Busking in Staten Island

Waiting for the ferry to take me to my busking spot at the terminal on the Staten Island side, I had an excited feeling of an adventure. I’ve only taken the ferry once before and that was many years ago.
When the ferry boat left the dock, we passed by Governor’s Island. What fun it could be if it were possible to live there – there would be the gorgeous view of Manhattan to look at from one’s window…

Governor's Island

We then passed by Ellis Island and I imagined all the immigrants coming from Europe 100 years ago going through Ellis Island, with hope and a dream in their hearts.

Ellis Island

We then passed by the Statue of Liberty. It looked small in comparison with the tall sky-scraper view of Manhattan.

Statue of Liberty

The New Jersey shore is starting to look like Manhattan… lots of tall sky-scrapers with a glossy look.

New Jersey shore

There is a beautiful light house at the harbor – I tried to imagine what it would be like to live there, all isolated.

Light House

As I got into the St. George terminal a police officer with a sniffing dog checked out my busking gear. There were 2 officers with dogs – one with a black dog, the other with a white dog, who hung out at the terminal.

As I was setting up a guy said to me: “You got tired of Times Square?”

A guy stationed at the terminal in order to recruit people for the Fire Department said to me: “You’ll make my day go by faster!”. That was a nice welcome.

A guy asked me to play a Christmas song. “Even though it’s not the Christmas season now?” I asked.
Guy: “Christmas is year round, it’s not just one day”.
I played ‘Silent Night’ for him, but I felt very self conscious playing out of season. When the guy wanted more Christmas songs I told him I don’t know if other people would enjoy it and I don’t want to annoy anybody.

The Music Under New York banner kept falling down from its hanging place on the glass wall behind me. Finally I gave up on rehanging it and just draped it on my bag.

A menacing guy looking at me made ‘cut’ hand motions by his throat.
I kept on playing.
He circled me, making these motions while walking around me.
I kept on playing.
He came over to me and said over and over: ‘Hip Hop! Hip Hop! Hiiip Hhhhop!!!’
I kept on playing.
He said: “I don’t want to hear this – only Hip Hop!”
I kept on playing.
He made booing sounds.
I kept on playing.
At the end of the song the crowd standing around applauded. The menacing guy looked surprised – he didn’t expect anybody wanted to hear music which isn’t hip hop.

At 3pm the sun was getting lower and it was shining in my eyes. As time went by the sun went lower and lower – more and more into my eyes. It got to a point where I couldn’t see the people standing in front of me at all!
At 3:40pm the sun went below the window and I could see again. What a relief.

At 4:30 the black bomb sniffing dog was replaced by another police white dog.
At 4:55 a guy climbed on a tall ladder, opened up the roof of the huge aquarium in the center of the terminal and replaced a plastic bag in the roof of the aquarium. I didn’t understand what he was doing. He then went over to the other huge aquarium and did the same thing. This time he was on my side of the aquarium, so I could see a swarm of fish rush over to the guy – he was feeding the fish!


The sanitation guy of the terminal told me that he is from Macedonia (former Yugoslavia). He used to be a glass artisan and did engraving on glass. But here in New York he has to sweep floors. He has been in New York for 14 years. He tried doing glass work here but there isn’t enough work in it and he needs to pay the mortgage. He works 4 hours on the Manhattan side and 4 hours on the Staten Island side of the ferry every day. He likes the Manhattan side better – “better people”, he said. Since it’s the same people who take the ferry each way, I didn’t understand how people could be better on one side than on the other. He explained that on the Manhattan side there are tourists. They don’t stay in the St. George terminal – they just take the same ferry boat right back to Manhattan.

A homeless lady told me that I played her favorite song – ‘Over the Rainbow’. She said that when she was young she used to write the lyrics of this song on paper. She stays in the terminal on the Staten Island side. She has a boyfriend for 4 months now. She has family in Israel but she doesn’t know where and she is afraid of flying. Yesterday somebody offered her a bed but she refused it because she didn’t want to leave her boyfriend behind in the terminal. He gets bad dreams and she has to calm him down.

St. George terminal

Cool donation of the day: somebody put a one cent coin from the ‘East Caribbean States’ in my donations bucket. This goes straight into my world coins collection. Thank you!


  1. mister anchovy on February 15, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I bet the hip hop dude was a bit scary. A couple years ago, there was a strange guy who kept finding me no matter where I busked. He never said anything to me, just stood at a distance and stared. Finally after doing this a whole bunch of times, he walked up, dropped some coin, said thanks, and I never saw him again.

  2. Kev Brown on February 17, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Fantastic photo’s!

  3. Heth on February 28, 2009 at 7:56 am

    I love your photos. I feel the same way on the way over, adventurous.

    Sorry to hear about the menacing guy Nat. I’m glad you kept going.

    I really like playing the ferry but the other side gets a little desolate feeling.


  4. Barb on April 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Nat, It’s Barb, We both played for Rob Israel WAAAY back, when I was with Jaime, Remember?

    Jaime Helen and I used to play ON the boats for years! That’s a great experience, the terminals it’s a little different. My hope is that one day they will extend permits to those of us who used to play ON the boats, it will open up more spots, and believe me it’s both possible and welcomed! The 30 minute trip goes a lot faster for these folks when they can sit down with a cold one and groove to something the enjoy! 🙂

    Good luck out there, I’d heard since Sandy that particular spot (Ferry both sides) was shut down due to damage and such…

    See you out there!