The Treehouse + The Cave

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Thursday, February 17, 2005

Passing Messages

It's not uncommon to see people panhandling on the subway. Some go the classic route, straight-up asking for money. Others try to work for it. The technique that has gained the most ground in recent years is the in-car breakdancing show (when I first moved here, I knew of only one crew who did it; now, there are dozens of duos). It usually consists of one large fellow, and one small, a boom box and an empty fitted cap. They wait for the longest stretches between stops, turn on the beats, introduce themselves, and do a few coordinated moves of varying quality. They garner applause from all the passengers without the protection of an iPod, and then make their rounds accepting coins and crumpled dollars from tourists and those that invest in karma.

Yesterday, while riding uptown on the express, I emerged from my post-work daze twice to see sweaty kids attempting spins in the crowded car. Both times they went through the motions and collected their earnings. And both times a large, masculine woman next to me raised her hand as the smaller performer (invariably the collection man) came past our bench. She gestured as though they should wait a moment, and each time they did, standing patiently in front of me, presumably waiting for her to find a stray quarter or two. And each time, she offered no cash, instead digging a ball-point pen from her purse and then scrawling nearly illegibly in the open space atop her free Metro paper. Still silent, she ripped the long and jagged shreds of paper free, and dropped them into the extended hats, clearly satisfied that she had given the dancers a valuable contribution. They graciously accepted each scrap as though they understood what she was silently saying, and with maybe $2.00 and their secret messages, they left the car to wait on the platform for their next rolling stage.

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