Midnight Cowboy Rides Again



100 Essex Street ny ny, 10002

Neighborhood: Lower East Side

Jon Voight he was not. But the Midnight Cowboy rides again in the Big Apple. It was twilight, late April, 2001. A cool breeze blew from the East River as I waited for the Manhattan bound J train at Marcy Avenue.

The J ferries passengers, mostly working folks, across the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan. On the Brooklyn side of the tracks, the J offers a splendid, elevated ride to the LIRR at Metropolitan Center on the outer edge between Brooklyn and Long Island. It is great view of Brooklyn for only a buck and a half. Boarding the subway that night, I instantly knew the Midnight Cowboy had been riding the J train all day.

He was lanky and dirty, like a construction worker with cheap brogan boots. He wore blue jeans covered with clay and tar streaks. Attached to his belt was a leather holster that contained a pair of pruning scissors. His savage mullet was barely contained by the royal blue baseball cap. In his right hand he held a portable brown and white triangular shaped transistor radio. And in his left The Daily News.

The radio was of a certain thrift store quality but interesting in that retro design amour. Cowboy had the radio playing softly when I sat across from him on the train. The warm modulation of AM waves quietly filled the train with halcyon ’70’s memories as we crossed the bridge.

There is a certain type of person who carries a radio through New York without headphones. It is an unrequited sharing of taste. Many of those with boom boxes are arbiters of style in their own right, but many are just lonely for their favorite music. I understand the need to carry a portable soundtrack to the city and share with whomever you meet. Usually boom-box carriers have a very determined look on their faces, intent on projecting something of themselves into the city air. But the New Midnight Cowboy was not that type, just lonely, just listening to pass the time.

The J train tugged across the bridge as I tried to get a glimpse of the cowboy’s face. He was utterly still. He held the paper in lieu of a DO NOT DISTURB sign. His motionlessness bothered me, thinking of the man that rode the train for hours before anyone noticed he was dead.

Then, turning, seeing his tanned face I saw a thousand anonymous South Georgia boys tumbling towards me screaming “Help me, save me, put me on a bus headed somewhere warm!” while the flickering of the lights from the cars on the FDR intensified the beautiful Manhattan nightscape. But the train arrived in the Essex Station, suddenly in Manhattan. I shook myself, cleared my eyes and walked off the J leaving the New Midnight Cowboy to his fuzzy AM radio dreams and his never ending ride into the black light of the city’s dawn.

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