I step onto the Greyhound bus in Kansas City, look in the rearview mirror. I see my dad’s old Chevy pickup pulling away.
“Remember what I told you.” His last words ring in my ears. I’m finally going to the Big Apple, where I know I’ll find fame and fortune playing and strumming my guitar. I’ve been playing guitar since I was ten, and I’m the best ever.
I pat my wallet to be sure it’s in my back pocket with the $800 remaining after paying for the ticket. The bus speeds down the highway at a constant 55 mph, and I watch the harvested fields flying by. I make a wish that I’ll never see them again. Who the hell wants to live in Kansas growing corn when I can be in New York?
I fall to sleep and wake hours later when the bus pulls into the terminal on 51st Street in the heart of New York City. I get off; pick up my one bag and my guitar. Walking out the door, I’m greeted by a smiling man with a gun.
“Welcome to New York my good man,” He says, and takes my bag, guitar, and wallet, leaving me with nothing in a place where I have no friends. Why’d he pick on me? Did it show that I’m a country bumpkin? Hell, I thought wearing cowboy boots and a fringed jacket made me cool enough to blend right in.
My first night in the big city, and I’m hungry and homeless, but never the less, I’m here. Kansas with its loneliness and barren plains will soon be erased from my memory. New ones of art and music will replace them, if I don’t starve to death first.
I walk down to 42nd Street and head for Broadway, that great Milky White Way. Passing the restaurants I endure aromas of cooking food spilling out over the dirty sidewalk, pizza, roast beef, and god knows what else? My stomach rumbles, baked smells penetrates my nostrils.
I get to Broadway, a wide street, and look up to see gray buildings rubbing against a blue and white sky. I’m not the only one mesmerized. There are others like me that have never before seen such a sight. I know by staring up I’m marked as an out-of-towner, because New Yorkers look at their feet as they walk, avoiding each other’s eyes and the shining neon colors glowing from so many signs.
I jog down steps leading to a massive subway system. I can take a nap on the subway train. Worn out from the long ride here, I need time to think how I’m going to survive with no money, food or friends to help, in this canyon of a city.
Hearing the roar of trains from below, I jump over the orange turnstile without paying and ride the escalator down to a place I never dreamt exists. Posters on every wall, lights everywhere, warm air, and clean swept floors. Trains make wind and noise as they pass, people congregate where the doors will be when the next train stops.
I move forward and amidst the crowd, beautiful music is being played, as good as mine if not better by raggedly dressed man plucking his guitar and singing true blues coming from a tormented soul.
“My dog done died, and my lady left me without a cent. Please brother, can you spare a dime?”
I reach in my pocket and run coins through my hand till I feel a quarter.
“Here you go my man. I’d give you more, but I have less than a dollar.”
He lifts his head, takes off his sunglasses, and stares at me.
“You lying to me boy?”
“Hell no,” I pull out all the coins remaining from those I brought from Kansas, that god-forsaken state.
He stands, looks into my hand holding sixty five cents, reaches into a moneybag on his hip with two big hands, and pulls them out brimming with quarters.
“Take what you need boy, I make ten times this in a day.”
I can’t believe my eyes, he holds near a hundred dollars between his super sized hands. He sees me staring at the money and says, “Whatcha waiting for boy? This is New York and I only got a minute.”
My stomach painfully turns as I think of how much food I can eat if I take a fraction of what he holds in his hands. Should I reach and take what he’s holding out to me? Can I take money from a beggar? What will people in Kansas think of me, here In New York, taking a poor man’s money? No, I can’t, I tell myself, but my eyes wander to a poster showing a burger and fries, reminding me I haven’t eaten. Eyes return to the money, thoughts of nowhere to sleep, shower, or eat course through my head.
“Come on boy, you want it or not?” the man shakes his hands up and down.
The chinking of the coins entices me to reach out my dirty hand. “Go on, take it,” I tell myself, but a vision of my father pointing his finger and saying, “I told you so” enters my head. I withdraw my hand.
“Can’t eat pride boy,” the man says, “go on, take what you need, and hurry up. I got some blues to sing and some begging to do.”
I glance around to be sure no one sees a young man like me, stooping so low by taking money from a beggar instead of giving. No one’s looking. I close my eyes in shame, and reach out my dirty hands, dreaming of hot golden-chicken-soup and crackers with a piece of piping hot pizza. My hands feel for the silver, but grab thin air, there’s nothing there. I open my eyes, and the man is nowhere in sight. I wonder if he ever really was.