It starts raining suddenly one afternoon while I’m walking towards Grand Central on 42nd Street. In the misty haze, I walk east with my face aimed to the sidewalk, both to avoid the chill of the rain and to watch my step around the murky puddles forming in my path. Waiting for the light to change at each consecutive street corner forces me to stand in the open rain, with no umbrella and none of the shelter sometimes provided by those heavy, gray stone midtown buildings that seem anchored to the street. Just wind, rain, and the occasional splash of dirty water from passing cars.
I take refuge under some scaffolding at Fifth Avenue, and light a cigarette while I wait for the rain to ease. Crowds wearing black overcoats and carrying black rain-slicked umbrellas continue to pass me on my corner. Wet feet leave prints on the pavement. I’m content to stay here for a while now that I’ve found a dry bit of sidewalk.
I share my dry corner with a street performer, a drummer banging away on his shiny silver kit. The drummer and his array of drums seem almost as permanently fixed to the spot as the surrounding architecture. But he is in constant motion, producing a continuous bang and rumble for passersby to enjoy — or ignore — as he encourages their donations to the bucket at the foot of his bass drum.
As I stand to the side, with my cigarette burning against the wetness around me, people stop to watch and listen. Maybe it’s only as a diversion to get out of the rain for a few moments, but it appears that when they move on, their heads are held a little higher above their shoulders as they walk back into the rainy mist.
When my cigarette is finished, I will have to join them.