When I was in San Francisco last week for meetings I stayed with good friends in Noe Valley. Being a seasoned commuter I left the house each morning precisely at 7:55 and walked down to Market Street to catch the MUNI downtown. My Bay Area mornings were like every workday morning for me –a walk and then a hop onto mass transit.
And when I got onto my train I appeared to do what every San Franciscan did. I pretended to be in my own little world (as I pretend to do every morning on my commute from the Maryland burbs to downtown DC). Secretly, however, I was really being myself: curious as ever, watching my commuter brethren in their natural habitat on their ways to work. In this regard I am no mere amateur.
One morning as we pushed east from Church Street I spied a young man near one of the doors. He appeared to be in his twenties, with blond shaggy hair and dressed casually. He was looking into a folder. Straining my neck just a little and with experienced stealth I was able to see the folder was filled with music scores, which added to my excitement. I tracked his eyes as he read the scores line by line just like a good book. Every once in a while he’d laugh. No, it was more of a chuckle, as if he’d just read a funny passage filled with alluring innuendo from Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
He seemed to really be enjoying his morning read. Looking around, I seemed to be the only one noticing him. Ah, a hidden pleasure visible only to me. I’m such a voyeur. He was so engrossed in his music I continued to look directly at him with no fear of being discovered. You might remember I’ve been in this enviable position before.
Interestingly, this was my second mass transit encounter with the musical staff. A few weeks before as I made my morning commute to work I suddenly looked down at the feet of woman standing next to me. Each foot sported a music notation tattoo. I so wanted to ask her the significance of her musical commitment but decided the mystery was more interesting.
In the case of the young man there simply was no photograph or video that would adequately convey the encounter. The memory of watching this little tableau unfold was more than enough. He exited the train at Van Ness and I wondered if he worked at the symphony or opera close by.
The woman’s feet, however, were wonderfully photogenic. Their position on the subway floor suggested a dancer but the rest of her body seemed more musician.
In both cases I was left with a mystery which only encouraged me to continue with my life’s work underground.