02/19/2012 07:51 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2012

Rancho Grande On the Seventh Avenue Line

"Shouldn't we just walk?"

It was only two stops down to the Museum, but the weather was iffy, neither of us had a good coat quite yet, and the subway station at 96th Street just plain looked good. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving -- "Black Friday," as the stores had taken to calling it. "Buy Nothing Day," to me. Either way, you were talking about consumption.

"Did people used to go shopping after Thanksgiving?" I asked him.

"We didn't," he said.

Well, of course, he didn't, having grown up first of all with everything everyone else was buying, but all of it procured in a more elegant fashion than any kind of run to the mall. But we didn't either, in a mill town in Ohio, since shopping was a directed activity in those days -- winter clothes, summer clothes, the one holiday present. My mother must have bought a TV once in the twenty years I was growing up, but not the day after Thanksgiving.

As we entered the station, a train was pulling in. We raced down the stairs, and we hopped on, with that little laugh that comes from just making it. The train was full -- unusual for ten in the morning -- and there weren't any seats. We'd started with bourbon the night before, and ended with Prosecco. A lot of white and red in between, not to mention the turkey.

"My head."


The doors clanged shut, then opened and they bounded onto the train.

There were three of them, little guys, two with guitars and one with a strange stringed something. We knew them from their hats, pure Mexico, even before they started singing.

"Allá en Rancho Grande,
Allá donde vivia --"

One of those upbeat mariachi songs, from down there in the heart of things. The only restaurant we really love in L.A. has two guys who sing that to us every time we go in--badly, but they sing it. Take us away from it all, out to that Big Ranch, in the cactus and heat and dust, where no one is failing to make movies or sitting desperate at desks, rearranging bills in a pile.

"Habia una rancherita
que alegre me decia -- "

"A little ranch, where I was happy" -- was it possible, here, in the subway? Not the musicians playing for money, that happens often enough, usually to the annoyance and discomfort of all. But Mexicans singing "Rancho Grande" in New York?

Suddenly, a gray-haired man standing near us gave a smile and started to dance a little bit. A few others started clapping. Were they Mexicans? South Americans? We had spent the best years of our lives down there. My friend gave one of those Mexican hoots.

And then everyone was laughing. I'd never seen that before on a New York subway. But we weren't on the subway any more. We were all out on that ranch.

As the train started screeching to a halt, one of the musicians ran through with his hat. I was glad enough to have a dollar in my pocket. I wanted to thank them, but there wasn't time.

They pushed out through the crowd and ran onto the next car. The train pulled away, and we walked out, into the cold, back into Buy-Nothing/Black-Friday, dashing away the tears that were running down both of our faces.