I wasn’t even aware of it then, but it was Cinco de Mayo. I was on the F train—Manhattan bound. My father and Angie were in town, and I was on the way to meet them in mid-town. It was a crisp day, a few cotton candy clouds hung in the sky, big silver and white flying cars crisscrossed between the clouds, reminiscent of science fiction novels, and the train was close to a capacity crowd. The doors opened with a chime at York Street, and on walked a 3-man Mariachi band. There were no violins, no trumpets, and no silver studded suits. Maybe they weren’t Mariachis after all. But there seemed to be a faint whistle in the background when they entered, and it suddenly felt like the Wild West; our subway car had been transformed into a saloon. The band began to play.
They played quite well. Suddenly, a voice in the back of the car shouted: “BAILAR!! Bailar, bailar!” I turned to see the source of the encouraging words. I couldn’t remember what bailar meant at first, my Spanish is more than rusty, more like non-existent. But somehow I felt convinced we were being invited to dance. The man was a striking figure. He possessed one of the most distinctive faces you can imagine. He seemed to come straight from the world of Fellini. He wore a kind of military coat, which was not too large, but was much too long, baggy, but fitting, pants, a flowered shirt, cheap shiny Sunday shoes, a wide brimmed hat, and coke bottle glasses. And he was dancing. Apparently the band had a hype-man á la Flavor Flav. They played us into Manhattan and exited at Delancey Street.
At Second Avenue another band from south of the border clambered onto the train. This time it just seemed normal. All the patrons in the subway saloon had been desensitized to surrealism by now. The band, without much ado, began to play. A few seconds into the music we again heard from the back of the car: “BAILAR!! Bailar, bailar!” Could it be that the Mexican folk scene was taking a page from the world of hip-hop and all including a hype-man now? I turned, and to my surprise it was the same man. And he was, once again, dancing with glee. And he was, once again, vigorously encouraging his fellow travelers to do the same. After all who among us can truly resist the spirited melodies of Mexican folk music?
Again he shouts: “BAILAR!! Bailar, bailar!” He snaps his fingers and stomps his feet. The band plays. He shouts again: “BAILAR!! Bailar, bailar!” He is not a paid hype-man. He is simply a man who loves the dance. And we are all merely potential dance partners in his ring of fire.