Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tap Dancing Round the World

There's a fellow who tap dances on a board at the corner of Park and George Streets, perhaps the busiest corner in town. Have never stopped to watch him but often glimpsed him as I drive by: he looks good and, so far as I can tell, dances superbly. Plays fine music. Always has a crowd. Sometimes a woman with him who looks after the music and the money. One day I saw him dancing with his board balanced on top of the small rectangular column, about a metre and a half high, where the electronics for the traffic lights are.

Last night I was idling third on the rank a block back from there, at the corner of Park and Pitt, when he knocked on my window and asked, very politely, if I would take him to Waterloo? He'd chosen me above the two cars in front because I was driving a wagon and he had all his gear with him. We put the board flat in the back, then he stowed his music machine - compact, wheeled - in the back seat and got in the front next to me.

I complimented him on his act. He thanked me. I said I'd seen him dancing on the utility box, he said he had to stop doing that because it affected the operation of the traffic lights. He was reserved, well-spoken, a black American. From San Francisco. I mentioned that I'd lived there once, we talked about different parts of the city. His neighbourhood was the Tenderloin and, no, the Tenderloin hadn't changed from when I was there. Was doing a world tour, would go to Japan next but, at the end of it, after two years away, he would return to UCSF and complete his degree. In political science. You make enough to buy air fares? I asked. You'd be surprised, he said.

He lived in a new, quite flash, apartment building near where Waterloo shades into Zetland. When he came to pay, he pulled from his pocket a sheaf of notes, all of them fifties - several hundred dollars. He found the fifteen dollars for the fare in amongst some notes of smaller denominations in another pocket. As I pulled his dance-board from the back, I asked him if it travelled with him or did he find a new one in each new place? He looked gnomic at the board, which I saw was modified, or customised in some way, metal eyes had been sunk into the ply.

I like this board, he said. I think I'll keep it with me for a while. Thank you, sir ...