I am switching metros at the biggest station in Paris, where five metros and three suburban trains converge and where you can get lost just looking for a way to get out. Châtelet spans two arrondissements, and is always busy, no matter what time of day. Unfortunately, rush hour is just starting.
It's a traffic jam of people going all different directions. There seem to be an unreasonable number of people lugging suitcases, babies, and big packages. This slows down things even more. To top it all off, one of the major escalators is closed for renovation. So all up-down traffic is condensed to a staircase that is usually only reserved for down traffic. It's bottle-necking at its worst.
Finally I spill out at the top of the staircase and mentally prepare myself. I will need to fight my way to the moving sidewalk. But something stops me.
It's not the music, because metro musicians are nothing new. The real show stopper is all the newspaper. I don't know how and I don't know why, but for some reason the free nightly papers are scattered all over the ground, maybe hundreds of them. Then there is music, which is definitely part of it. An older man playing the double bass, singing blues. Then there are the people, hurrying and scurrying every which way.
The scene is totally bizarre, and I am the only one who realizes it. I pull off to the side and stand against the wall to observe. Thirty seconds ago, the only question of my mind was : "why is everyone walking so effing slowly?!" Now I have bigger questions of my mind. I wonder where all these people are going? I wonder how all these newspapers got here? I wonder where he learned to play the bass? And why he's here and all that. I stand for a couple minutes and think about these things.
I've never given a metro musician money, but this time I do. Maybe I'm paying him for being part of this peaceful moment I had while everyone else was wrapped up in chaos.
Merci beaucoup, bonne soirée he sings to me as I hop on the moving walkway. I flash him a thumbs up sign and get lost in the crowd.