A 10-minute subway delay during a work commute on a Saturday is not usually something that puts a smile on one’s face.
It is, however, if the train operator on your New York City subway train is Mike Conklin, a man once nicknamed “Motown Mike” by his coworkers.
New York-based lawyer Ari Bayme found that out one Saturday in May while he was commuting to his law firm. Just as he began to grimace at the announcement of a 10-minute delay because of work on the track lines, Bayme witnessed an unlikely scene.
A trio of singing panhandlers practicing at the back of the nearly empty train car was joined by the train’s motorman, Conklin, who stepped into the car to join them.
“I heard these guys singing and I opened the door and said, ‘Hey, do you know any Sam Cooke,’ and started singing,” Conklin, 53, told ABC News. “And the one guy said, ‘Wow, this guy sings,’ and another guy came out of the train and he had his mouth open like, ‘I can’t believe this guy is singing like that.’”
Filming the impromptu subway concert on his phone was Bayme, who describes it as a “surreal” moment.
“I loved it,” Bayme told ABC News in an email. “The whole experience was very surreal, like a Disney version of New York City.”
Bayme left the train that day without knowing who Conklin was, while Conklin left without knowing his performance had been caught on camera.
It was only a few days later – after Bayme posted the video on YouTube and dogged New York Daily News reporter Pete Donohue identified and found Conklin – that Conklin realized he had “gone viral.”
“I got a call from a friend who was like, ‘Mike, check the news. You went viral,’” Conklin recalled. “And I was like, ‘Viral? What is he talking about?’ I’m a little prehistoric with things like that.”
Conklin may not know YouTube but he does know what got him there: singing, a skill the New York City native has been practicing his whole life.
“My mother used to take me to the Apollo when I was a little kid and I grew up listening to Same Cooke and James Brown and Aretha Franklin,” Conklin said. “I was in a little group in the ‘90s and I sang at the Apollo in 1998.
“Then I got married and had kids and I settled down a little bit,” he said. “I got a 9-to-5 job but my heart has always been in music. I sing all the time.”
Conklin says he often sings on the street or with his friends and ends up drawing a crowd but does not believe he has ever been filmed. That his subway song has reached so many people fits well with what he says he loves most about singing, that it makes people happy.
“It’s a wonderful thing because everybody goes through things in life and if you’re at a down point sometimes you can really make someone’s day,” he said. “I just like to make people happy.”