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Between 1974-1989, while I rode the NYC subway system off-duty to and from
work as a NYC Police Officer, Transit Bureau, I experienced many things.
Several times I made off-duty arrests. A couple of times I met women, one of
whom married me. But the ride that was most profound started off as quite
ordinary - a ride into the city in a train car where each person, if not in
the company of another, would make it their business to mind no one else's
business, being careful not to appear to be looking at another person, and
doing the best to practice self-absorbtion - that's the safe way to ride a
train in NYC - either that or act crazy, then you are sure to be left alone.
This ride suddenly became alive and the robotized patrons became relaxed,
then downright emotional, when a black fellow, sitting by himself, started
playing, then wailing, on his harmonica (I didn't know at that time that a
wailin' harmonica is a "harp"). We were all suddenly "one" as each of us
became enthralled with this fellow's performance.His soul was pouring out of
his harp, and that appeared to humanize, for those brief moments, the riders.
He received a thunderous round of applause. Unlike other instrument players
on the subway system, he wasn't panhandling for change. He apparently just
wanted to enjoy himself on an otherwise boring ride, and I guess he figured
that, at the least, others wouldn't mind his music.
It is July 14, 2001, and I'm getting into learning how to play the harp.
Sonny Terry and Sonny Boy Williamson II are my harp heroes - and it freaks me
out that maybe one of them was the harp player on the train. I'll never know.