Last week at this time, Shawn and I were on the road. We made lots of new friends, reconnected with old friends, and played some well-attended shows for appreciative and attentive audiences – life can’t get much better than that. (And you can watch a short clip from our Maryland show here.)
We were in New York City for three nights, staying with a friend in Harlem and exploring the Big Apple for the first time, at least for me, since high school.
After our show at Bowery Electric on Sunday night, we rushed over to The Blue Note to see an incredible trio: Donald Harrison on alto sax, Ron Carter on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. I was dumbstruck by their arrangements and their effortless virtuosity.
A visit to the American Museum of Natural History was a dream come true for both of us. The Dark Universe show at Hayden Planetarium, narrated by director Neil deGrasse Tyson, was especially humbling and awe-inspiring. Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, with all of its undeniable evidence of the evolution of our species, nearly brought tears of wonder to my eyes.
And that was all on Monday.
On Tuesday, hand in hand, Shawn and I took a stroll through Central Park. Even though the Reservoir was still frozen, it was 65°, sunny, slight breeze. In other words – perfect.
At Greywacke Arch, we were treated to the gorgeous sounds of a classical guitarist from Chile.
After lunch on the West Side, we made our way to Steinway Hall. Downtown.
“I’ll take one of each, please.”
Finally, we took the subway back to Harlem, waited for Andi to get home from work and planned our last evening in the Big Apple.
There was even fantastic music in the subway.
I’d made reservations at Iguana in Manhattan to see Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who perform 1920s and 1930s big band and jazz arrangements. Our friend Dan Levinson was playing clarinet and alto that night and we wanted to be sure to see him while we were in NYC. Great food, awesome music, swanky vibe.
We vowed not to visit Times Square – once in a lifetime is more than enough. We came within a few blocks before the descent into the subway saved us.
Our time with Andi in the city was coming to an end. We were looking forward to being home (despite the snowstorm that awaited us) but we were sad to leave this amazing place.
We left for home the following morning, just one hour before the terrible explosion in East Harlem – just a few blocks away from Andi’s place. He’s okay – but many more are not. So sad.
Not only was the entire trip inspiring and exhilarating, something else happened that I can’t quite shake.
On the way back to Harlem from Iguana, an older disheveled man staggered into our sparsely-filled subway car. He had urinated many times into his dirty blue sweatpants. His voice was rough and hoarse as he asked for something to drink. A woman across from us reached into her purse and gave him what was left of her small bottle of water. He didn’t drink it.
He then asked everyone for spare change.
None of us – including me – did not reach into our pockets. We did nothing to help him.
I don’t know why I didn’t help him. I wanted to help him. And yet… something stayed my hand. I honestly don’t know what that something was.
No one in that car made a move or a sound in response to his plea.
As we walked home from the subway, I voiced this to Andi and Shawn.
“Why didn’t I help him?”
“I didn’t either.”
“I wish I had.”
“Well, next time.”
Does the city harden hearts? Maybe. Who knows, really.
Shawn recalled all the beggars in New Orleans that we had helped with many fistfuls of spare change and dollar bills. True – we had done that, and I remember the time we gave someone an entire bag of oranges.
And yet… we were unmoved by this one man in New York City who, at this moment, is probably still in great need, still asking for help.
I hope I don’t make that mistake again.