The 6th Ave Tunnel Team

Nothing Gets By…. Morgan?

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It took me almost a month to adjust to the subway in New York City.

A full month before I stopped glancing nervously over my shoulder, checking each stop as they passed just to ensure I wasn’t hurtling towards Queens or the Bronx by mistake.

I followed a different path at first. I would hop of at the end of the line on the L Train, the throbbing metal artery that ferries much of Brooklyn to the cluster of lights and noise that is Manhattan.

There are bronze statues scattered throughout this station, 8th ave station to be exact, that depict characters with money bags for heads playing out scenes from the human condition.

One bronze scupture, pearched on a railing, is that of a money bag headed cop about to beat a prostrate, defensless money bag headed homeless woman.

I always wondered why the homeless woman didn’t just unlace her money bag head and, in an act of suicide, make herself filthy rich with the contents of her skull

By and by, I realized another route to the Upper West Side of Manhattan was much faster.

An hour of my life, five days a week, is spent in limbo. I hurtle between Bushwick and the Upper West Side in an aluminum bullet packed with different, daily strangers.

I thought I would run into the same person, once, twice, maybe everyday.

MTA Map, ripped and defaced for your convinience

The man with two false legs, hobbling into the train station on wooden crutches, I’d surely seem him again.

Tomorrow

Next week

Never again

Where do all the nameless Subway strangers go? Is the turnover in this city so high that everyday it has the capacity to shuffle the contents of a subway car so that not a familiar face can be seen?

My new route takes me to the sixth avenue station, and what is surely the highlight of my daily metro ride:

The 6th Ave Tunnel

And that black blob, that was your granddaddies first stick of Juicy Fruit

After getting off the L train, I wander past ten or so rusted columns with bits of yellow paint peeling off on my way to the tunnel.

Old gum is EVERYWHERE

Every piece of Wrigleys, Trident, Orbit, Bubble Yum, has all struck permanently to the subway’s pavement and become little black holes of crud.

I wind up stairs to the tunnel, pressing my shoes into a piece of Big Red chewed and spat loose in 1982.

I walk through the opening of the 6th ave tunnel after scaling the stairs, sometimes bounding up them two at a time because I feel like being exciting.

The Black Gates, so they can seal the tunnel of in case of flooding, or Zombies

I’m surrounded by a rectangle of concrete, fifteen or so feet underneath the streets of Manhattan. I round a quick corner past an MTA door that sternly warns that:

EVERY ENTRY MUST BE BY BADGE! NO ENTRY WITHOUT BADGE!

Husky men that look like mob movie extras frequently shuffle through these doors, leave them open, talk to one another while the door is ajar.

I can only assume they have badges, and that what’s behind those doors is nothing worth obtaining a badge for.

The tunnel stretches out far enough that, when I turn the corner, I can just barely glimpse the end incline through a sea of bored, hurried, cold, and anonymous New Yorkers.

When I enter the tunnel, I have a few different options of entertainment.

Most day, I’m greeted with a printed out sign on green cardboard stock that says:

NEW YORK TIMES PUBLISHED POET.

POEMS WRITTEN UPON REQUEST

The poet sits just beyond this sign in a metal chair that he carries with him.

The poet is always wearing his entire wardrobe:

In real life, he looks less like a pirate

Black overstuffed coat

Three pairs of layered pants

Unlaced Dickies boots

There is a another sign besides the poet. It’s a copy of the issue of The New York Times in which he was published.

I’ve never stopped to check the validity of the newspaper, I’ve always just taken his word for it.

The poet is sleeping most times, curled over himself ready to be shaken awake and write a poem on command.

There have been at least ten times when I’ve been tempted to shake the poet awake and ask his rates. A man who goes to all the trouble to set up camp in a subway tunnel everyday to sell his poetry must just be looking for an outlet, any outlet for his poems.

Maybe he’s a man driven mad by his one success, a true poet who finds ironic satisfaction by the thousands of people who walk passed him every day.

People who just don’t have time for poetry.

I’ve still never approached The 6th Ave Poet. If he’s still there when the city thaws in March, maybe I’ll rustle him awake one day and ask for his rates.

After The 6th Ave Poet is:

Aggressive Guy Selling Comics

Selling a product is always a delicate balance, guiding the customer towards  only the best product, the product they need, without pressuring them into actually making a decision.

Decisions are scary for customers. What if they make a mistake?

That’s where the saleman comes in. He’s the expert, he’s faced down the life changing decision of what new car to buy thousands of times. He’s a fucking veteran. And you can always trust a veteran.

You might be greeted at your local Toyota dealership with this friendly pitch:

“Hey there folks, m’ names Dan. I help people find the cars they want, the cars they need. So what do you folks want today? Cat got yer tongue? I know how it is, all those cars are so shiny, so waxed up , you know everyone of em’s a beaut. Well, never fear, Dan is here. You got kids? Yeah? Cause this man can tell, ya know, I knew it, cause there’s a special bond between married couples with kids. Little extra spark between em, ya know? Well, just follow ol’ Dan onto the lot and I’ll be your guide. I’m a vetern of the car industry, and of Korea, so just let me whisk you away to that magical runway of pavement and you folks’ll be drivin’ away in your dream boat in no time.”

Masterful pitch. Personal barriers are instantly broken by the saleman putting himself on a first-name basis with the customers. He then further breaks down personal barriers by making accurate assumptions that the couple is married and has kids because the fellow’s wearing a wedding band and there’s a booster seat in the back of the mini van they drove up in.

Aggressive Guy Selling Comic’s pitch is this:

ONE DOLLAR!!!!

ONE DOLLAR COMICS!!!!

HEY YOU, GUY IN THE HAT!

ONE DOLLLAR COMICS!!!!!!!!

BUY EM FOR ONE DOLLAR

The slightest glance at him will single you out. He’ll describe your outfit, shoes, coat, pull you from the faceless mob with his words and try to shock you with recognition.

To this day, I have never seen someone actually stop and look at his comics. They could be cardboard cutouts in plastic sleeves for all I could tell. Maybe he sets dummy comics down in The 6th Ave Tunnel to give himself an excuse to shout at strangers.

At the end of the tunnel, usually on weekends when the city’s population increases by +1,000,0000,0000,0000, there is the ever faithful:

Tone-Def Beatles Boy

Tone-Def Beatles Boy knows all your favorite hits, as long as you favorite hits are Hey Jude and I Want to Hold you Hand.

He’ll sing them to you with the biggest smile in the world on his face, a smile that’s halfway between insane and meth.

He plays his guitar with gusto and really really tries to hit those oh-so-high Beatles notes.

He just can’t do it.

And when I’m walking through the tunnel at just the right moment, I get to catch Tone Def Beatles Boy working himself up to sing  the epic outtro  of “Hey Jude,” which goes:

NAAA NA NA

NA NA NAA NAAAAAAA!

NA NA NAA NAAAAAAA!

HEEEY HEY HEY,

HEY HEY

The veins on Tone Def Beatles Boy’s neck bulge as, Icarus-like, he heads straight for the upper limits of his vocal range and beyond, crescendo-ing into a vocal crack that could split a mountain in twain.

Somehow his voice survives this death rattle and, after twelve hours or so of the same two Beatles songs, he goes (home?) and wakes up the next day refreshed and ready to face down those pesky last couple of cords of “Hey Jude.”

Persistence is truly the spice of life.

Not all of The 6th Ave Tunnel Team musicians, performers, and salesmen are this crude or crazy.

I heard a girl playing an accordion the other night. She had her eyes closed, standing next to one of the doors marked:

EVERY ENTRY MUST BE BY BADGE! NO ENTRY WITHOUT BADGE!

She was making her accordion sing in such a way that I’d never heard before and dancing with her wind bag piano like she were Sleeping Beauty being twirled by her prince.

If you ever find yourself making the change from the L train to the 1, 2 or 3 trains, you will find yourself at one of the most underrated and unappreciated, but fully New Yorkian, tourist attractions in the whole city.

The 6th Ave Tunnel Team:

The 6th Ave Poet

Aggressive Guy Selling Comics

Tone Def Beatles Boy

HEY KIDS! Watch The 6th Ave Tunnel Team animated series, now part of the Saturday morning line up of your favorite TV station:

BFD: Kids!


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