A Response to Pearls Before Breakfast
Story by David Rutter
“We’ve got to stick together,
After all, everyone’s good enough for some change.”
From the song “Waitress” by Live.
Pearls Before Breakfast, published in The Washington Post, is an account of an experiment that took a renowned violinist, playing a multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin in a busy metro station in Washington D.C. The experiment was to see how many of the morning commuters noticed that such a superb musician was playing for free in a public place.
Reading the article brought back memoriesof a journey I once made twice each day through a pedestrian tunnel under the railway tracks between Central Station and George Street in Sydney. It is a long tunnel, filled with rushing business people, public servants, students from the nearby University of Technology, and various other commuters. On any given day half a dozen or more buskers and artists could be plying their trade on the sides of the tunnel.
On my journey along the tunnel I sometimes joined the rushing throng and obliviously streamed past the buskers and artists, on other days I might make a mental note, but keep rushing, and on other days I might slow down or even stop. A few regulars I became familiar with on my commute were a man playing a heavily treated electric guitar, a female backpacker playing endless Oasis covers, and a blind girl with an angelic choirgirl voice.
On one occasion I stopped to look at some paintings being done by an Aboriginal man on bits of scrap wood. He looked up, said “Hello”, and continued painting. I asked a
few questions of his work, and eventually sat down beside him, and listened to him talk about his paintings, his life, and his people. He was from the Wiradjuri group, a tribe that had the grave misfortune of living in arable regions of Australia, and thus were removed from their lands to make way for farms. Talking of his life, I got a sharp reminder that I was part of the so-called lucky part of the population of Australia.
While sitting there I was well aware of the stares and looks of the people rushing past. I was suddenly out of the crowd, a temporary outcast judging by passers’ looks. When I was part of the constantly moving stream of humanity, nobody paid me a second glance.
Just a guy walking to somewhere. Once I stepped out of that stream, I became an attraction. Quizzical faces pondered why I would have done so to talk with an Aboriginal man. I was subjected to glares of repulsion. On almost any other day I would have been oblivious to the attractions around me. On this day, I wasn’t. I paid for one of the paintings, and the man gave me another “because I stopped to have a chat”.
Have you ever taken a walk with a child? They have no concept of deadlines and timetables. They’ll notice things that you won’t. Recently, my young daughter stopped me while I was rushing to drop her off at childcare. She said “Stop Daddy, I have to pick some flowers”. I hadn’t even seen the flowers beside the footpath – I had a train to catch and I was already late for work. If you do walk with children, don’t treat it as your walk, and make them walk at your pace. Make yourself walk at their pace, look at the things they notice, pick some flowers, watch the birds, listen to the wind and feel the sun on your skin. Likewise, if you’re rushing to work, passing the buskers and painters, stop and take the time to look around, listen to some music and talk to the painters.
A few years later I returned to the tunnel. The Aboriginal man wasn’t to be found, but a few of the old regulars were, including the blind girl with the angelic voice. The tunnel was crowded as always, and the people still rushed.