Sadly, I'm not taking as many buses these days as I used to. I've gone from a four bus a day commute to a six train and, all of a sudden, it's like I'm a tourist in my own town. It is not a difficult route, and if I time it just right, I walk off one train onto another and keep moving. It's about 40 minutes each way.
What I am noticing now are all the little markets that open up just for an instant in well-timed, brilliantly choreographed commerce on the train. This is just a random sample of the vendors I've seen on trains:
1) Mariachi band. These guys are pretty wonderful. I have probably seen a half dozen different Mariachi bands in the past, say, five years of so. Typically it's a guy with a guitar, maybe a guy with an accordion, or two guys with guitars. They sing in harmony and their song lasts the length of one stop so they can collect some money and scoot out to the next car before the train leaves the station again.
2) DVD seller. There is one guy and one woman - I have never seen anyone else - who sell DVDs by walking with some haste from one end of the car to the other, displaying their plastic cases with copies of movies that either just opened in theaters or are about to open. I think I read once that selling them is the crime, not buying them. But they remind me of the time I bought one of The Lion King years ago to satisfy my kids who were not happy waiting for the official Disney copy to come out. In the middle of the first scene with Scar, you could watch as somebody crossed in front of the copy guy's handheld camera to go get popcorn. Modern DVD copy guys are much more sophisticated.
3) Welch's candy and Famous Amos. This is really a good market, all in all. These guys pick up huge boxes of snacks at BJ's or Costco and then sell them individually for a dollar. Given they probably only pay around 25 cents a piece for what they sell, the markup is pretty good. This week, I watched a guy who started his spiel with "I'm not stealing, I'm just dealing a little candy here on the train and if you ain't smiling I can get you some snacks." He had, in two cardboard boxes that were lashed together with plastic tape, Welch's fruit snacks, Snicker, Famous Amos cookies, and Pringles chips. I watched him kneel down in front of the woman seated next to me as she asked for Welch's Berries and Cherries and Famous Amos. He looked at her in judgment, remarkably, and asked her, "You want both?" It wasn't shock. It was judgment, as if he were telling her, "one snack per person this close to dinnertime is plenty, miss."
4) Break dancers. There are a couple of groups of break dancers that I see regularly, one in particular that really irritates me. They set up their boombox in the middle of the aisle and start clapping really loud. They dance - which most folks can't see, given the way seats are configured on a train - and then one of them swings up, holding the pole, and slams his fist against the ceiling of the train. After that, they pass the hat and get out so they can repeat the performance in the next car.
5) The box lady. There is a woman I have seen a couple of times who kneels down with a cardboard box and sings. She has a personal tale of woe and it always rhymes with box in some fashion. She bangs on the box and then asks for money.
6) The comedian. On the #1 train, there used to be a guy who did stand-up on the train. He had a routine about his fat wife and he always ended the bit with something like, "Pick up after yourselves as you exit the train. I've got company coming over later." I haven't seen him in a while - I hope he's OK.
7) Evangelists. These people tend to offend rather than persuade. The last one I saw spent his moment in the spotlight trying to convince everyone that gays go to hell. As you can imagine, everyone on the train piped up to shout him down. It was one of the more interactive moments in all this commerce.
What fascinates me is both the speed with which business is conducted on a moving subway train and the careful timing that has to take place to make sure you, as the seller, don't get caught in the same train car for two stops. That is particularly awkward - you've exhausted your repertoire and your audience at the same time, yet there you stand, waiting for the door to open at the next stop so you can get back to business. That happens rarely, but it is interesting to watch how terribly uncomfortable they look.
About a year ago, there was a group of women and a little boy sitting just across from me when one of the regular sellers came up to them selling small plastic toys. The boy saw the man and he started shouting at him, "One dollah, one dollah, one dollah!" and the whole car started to laugh. He sounded just like the toy guy.