Aug 2, 2010

Of Mice and Music

[The following is an excerpt from a collection of short stories I wrote about growing up in Boston and riding the T.]

The Park Street train station is notorious for a few things. It’s one of the few train stations that connects three different lines, the Red, Orange, and Green, at one place. It’s also known as the hub of one of the oldest public transit lines in America. According to history, the Green line in its trolley form originated from Park Street as one of the oldest above ground train lines. It’s also one of the busiest train stations in Boston. With three lines connecting from it, it is easy to see why. Because it’s so busy it is also one of the hottest train stations in Boston. Second only to Downtown Crossing, the temperature in Park Street has gotten up to and over one hundred degrees. While all these stats are impressive, most people will agree that Park Street is most known for its entertainment.

All over Park Street you can find people performing for dollars and change. I’ve seen a breakdancing troupe outside the entrance to Park Street, a college aged magician doing card tricks on the Green line level, and you can almost always count on seeing someone with an acoustic guitar playing on the Red line level of the station. This person is the most interesting to me. They usually sit on the middle platform between the inbound and outbound train tracks playing music and hoping not to be drown out by the noise of incoming trains. Some even bring speaker equipment to combat train noise. These people impress me because they situate themselves right in the middle of passengers. When you’re at Park Street waiting for a train on the middle platform you can’t help but listen to their music even if you don’t like it. This seems like the perfect way to get heard, despite how annoying it seems.

I spend a fair amount of time at Park Street, and I’ve noticed that humans aren’t the only species that listens to the music. One of my pastimes at Park Street is counting the mice that I see while waiting for the train. They aren’t that big, and they move rather quickly so it takes a sharp eye to spot them. The mice are about the size of a thumb, and colored dirty brown. This makes them almost invisible when they scurry across the tracks. Most times one can only see them as a brief flash in the corner of your eye. Once you turn to look fully they have disappeared among the dirt and grime of the track.

The mice like the music. Well, that isn’t exactly true. It’s more that the mice are drawn by the music. Whenever a musician is out on the platform I’ve seen more mice running about on the tracks. Often times I see them running up and down the track stopping near to where the person is playing. They seem to listen for a moment and then run off in the opposite direction, only to come back moments later and repeat the process. Every time I see it I can’t help but think of the Pied Piper. The mice seem to be waiting for instruction from the musician. They wait there on the track, almost at attention, once they have received orders, they hurry away. When the task is completed they return for more directions. No matter what the music type the behavior is the same. I wonder what is so captivating to them, what is so mesmerizing about the music that these mice become soldiers in the musicians cause. What is the musician telling them?

Every time I wait for the Red Line at Park Street I look for the musician. The Pied Piper of the day. I look to see what he or she is commanding of their troops, and how well the troops are performing. Only at Park Street.

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