The Subway needs more Human Contact, Not Less
What happened in the subway.
I guess every New Yorker witnesses something like this sooner or later, but it was my first time. I was in the subway station late Friday evening, at Herald Square. As I descended the stairs and strolled the platform, trying to remember what route changes were in effect for my trains, I noticed a man splayed on one of the benches, his sinewy, tatooed arm draped along his neck in an odd position, as if he were cradling himself. He seemed asleep to anyone walking by, but something in his posture alerted me, and I stopped. I know you’re not supposed to stop, but his breathing seemed shallow, and his skin, far too pallid.
He raised his eyes open and nodded at me; I’m okay, just keep going. I knew that wasn’t true, but I acknowledged his wish, and moved a respectful distance away. I turned across the platform to see the R coming, with a strange terminus on its masthead. Then I remembered the R was running an abbreviated route for the weekend and not going all the way home. So I turned across the platform. The man from the bench was in the tracks. And the train was coming towards him.
I instinctively started to move toward the man in the tracks. A wave of people kept me back. People on the platform began to scream and reach for cellphones. Many people covered their eyes, and a swarm headed for the stairs. The myth that if you see something you should say something is of course moot in the subway since there is no cell phone signal, and no one to tell. And certainly on a Friday night, there are no MTA or Police officials at the busiest transit hub in midtown. A man climbed to the top of the stairs and started to shout at the clerk in the token booth to call the police, but of course she couldn’t hear him. Curses and prayers broke out in ten different languages. People crossed themselves. And then the train arrived.
The operator knew something was wrong because his deceleration had started at 28th Street, thank God. So when he saw people waving and screaming, he slowed way down and stopped centimeters from the center of the platform. I don’t know what happened to the man in the tracks. He was no longer visible. The train stood in place, just outside Board Here, swaying as people stared into the tracks. What had happened to the man? Someone spoke to the operator and he got on his radio. But no one could see the man anymore. He had been screaming in the tracks as the train’s lights caught him. But then he dissapeared. Did he climb out amid the attendant chaos?
The operator had his schedule to attend to. No obvious threat was apparent. So the train moved into the station. Passengers disembarked and boarded. The train moved out. Another train moved in. People came back downstairs and started waiting for the train again. Was there something for me to take away from this?
There was. Besides my own internal feelings of horror that I could not help the man, and distress with myself for not pushing on to find the guy