|Stephen Mallon (via NY Times)|
New Yorkers are a hard crowd. We neither laugh nor distract easily- particularly on the subway. And the crack heads, hustlers and pan handlers that frequented the NYC subway system in the early '90s were not quite the purveyors of good times and cheer as they'd regularly recite their various one note tales of woe designed to separate the occasional coin from some trusting out of towner. These scripted tales of bad luck and misfortune would immediately commence upon their entry when the train was in motion, and wind down by the middle of the subway car to allow time to collect on their way out. They would all start with an apology to their captive audience for interrupting our day, and then immediately cut to the trail of tears. It was a well rehearsed and strictly linear process from start to finish- both the storyline, and the physical journey from entrance to exit.
One afternoon after work, three (count 'em three) "guest speakers" entered, recited and exited in immediate succession as if choreographed to the very second- one would leave on the left, the door would close and the other would open and enter on the right... Their opening lines identical, "Excuse me for interrupting your afternoon ladies and gentleman, but I..." The audience remained unmoved, unfazed, and heads down silent throughout the procession, preoccupied in our perpetual daze of New York induced detachment.
All that instantly changed when the... fourth installment arrived on cue and began his spiel- "Excuse me for interrupting your afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, but I..." Right there and then, our fourth guest speaker was stunned into silence and bewilderment as heads lifted in synchronicity and fits of laughter broke out in tandem throughout the subway car- we had suddenly all realized that we had somehow, someway been transported somewhere not quite listed on any local or express stop on any NYC subway map. Three may or may not be a charm, but in the subway- four was not to be believed. Even in Gotham...