The Connection

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

While watching the basketball game I start thinking about the day Kareem came into the store, obviously, very visible over 7 feet tall, and immediately recognizable. I ask if I can help him and he tells me he is looking for a djembe. I pull out 4-5 African djembes and he checks them out. I couldn’t help notice his hand spread was almost the size of the top of a couple of the drums. He makes his decision and by now I am itching to say how I admire his years with the Lakers and what a great player he is. I get the vibe he’s heard it all before. I hold back. He explains he is buying the drum to develop better coordination. I agree with him drums are great for independence and coordination. Finally, I blurt out “I understand you are a big jazz fan and help support a local festival in California.” He looks back at me (over me) and says, “What’s your name?” We then have a 15 minute intense conversation about the music. The connection was made.

Those of you who ride the New York subways know the disconnection with the other passengers. They are either staring at their smart phones, or buried in a book or newspaper. Very little eye contact is made; perhaps an “excuse me” (if you are lucky) when entering or exiting the train. Recently on route to an appointment I am standing Ray Barretto by the door on a downtown #1 train and in my subway trance look across the aisle and see a young man wearing an unusual T-shirt. The first thing I notice on the shirt is a picture of a large conga drum. The drum has no advertising or brand connected with it. There is a man seated in front of the drum and the more I look I recognize the person. It is a photo of Ray Barretto posing in front of a conga drum. Ray was a dear friend and customer for years. He was always respectful and very personable. In my excitement I approach the guy and tell him how much I like his T-shirt. He gives me a big smile and we begin discussing Ray and his music. For the next 3 stops we are in deep conversation about the Fania All-Stars, the Latino record shop that was in the Times Square subway station and his large record collection which includes all of Ray’s albums. Here I am talking to a stranger on a New York subway and realize he is as enthusiastic about our mutual interest as I. My stop comes and I reluctantly exit the train and give him a handshake and a “nice meeting you” goodbye. On to my appointment.

A couple of hours later I am back on the uptown train and its business as usual. The smart phones, blank stares, etc. I begin thinking about my earlier incident. The discussion with the stranger and how we hooked up. The connection was made, and so was my day! What a great groove when we relate…that’s what life is all about.

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