As the train pulled away, with my head facing the floor I noticed a pair of Timberlands step into my narrow field of view. I looked up to see a large, slightly inebriated young man, standing over me, looking down at me, while his friends looked on. I could only imagine what he wanted, and only hoped it wouldn't end up with me going home bloodied and bruised. "That your guitar?" he asked, pointing at the instrument between my legs.
"Yes," I replied.
"You play that guitar?" he said.
"Yes," I said again.
"You wanna play that guitar now?"
What could I say? I looked around the car, and all eyes were upon us, anticipating my reply, waiting to see if this would end well or not. So I said, "Sure, why not," and proceeded to open my case on the floor and pull out my guitar.
Without thinking, I broke into a rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" (it did not occur to me at the time that I was playing a train song). Less than halfway through the song, one of the passengers got up from his seat, came over to me and tossed a dollar bill into my open guitar case. Soon after, a few others followed suit, throwing dolllar bills into my case, some from clear across the other side of the car. I finished the song to rousing applause and a demand for an encore, so I followed up with Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," as the people in the car sang along to the chorus, throwing more dollar bills into my guitar case as they made their exits at their stops.
When I finished, I scooped up the bills and packed up my guitar just in time to make my own stop, exiting the train to a cacophony of goodbyes and thank yous. As I walked home from the subway I thought of how much better this turned out than I had anticipated. It also occurred to me that it usually bothers people when performers come into subway cars and, like it or not, force their "wares" on us, then make rounds for tips. I am honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to meet this true-to-life command performance, and will remember it always.
Here's the kicker: It took me an hour of playing in the restaurant to receive the same amount of tips that I got from an impromptu, 10 minute performance on a subway car. Go figure.