Jam Man

“Ratta-tat-tat, tat-tat-ta-tat” began to slowly pound on the bottom of the Muni train as a man leaning against the closed doors slipped into a trance.

Hopping on the K train at the Castro stop, the man, likely in his late 20s, appeared to be dressed for work: black dress pants and matching black dress shoes, a blue tie, and a white shirt tinted by his bright red earbuds and the long red cord traveling down to his phone—the lifeline of the events about to unfold.

With one hand clenched to the pole, the other hand quickly jumped out of his pocket and, in an unassuming manner, slowly began to fret his invisible guitar. The rest of his body remained calm and still, as if his secret jam session wasn’t happening at all.

Just as the fingers of his left hand began to fret more intensely, he suddenly stopped. He jammed his hand back into his pocket and squashed the “ratta-tat-tat” as he stood up straight and stiffened his posture. It was as if an internal monologue of “Keep it together man, you’re on Muni!” had slapped him across the face, thrusting him back into reality.

But he was unable to fight the urge– mesmerized by the bodacious beats unheard to anyone but him, he quickly slipped back into his air jamming state.

First to emerge was the “ratta-tat-tat” of his foot. The left hand crept out of his pocket and began to move furiously between the frets of his imaginary guitar. But clearly he had to strum, and finger by finger his right hand slowly released the pole and then ferociously zoomed across the invisible strings.

Next to come was the head nod, a hard one.

But again, reality soon took hold—a text message! Dropping the beat, he pulled out his iPhone and put his guitar solo on pause as he scrutinized the tiny words on his tiny cell phone screen with a furrowed brow and intense focus.

But as we approached Powell things started to change– the beats took another breath of life as people flocked off the car!

The head nod was the first to emerge with a gradual, faint pulse, but rapidly grew faster and harder– and even frantic– like the heart beat of a person in a dead sprint.

The left foot couldn’t resist the fun, and this time invited the entire leg to join. The “ratta-tat-tat” was made louder as the Jam Man raised his knee and pounded his foot to the ground.


Uninhibited and deeply immersed in his jam session, the Jam Man strummed furiously again. But then suddenly stopped.  “Keep it together man!” slapped him across the face again. Standing up straight, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and resumed texting.

But his left foot just couldn’t let go. It HAD to continue.  No matter how much the rest of his body resisted, it JUST COULDN’T STOP.

The calm occasional tap of his shoe picked up speed again and seconds later the Jam Man leapt into the most intense air guitar solo of the entire set.

Strumming harder and harder, fretting faster and faster, my eyes were dizzy watching the Jam Man. He was jamming so hard!

But then once again he was quickly jolted out of his trance.

“Embarcadero,” echoed the automated Muni conductor.

He had reached his stop.

Abruptly standing up straight and stiff, he calmly placed his hands in his pocket and strolled off the Muni.

While the air guitar talent was some of the best I’ve ever seen, more amazing was how everybody else reacted, or rather didn’t react at all. Engrossed in a Tetris-like game on a humongous Samsung phone, the woman sitting across from the Jam Man never even lifted her head to observe the spectacle.  A homeless guy swaggered back and forth through the aisles asking each person for $2 for a meal. People shuffled on and off at every stop headed downtown, with each one allotting not more than a glance, if one at all, to observe the the air guitar phenom before them.

I guess that’s what this city does to you– when neck deep in bizarre happenings and engulfed in mobs of people who do whatever the hell they want to do, it makes you immune to the unexpected and that’s because what’s the norm elsewhere certainly isn’t the norm here.

This city makes me smile every day.