Opinion | The bucket drummer of New York City
Nicole's Two Cents
Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 17:01
A distant drumming vibrated off the stinking, wet walls of the underworld of New York City as locals, foreigners and the business class tried to beat the 5 p.m. rush, their eyes distant and transfixed on only their present goals, like getting to the first after-work cocktail of the evening.
The unrelenting music continued to fill the subway staircase, and soon those on it found its point of origin. It began in the heart of the waiting station for the L train.
Off-white painters buckets gently moved back and forth across the floor, the labels peeled off them, leaving remnants of vintage vinyl. A lone drummer pushed away the sweat off his face, collecting under his New York baseball hat. He continued to drum on the buckets, laughing and shaking his head back and forth the harder the sticks hits the buckets. Coins he had earned throughout the day jingled each time the drumsticks made contact, sounding like a misguided tambourine, but still adding to the melody and pleasing the continually growing crowd.
“Aaaamen!” A man with an overflowing fur coat shouted, clapping his weathered hands and jumping next to the drummer. He danced along in circles to the beat of the bucket drums, moving his Nikes in a sort of jig as fast as possible. The man gestured at a young woman who was moving her hips back and forth on a nearby bench, trying to encourage her to join in. “Get in here with me girl,” he said, showcasing a hearty toothless smile.
A crowd ensued around the drummer and his dancing act. People 16, eight, 22, 75, female, male, successful, college-bound, with children, couples…every demographic, race and ethnicity were melted together as the hard metal trains sped on behind them, never once dulling or silencing the powerful drumming of the bucket drums.
Laughter was shared between onlookers as the original dancing act earned a couple of new partners. Couples held hands and took pictures. A young woman holding groceries tapped her foot to the beat. The lingering smells of the subway and the pressures of everyday life were put on the backburner in the minds of those watching for a short time.
“I am just trying to make ya’ll smile,” shouted the drummer to no one in particular, dropping his drumstick for half a second. No one seemed to notice though.
A middle-aged dad waved his son’s hands in the air as he sat on his lap, both eager to enjoy a break from their day as they waited for their train. A French woman asked someone nearby for directions to Times Square and was greeted with helpful smiles and a compliment on her lipstick. Businessmen continued to watch nearby and sneak an occasional laugh.
A young man with wavy, brown hair leaned in, bringing with him a light smell of coconut and sandalwood. He smiled with distinct reason. “It’s amazing you know? All these people are enjoying the same music, watching and engaging with this guy playing drums…on a bunch of buckets,” he stopped for a second and laughed as he watched the older man with the fur jacket shaking his hips wildly and fist bumping the drummer. “I mean, something as simple as this stopped everyone from where ever they were going,” he put his hands in his jean pockets, looking up back at the crowd.
“For this short time, we are all the same. No matter where we come from, or what we think, this brought people together. And it’s happening in the shadows of the subway.”
The one unused bucket next to the drummer was filled with twenties, coins and dollar bills. The father gave his son some change to drop off at the bucket as he got up to meet the train that had just arrived. The drummer kept banging the buckets, creating a beat that was everlasting and hard to ignore. The crowd began to dissipate into the departing train.
He kept playing for no one.
The drummer picked up his sticks and stood up as the subway doors began to close.
“Just trying to make ya’ll smile!” He said once again.
There were no smiles sweeping across his once beloved crowd. Everyone faced forward, planning, typing and discussing what was to come after the subway opened its doors once again.