The Megabus died within spitting distance of the Lincoln Tunnel exit of the New Jersey Turnpike, close enough to see (and yearn after) the Empire State Building. We filed outside and stood or sat under a couple of trees, breathing in vehicle fumes mixed with air as humid as most oceans.
“It’s my birthday,” moaned one of the young women who was heading to the Big Apple with two friends to celebrate.
A skinny red-haired guy pulled out an equally skinny, almost triangular guitar and began strumming under his breath. One of the trio of young women noticed.
“Play us some music,” she ordered. “Do you know ‘Wobble Wobble’?”
Her friends snickered. The young man said, “No, I don’t know that one.” Instead, he launched into Bob Marley’s “Is This Love.” The birthday girl began to dance, one of her friends began filming with her smartphone, and other passengers stopped kvetching and began to listen.
From there the minstrel launched into a Spanish-language song (he’d just come back from three years hitchhiking around Latin America). I didn’t catch much of it, but the word “borracho” (drunk) leapt out at me. Some of the passengers listened; others checked their smartphones or made “I’m gonna be late” calls.
The rest of us clapped when he finished. His next selection, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” seemed to turn off most listeners. Chatter started up again, more smartphones were consulted for the latest info (the Megabus wi-fi signal continued to work, even if the bus was kaput).
I felt sorry for the guy, the same way I feel sorry for guys singing at coffeehouses or at bars where people aren’t there for the music. When he finished with the Dylan I clapped as loudly as I could and others joined in.
One middle-aged woman asked for the name of the song. She liked the lyric, “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”
“Good one, right?” the singer agreed.
He played another song that I didn’t recognize but which was also vaguely protest-y in nature. We applauded again and he said, “I could just be like the radio – you don’t have to feel obligated to clap.” Pausing for a moment to think, he then announced ,“I guess we should do Billy Joel.”
“Only the Good Die Young,” a song I hadn’t heard for quite a while, was the next selection. Our human radio couldn’t quite drown out the constant rumble of traffic, but it sure made the wait more bearable.
The air was still thick, the breeze still sporadic, and the “20 minutes” predicted for the replacement bus had stretched to more like 45 minutes by the time I posted this. (I’m writing from the breakdown zone.) But as travel hassles go, this one wasn’t nearly as wearying as, say, getting bumped from standby flights for 12 hours straight. This time, there was music.