I sent a friend links to Puppet Bike videos on YouTube, and he commented that the audience reaction is entertaining in itself. I noticed this, too. Because it was warmer last night, I had the opportunity to watch Puppet Bike and its audience interact for more than an hour.
First, it strikes me how many people pass by as though they don’t see the bike or puppets or hear the music. Some of them may see it all the time, but it seems odd to me that it doesn’t bring them even a momentary smile. Others just look sour, and I wonder how it feels to be behind that mask most of the time. Often, I look and feel unhappy, even depressed of late, but sour seems like an even worse expression to turn toward life.
Many people who appear not to have seen Puppet Bike before do stop and get into the spirit. Four girls between 8 and 12 years old, accompanied by adult women, stopped for a while and soon were dancing and laughing together to an old song they couldn’t have known or recognized. Several men whipped out digital cameras and mobile phones, and one man took photos with a professional-level camera. A few men walked by, looked for a moment or two, and left tips in the box office, as though they are familiar with the puppets (perhaps they saw them one day with the children during a trip to the city). One woman with a European accent shyly asked me if I had a $1 bill for four quarters. I did, and the $1 bill ended up with the puppets (later, so did the four quarters, after I ran out of singles). There were also groups of teenage boys and young men who weren’t embarrassed to be seen watching and laughing with the puppets for a few moments.
Then there are those who are clearly Puppet Bike fans. One, an attractive, affluent, beautifully dressed middle-aged woman, stood squarely in front of the puppets, giggling, clapping her hands, and keeping up a running commentary on how much she appreciates them. (J. overheard her on my mobile phone and said she must be his kind of person.) Another middle-aged woman came along and said to the owl that he’s missing an eye. (He acknowledged this by covering his face and nodding.) “Awww, are you okay anyway?” she asked. The owl nodded and began dancing to prove it. This may have been the same woman who asked if the two kitties could come out to dance. The tiger gave her a long, hard look until she said, “Oh, I guess you’re a kitty, too.” This seemed to placate the offended feline.
A police officer on a bicycle appeared toward the end of the performance. He wore a tight-lipped grin as though he didn’t exactly approve, and for a few moments I thought he might say something or cause a problem. Then he broke into a wider, more sincere smile, waved a few times to the puppets until they noticed him and waved back, then rode off. I realized the grin was a cover for genuine emotion; how often do we get to see police officers allow themselves to enjoy themselves? Even police officers need a little Puppet Bike in their lives.