There are certain words spoken on the subway that can radically change my mood in a matter of seconds. Depending on the day, they can either make me cheer or (which is the case far more often) they make me want to grab a hammer, bang a hole in the train window and walk the tunnel to the next station. Let me say outright: I adore the guys saying those words and I appreciate the fact that instead of wasting their days, they actually go out there and passionately do something which they’re actually great at. What guys and what words am I referring to…? The words are: „Showtime! It’s showtime, ladies and gentlemen!”, and they are spoken by teenage black boys from Harlem and Brooklyn at different times of day and on various subway trains. Right after the words are spoken, a tape player starts blasting some (usually good) hip-hop music, while the guys start bending around the railings in various, usually daring contortions. They bend, they dance, they hang upside down and do a number of stunts, sometimes in duets. I repeat: they are great at it, and you can’t deny the talent, but there are days when as soon as I spot them, I run away to a different cart. These are the days when I’m exhausted and all I dream about is to get to my place and plunge under my warm blanket with a bucket of Häagen-Dazs. At moments like this, the mere word „showtime” sounds like a death sentence, for instead of a quiet commute I know I’m in for some aggravation.
The tourists love the guys and throw them lots of dollar bills. NYC natives are a bit stingier. Mainly for the reason, I discussed already. Apart from that, the guys really take up a lot of space inside the train and often swing their limbs inches before people’s noses, which can make you not only uncomfortable but scared. I experienced that myself: I never know when one of the hands will slip and I will end up with a sneaker up my eye. That doesn’t mean that the dollar thrown into their bucket is never mine: as I said, they are fantastic.
Recently I read an interview with one of those groups in „New York Magazine”. The guys said that they treat their activity as a hobby that lets them earn a couple of bucks. They admitted they don’t compete with other groups like theirs. If it happens that they end up in a single train with other dancers, the groups respectfully choose carts at the opposite ends of the train. Injuries happen rarely and even if someone falls flat on their back, they pick themselves up immediately, pretending it was all part of the act. The best time is the summer when NYC is filled with tourists. Their favorite trains are J, Q, L, and A, all of which have the longest periods of a ride between stops. My station is just past the Williamsburg bridge, which means that on this route the guys can dance for the long stretch the train needs to go under the bridge. And they do. My response is usually to close my eyes and stick my headphones in my ears – or else rock to their music, admire their cat-like movements and… keep the distance, so that I don’t get conked over the head to the rhythm of a hip-hop hit I happen to enjoy.