I flew to New York once because I heard that the innocence mission was doing a show there. Their shows are so rare, and I am such an admirer, that such a trip is not as bizarre as it might at first seem to the uninitiated reader; it made sense in my brain, anyway. Besides, I had previously lived in the Bronx, for a decade, actually, and have friends and family still there, so the pilgrimage was kind of a-long-time-coming anyway. - Just the timing was perfect now, y'know? A relative had also just passed away and I wanted very much to pay my respects to familial histories
So I went.
On the second day I was there (Monday), I found the small nightclub where the show would be, The Fez. I went inside and was quickly told that they show was in fact sold out. "Sold out!!?" I tried to explain that I had flown all the way from Phoenix to come to their club. "Isn't there any way?," I asked an unsympathetic manager. "I'm afraid not, sir," she said as dryly as a creaking hinge on a closing gate. I stared at her incredulously for a moment. In my mind, I ran the gamut between hating her cavalier attitude and then forgiving her for not giving a shit (this was New York after all). Oh, the irony! To fly all the way to New York City for a show which turns out to be sold out! Ha! You gotta love the poetry of life, so after laughing at my impending lame luck for a bit, I decide there and then to have a swell time in the city after all, despite this unexpected change of plan like a born-again quasi-buddhist. I love New York. I walked through Central Park the next day. Went to the museum of art. Met up with my old high school sweetheart for lunch down on Wall St. She works as a lawyer down there. She recognized me instantly, and I her. She took me up to her office on the bazzillionth floor of some iconic skyscraper, the same office where she was sitting when she heard the first plane crash into the twin towers about a block and a half away, back in 2001. I visited with her for awhile. I learned that she was six months pregnant at the time. Her near-ground-zero description of that day was surprisingly serene: After the explosion, everyone calmly made their way outside and walked away across the bridge where she then was picked up by a motorist who just happenned to be going to the town where she lives just a little more upstate. She was home within a couple of hours after the event, safe and unscathed. I listened to her story, amazed. That is her miracle to tell, though.
Anyway, on the day of the i.m. show (Wednesday), I decided to do something I had been wanting to do for ages, namely, to do some busking at Times Square Park. I borrowed my friend Karen's Washburn guitar (the same model as the one I once sold to Shamsi - sorry, Lyko), took the subway down to the village to live out my little dream.
This was a different Times Square than the one I remembered from my youth, where almost everyone who approached you was offering up drugs for sale. This was a squeaky clean post-Giuliani Times Square. Opinions vary, but I guess the proof is in the pudding, and I can't help but applaud him for cleaning what I would have sworn was uncleanable. I walked into the park passing people playing chess, lovers in the grass, curious scurrying squirels, people mumbling to themselves, and not once was I approached with drugs. I walked toward the central area, where I found a shaded place to sit, and I opened up the guitar case, tuned up and started strumming. Funny, but I remember being a little nervous for some reason at first, eventually I mustered enough courage to start singing a little. As I was grooving on an open E vamp, I started humming some of the weird improv-type chanting thing that I do sometimes. A Lucumi thing. It soon morphed into a Ruben Blades tune. I usually just pick whatever tunes are on my mind at the time when I play solo acoustically; if you ask me what tune I just played two tunes ago, I sometimes can't tell you, but I remember the first intelligible tune I sang that day was El Padre Antonio by Ruben Blades. It's safe to bet that I probably also sang an innocence mission tune that day, but god only knows which one.
After playing for a bout a half hour, I was awakened from my bliss by a pair of psych-ward escapees who apparently found this to be the perfect time in which to violently start hitting each other. Well, really, one guy was doing most of the hitting, but still, the other dude was somehow timidly resolute, he kinda stood his ground as best he could against his alpha male adversary's kicking up dust and leaves and sticks. well . . . Regardless, I wasn't gonna stick around for the finale, this was all happening a mere six or eight yards from me, so I figured that now was a good time to stop playing. I put the guitar back in its case (found about $25 there - not bad) and started walking toward the subway. It happens that I have to pass in front of the club where the show will be happening later that night. As I walk by, I laugh at my weird fortune again and stop to take a sip from my water bottle on this seasonably hot and humid New York August afternoon.
As I bring the bottle down from my lips, I notice a man whom I recognize walking up to me on the sidewalk. He walks right in front of me and he sees me smiling at him. "You're Mike Bitts (the longtime bass player for the innocence mission), aren't you?" I ask. He smiles back, "yes, I am." I shake his hand and proceed to tell him that I have loved the band for years. I made a comment about how I think the new single has a certain Burt Bacharach feel to it. He laughs and tells me that they were listening to a Bacharach recording on the drive up from Lancaster. "Are you coming to the show, tonight?" "well . . ." At this point I proceed to tell him my funny story of flying all the way from Phoenix just to find no tickets available. A serious look came over his face. He asks for my name and tells me to wait for a moment while he goes back into the club. I'm walking on air now as I wait for him to return, knowing already what the outcome will be. Sure enough, he reemerges from the club and tells me that I am on the guest list for the show. I thank him profusely and make my way back uptown to meet Karen and tell her about this.
Turns out that not only did I get to go to the show after all, I was on the band's guestlist. But there's more! When I meet up with Karen, she tells me that the guy she is dating, who works as a producer at one of the good radio stations in town, has put us on the guestlist as well (this is a multi-dimensional miracle - as any miracle worth its salt should be). There's poetry for you right there! Might not seem like much, but I know a tiny miracle when I see one.
Incidentally, the day after the show was the day of the huge power outage that blacked out almost the entire northeast corner of the country. That is another story about another miracle for another day, however.