THE SUBWAY PERFORMER

While we’re commuting to work, Heidi Kole is already at work busking in NYC subway stations. She competes with trains and cellphones for your ear, your heart — and your donations. How does she make enough to survive?

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

 

Aired on August 18, 2017, October 20, 2017,  March 30, 2018, and December 2, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

MY DAY DAY-TO-DAY IS PRETTY SIMPLE.

I, YOU KNOW, EAT, AND THEN I USUALLY DO SOMETHING PHYSICAL.

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AND THEN I COME BACK AND GET MY GEAR.

AND HEAD UNDER, KIND OF UNDERGROUND.

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IT IS PERFORMING IN PUBLIC FOR DONATIONS.

IT IS MAKING IT WORK, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.

USUALLY WHEN I START, I START WITH A COVER.

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I HAD JUST MOVED TO NEW YORK, I DIDN'T KNOW ANYONE AND I WAS FORCED UNDERGROUND ALMOST TO SURVIVE.

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FOR THE FIRST TWO YEARS IT IS QUITE A LEARNING CURVE DOWN THERE, AND NO ONE GETS STOPPED FOR A SPOT.

THERE ARE UNSPOKEN RULES THAT WE ALL JUST -- YOU JUST ABSORB IN THE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS ABOUT NOT SETTING UP ON PEOPLE.

IT'S HOT DOWN HERE TODAY.

[ INAUDIBLE ] ♪♪ ♪♪ GOT NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE

WHEN IT'S PEOPLE, AND THEN THEY'RE MOVED AND THEY EITHER DONATE, BUT IT IS NOT ALWAYS SUNNY.

SOMETIMES IT IS NOT.

I'M SUPER RESOURCEFUL.

I TEND TO MAKE A LOT OF THINGS MYSELF.

FOR A WHILE I WAS GROWING A LOT OF MY STUFF.

I DID A LOT OF THINGS TO MAKE IT WORK.

I SIGNED UP FOR FOCUS GROUPS, I DO THOSE SOMETIMES, AND I DO VOICE-OVERS HERE AND THERE.

IT IS TOUGH TO GO BACK UNDER AFTER A SLOW DAY.

I MEAN YOU ALWAYS SORT OF TAKE IT PERSONALLY.

YOU JUST HAVE TO, YOU KNOW, GET BACK ON THE HORSE.

HOW IT HAS CHANGED?

IT HAS CHANGED.

WHEN I WENT UNDER THE FIRST -- THERE WERE CELLPHONES BUT NOT EVERYONE HAD THEM.

NOW, WOW, IT'S CRAZY.

EVERYONE HAS CELLPHONES.

EVERYONE HAS THE WORLD IN FRONT OF THEM.

YOU MAKE LESS NOW THAN YOU DID.

EVERYONE IS JUST IN THEIR OWN LITTLE WORLD DOWN THERE, SO IT TAKES A LOT TO BUST THROUGH.

THE MAGIC THAT HAPPENS DOWN THERE, HUMANITY -- I REMEMBER I WAS ON A TRAIN ONCE AND PERFORMING AND A MAN SAID, GOOD LUCK, I HOPE, YOU KNOW, YOU MAKE IT OUT OF HERE.

I'M LIKE, I'M NOT TRYING TO GO ANYWHERE.

HE LOOKED AT ME WITH AN ODD LOOK AND I SAID, THERE'S A LOT OF FREEDOM DOWN HERE.

HE JUST STOPPED AND HE LOOKED AT HIS FEET AND HE SAID, OH, MY GOD, FREEDOM, HE SAID.

I COULD USE SOME OF THAT.

♪♪ [CHEERING] ♪♪ ♪♪

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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