Thursday, March 18, 2010
Walk, Don't Die
I was sitting on the R train Sunday morning when the screaming started.
We were at the 45th Street station in Sunset Park. I was going to a gym class in Manhattan and I had left my house ridiculously early so I wouldn’t be late.
I was overdoing it, but it's always a good idea to give yourself a little extra time when you're traveling at off-peak hours. There are fewer trains on the weekends, so if you miss one, you’d better have something to read.
Perhaps that thought was on the mind of a young woman who was racing down the steps to get onto the train. The doors were closing just as she got to them and she tripped—perhaps the platform was slippery from all the goddamn rain we were having.
Whatever the reason, she managed to somehow slide her leg into the space between the train and the platform, which I didn’t think was possible at this particular station. It was the kind of freak occurrence that you couldn’t do if you tried a hundred times. But there it was.
“Stop the train!” the woman screamed. “Stop the train!”
The conductor opened the doors and the screaming grew louder.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God...”
I kept looking to see what the problem was, but I didn't see anything. All I heard was someone crying. Finally I stood up, walked over to the door, and there she was: one leg completely invisible, wedged into this tight spot, with tears rolling down her face.
I was joined by several other passengers and initially we just kind of stared at this bizarre scene. How do the hell did she do that? And, more importantly, how the hell do they get her out?
Bear in mind that this was happening just days after a woman was killed in an Upper East Side train station after jumping down onto the tracks to retrieve her gym bag.
A young man who was just entering the train had enough sense to kneel down and take the woman’s hand.
“Somebody help me,” he said and I took the woman's hand for a few moments. I stepped out of the car and noticed that it rocked slightly--these newer trains apparently have shock absorbers that give them a little bounce.
I got a couple of passengers to help me push up against the car and create a little bit of space so the woman could get out of there.
While we did that, two other passengers helped the woman pull her leg free. She sat on the platform for a few minutes, but one of the riders insisted she stand up, which she eventually did. However, she did still want an ambulance.
I suspect she probably could have gotten out on her own, but she panicked. And who can blame her? When your leg is pinned between a concrete platform and several tons of subway car you're probably not thinking too clearly.
I returned to my seat and an elderly man in a Yankees cap—there always seems to be one of these guys around during a crisis—started talking about how dangerous running for a train can be.
“I got my arm caught in a door one time,” he told me. “And it went numb. After that I just stay away from the door.”
A woman who I believe was the station manager went into the motorman’s car, threw some switches, and came out to deliver a lecture.
“Why y’all gotta be running?” she shouted. “Y’all act like this is the only train we got. There’s another one behind this.”
The young woman sat on the steps drying her tears and I checked the time. I was thinking, hey, she’s okay, the EMTs are on the way…can we go now?
No, actually, we couldn’t. The train was being taken out of service. The motorman told us we’d have to cross over to the other platform, go back to 59th Street, and take an express into Manhattan.
I had to start my trip from just about square one and all that time I thought I was saving by leaving early was evaporating.
Still, I felt sorry for the young woman. It could’ve easily been me or anybody else in that predicament. I’m always running for trains, or dashing across the street just as the light changes.
I often blame this behavior on the manic pace of the city, but we have to resist that chronic need to be someplace—any place—fast. It really isn’t worth dying for.
I was just climbing up the stairs when I heard the sound of train heading toward the station from the other direction. And so I and everybody else from that dysfunctional local did what New Yorkers do best.
We started running.
If I had stopped to think I might have realized that running in the subway station was what caused all this misery in the first place. But I had a train to catch.