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I began playing Hey Jude immediately after switching cars on the uptown A train. I leaned back, slightly, against one of the hand poles and faced the long subway car before me, quickly surveying my audience.

I was annoyed and disappointed to see two police officers standing at the other end of the car. I knew full well that I wasn't allowed to play on the subway trains and that I could get a ticket - or worse - if I didn't play my cards right. But this was a long ride, from 59th street to 125th, and it would have been absurd for me not to try and make the best of the scenario.

Especially since, by this point, I was already halfway through the song.

I avoided looking toward them, hoping that they were doing the same for me. At the harmonica solo I began walking in their direction, still averting my eyes. 

Nobody gave anything. Not even a look or a word. It's not uncommon for train conductors to announce that giving to solicitors is illegal. Compassion and generosity are criminalized in NYC for some reason? I have yet to confirm the claim, but in any case it gives charitable riders pause when police are on board.

By the time I finished Hey Jude I was even closer to the police, shocked they hadn't stopped me yet. I didn't allow the final chord to fade out. Doing so might present one of them with a golden opportunity to approach me. Instead I hastily began picking the intro to Awake My Soul by Mumford And Sons. When I was nearly done with the song, bellowing the final chorus ("awaaaaaaake my soul!"), I saw one of the officers approaching. He made a short slashing motion with his hand across his neck, indicating for me to stop.

"You can't play on here. It's considered disorderly conduct."

I raised my eyebrows, "oh," and nodded. I already knew this.

"You could also get a ticket for panhandling."

We both knew that I wouldn't stop.

Finally he got to the point: "I don't really care what you do on your own time, but you can't do this when we're on the train with you."

I hadn't shrunk away in fear and intimidation. Maybe it hurt their pride. But I also knew that he could get in trouble if he didn't at least give some kind of warning. Thankfully that's all it was. He walked away, leaving me standing on the still-moving train with the neck of my guitar gripped in both hands and lips sealed. The train was sickeningly silent. There was a void, perceivable by the other riders as well, as only the hum of the train and the faint tinny sound of bachata guitar filled the sound spectrum.

One woman stood up and approached, pausing just a few feet away.

"He said you can't play in here? It sounded great."

"Thank you! Yea, It sounds so empty now, doesn't it?"

"It does! Well.. Thank you."

And with a sweeping, defiant gesture she stretched a dollar out, dropping it in my tip jar. The train slowed to a halt. As I moved to step off the train - toward the next car, of course - four or five other people surrounded me with money in hand. They were all so.. generous, compassionate!

What disorder I had caused!

I rushed to the next car, hoping the police wouldn't follow. They didn't. Now who's to protect New York City from mayhem like me?

 


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