
1) It's better for the environment.
2) You actually feel more connected to your community.
3) It's generally cheaper to use than personal vehicles, no matter where in the world it's deployed.
It's a good thing. But it can have its drawbacks too.
On a hot summer day, like this past Friday (98F/37C), a trip on the New York City subway system will assault 4 out of 5 of your senses. You'll feel it for sure with touch because the heat and humidity outside have been warming the stations for weeks now and it feels like you're just hanging around in a tandoor oven. Add your own sweat to the perspiration and funk of your fellow straphangers and your sense of smell gets a healthy and unwelcome workout as well. And at night, what would hot body odor be without the stink from the garbage in overflowing trash cans? Nothing...without the additional old litter on the tracks serving as hurdles for the rats on the tracks to dive over and around. Sense of sight...don't think we forgot you.
But these things only seem to be at their worst in the middle of the summer.
On a good day, only your sense of hearing will be guaranteed to be confronted. It's always loud down there and New Yorkers know it. Some stations are worse than others. Some trains are worse than others. But they all have noise. New Yorkers suck it up and take it as part of the price of admission. They know a lot of it can't be helped. Big trains...in skinny tubes...under the ground. They get it.
However, most residents don't like to put up with additional ruckus. Noise made by people yelling with their friends, others asking for money for their "basketball team", or the playing of crappy music by even crappier musicians on the platform are not a welcome part of their ride.
With the music, tourists at the tourist centric stations really seem to like to see all of the performances though. Part of that could be because they don't have subways or performers like this where they come from. Part of that is also probably because they've never heard those particular performers before since they don't live in the city. Either way, they tend to applaud many shows and give money accordingly.
But a good New Yorker has a particularly jaded sort of attitude when it comes to subway performers. They've been there, done that. They've seen better at another station. They knew a guy 15 years ago that did the same thing but he was eating a slice of pizza at the same time while playing. "Whatever. That's no big deal," will be the nicest thing they'll say for the most part. (And don't even ask what they're thinking. They're too cool for school.)
Now when you add the aural bombardement of buskers to the visual, tactal, and olfactory buffet of over-stimulation of the summer, most New Yorkers just want to shut themselves out from the surrounding hubbub so that they can get where they're going. They'd also prefer to get there without going crazy or they might end up doing something crazier like licking one of the support columns so that they could work in taste (and cooties) to complete the sensory Pick 5 for their ride. iPods and books are de rigeur so that riders can focus on that one thing and block out anything else other than the arrival of their train.
I am not from New York originally, but I've been here long enough to be a non-native New Yorker. On Friday night at about 10:30, I was New Yorkered out as I decended into the N, R, Q subway station at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue across from Bloomingdales:
Backpack...check. iPhone..check. Music on...check. "Get me home" attitude...check.
Since I work at The Global Loop, I try to always keep an eye and ear out for things that followers around the world don't know about and would find interesting. But that night, I wasn't looking for anything but the N train. It was too hot for me to care about sharing.
At least that's what I thought.
After swiping my MetroCard and heading down the stairs to the Queens bound trains, over the Green Day I was listenting to in my headphones, I could tell that there was someone playing plastic composite buckets on my platform. "Great," I thought. "All I needed after a hot day walking around Manhattan is some terrible bucket guy pounding beats that I don't want to hear while I probably wait 20 minutes for the next train."
I then did what would be counter-intuitive to most non-New Yorkers. I made more noise and I turned up my iPhone volume more so that I wouldn't have to hear the drumming.
Luckily, that wasn't enough to drown out what was going on down there. I wasn't just hearing random pounding. I was hearing actual music.
I de-earbuded, stood with the totally local crowd of people waiting for the train, shut off my music and turned the video recorder on my iPhone to this scene:
Now that whole scene was impressive.
Not only was the drumming exceptional, but it was notable that 1) non-tourist New Yorkers were gathering to listen, 2) no one seemed annoyed, 3) some applause was actually given, 4) people were giving these folks money.
Right after they stopped playing, the N train came. I threw 2 bucks in their bucket and saw that the guy's name was Larry Wright and the woman playing with him was his wife. I was in a rush, so I couldn't ask him any questions. But the sheet of paper near his money bucket said he might have some videos up on YouTube.
After getting back home, I went on YouTube and found out that Larry Wright has had a bunch of videos taken of him over the years. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, then as far back as 1990, a 14 year old Larry impressed his mother and neighborhood by taking the buckets out of the garbage and performing on the street. He basically created the entire phenomenon of bucket drumming.
Well excuse me. No wonder I felt compelled to stop along with some other commuters. This guy WAS something to notice.
We'll go back to the subways of NYC sometime to try to get an interview with Larry because this information about him needs to get confirmed and explored some more. Check more of his work on YouTube since the site that he had listed as his doens't seem to work. You'll be totally blown away.