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Riders Pony Up, And With a Smile
By Ray Sanchez
13 November 2003
Meet Jaime Dumas, who makes an admirable living as the subway horseman, singing and dancing through trains, astounding even the most jaded of New Yorkers.
"I've lived in the city all my life," said a middle-aged man sitting on a Lexington Avenue local yesterday afternoon. "This is definitely a first."
Dumas is 38 and lives in a rented room in Harlem, where he starts his days late by pushing his pony through the turnstile at the 125th Street station. "It's made to fit," he said. It's too cumbersome for the rush hour, however.
A man with far more imagination than talent, Dumas carved the head of his horse from a block of yellow foam. The big brown eyes came from a stuffed animal donor. The nostrils were burned out with cigarettes. Its long black mane and tail were hair-weaving products purchased in a 99-cent store. A brown woolen blanket found on the street covers the horse's foam body.
To mount his pony, Dumas had slipped into a pair of size 36 black Levi's with legs stuffed with rags and a large hole cut in the rear. His legs went through holes in the jeans and the body of the horse, enabling him to sashay through the subway. The stuffed jean legs hung over the sides, attached to boots and making it appear as if Dumas was riding the pony.
This was the invention of a man who was earning $193 working 40-hour weeks in a plastics factory in Brooklyn when he learned that his hours were being cut. This was 1998, some years after New York had started to become unlivable for working people. The times will drive you to the unthinkable.
"I don't speak English," said Dumas, who came to New York six years ago from Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. "It was going to be hard to find another job. I made a horse."
When I met Dumas yesterday afternoon, his pony was resting atop a fire hydrant in Harlem and he didn't have the $2 for the train. Convinced he might have a story, I let him through the turnstile with my MetroCard. In his first 15-minute run, between 125th Street and Grand Central, Dumas had collected more than $10 in his paper cup.
"In just two hours on a Friday afternoon, when people are happy and looking forward to the weekend, I have made from $75 to $100," he said. "On my best day, I can make $200 in five hours."
He does this by exhibiting no talent other than a willingness to dress up as himself in a Nike cap, mounted on a prancing horse through the iron workhorses of New York's subway, singing "La Bamba" and "Oye como va."
Yesterday, reactions from riders along the Lexington line ranged from astonishment to disbelief to uncontrollable laughter.
"That's why New York is the greatest city in the world - the sickest and greatest," one man said.
"I've seen everything in the subway, but never this," said another.
"It's a New York moment," said a woman from Boston. "That's all I can say."
"Look, he's not out here mugging anybody or selling drugs," said Gloria Arroyo, who lives in the Bronx.
Not everybody is amused.
"Some people call me stupid to my face," Dumas said. "I say, 'Stupid is making some money, fool' and keep on going. I don't care if you think you're better than me. I just do my thing."
Dumas said his current horse is his 30th creation. He has sold four to friends and strangers. Two were stolen after he left them outside bodegas in Brooklyn. "I don't leave him alone anywhere," he said of his new pony.
He first performed as the singing horseman at malls in the San Juan area in the early 1990s. But it wasn't until Dumas took his act underground that he started making money. He also performs at Orchard Beach in the Bronx and children's birthday parties.
"I remember the first day, I just went on the train with my little English: 'Buenas tardes, everybody,'" he said. "At first, I felt shame. People looked at me like I was crazy. But I kept going.
"This is better than work," Dumas said. "I call it a blessing. I bring a little joy to people. You see it in their faces. It's not the horse so much. It's my spirit."
Newsday Photo/Julia Gaines - Jaime Dumas plies his trade yesterday on a northbound No. 6 train in Manhattan.