This gentleman was proselytizing on the subway. I have only known Caribbeans and Africans to participate in this sort of unbridled subway testifying, though I’ve seen the odd middle-aged Latina perform a tamer Spanish version, and once an Orthodox Jew.
Mostly folks try to pretend that the person isn’t even there. Which is, of course, impossible. If the person is ridiculous enough, people will crack coy smiles and giggle to themselves, or break the unspoken but assiduously enforced eye contact rule, looking to the person across from them with one of those, “hey, what can you do?” kind of looks. The entire ordeal proceeds by rote — even sometimes on the part of the performer — each life touched not enough to matter, but enough to be annoyed.
But the experience isn’t annoying, really. It is often grating — producing the kind of woe-is-me regret that causes one to consider leaving New York as the person’s voice seamlessly takes on the form of every worst intention and idea lurking below the surface of our noble and usually well-meaning selves. Still, the performance itself is fascinating. Some person, for whatever reason, has left the tracks, gone rogue. Not in the murderous-rapage kind of way, but within a completely socially acceptible form that we have all taken on as part of the cost of doing business with the MTA. And unlike in the case of the homeless, or musicians, these people don’t want your money. They want your soul. Most will settle for your practiced inattention. Then, when the train stops, they step off and take their show to the next car.