Things Happen Way Too Fast in New York City
Stepping onto the Greyhound bus in Kansas City, I look into the rearview mirror and see my dad’s old Chevy pickup pulling away. His last words ring in my ears, “Remember, I told you so.”
I’m finally going to the Big Apple, where I know I’ll find fame and fortune. I’ve been playing my 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. The harvested fields fly by and I wish to God that I’ll never see them again. Why the hell should I live in Kansas growing corn when I can live in New York City?
Falling asleep, I 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 bag, my guitar, and walk out the door onto a dirty sidewalk where a smiling man points a gun at me.
“Welcome to New York my good man,” He says. Takes my bag, my guitar, and my wallet, leaving me with nothing but some change in a place where I have nowhere to sleep, no friends, and now no money. Why’d he pick on me? Did it show that I’m a country bumpkin? I thought wearing cowboy boots with a fringed jacket made me cool enough to blend right in.
My first night in the big city and I’m hungry, homeless, but never the less; I’m here. Kansas with its lonely barren plains will soon be erased and replaced with new and better memories. If I don’t starve to death first.
I walk to 42nd Street, looking for Broadway. Passing restaurants along the way, I endure aromas of cooking food that float through doors, windows, and walls. I smell pizza, roast beef, so many varieties of food that my head spins and my stomach rumbles.
I arrive at Broadway. It’s a wide street jammed with vehicles and people crowd the sidewalks. Looking up I see gray buildings rubbing against a gray sky. It’s not only me that’s mesmerized. Others like me that have never before seen buildings rise so high gaze up too. I know by staring up I’m marked as an out-of-towner, because New Yorkers avoid each other’s eyes and glaring neon signs, by looking at their feet as they walk.
Worn out from the long ride here, I need time to think how I’m going to survive without money, food, or friends to help, in this canyon of a city. I’ve seen on TV that homeless people sleep on subway cars. Jogging down steps I hear the roar of trains from below, I jump over the orange turnstile without paying and ride the escalator down to a place I never dreamed of. Posters on every wall, lights everywhere, warm air, and cement floors. Trains make wind and noise as they blast through to the next station. People congregate where they hope the doors will be when the next train stops.
Moving forward amidst the crowd, I hear stunning guitar music, as good as mine if not better being played by a raggedly dressed man gingerly plucking his guitar, and singing blues coming from his tormented soul.
“My dog done died, and my lady left me without a cent. Please brother, can you spare a dime?”
Reaching in my pocket, I run the few coins I have through my fingers until 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.
He looks into my hand that’s holding sixty five cents. He puts his guitar between his legs, reaches into a moneybag on his hip with two big hands, and pulls them out full of 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 in his super sized hands. He sees me staring at the money. He 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 to 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. My 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, 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 to be 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 a hot cup of 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 there.