Men in My Town

Random Encounters on a NYC Subway

Posted in Men in My Town by Keith Smith on February 13, 2016

It’s around 8 in the morning, Wednesday, February 10. I’m on the 1 Train heading to midtown from South Ferry, standing with my back to the door to the next subway car. We’re somewhere between 23rd Street and Penn Station. The train’s hosting a medium-sized crowd of commuters.

Every seat’s taken. 40 maybe 50 people standing, mostly adult men and women, a few high school and college aged kids, regular morning crowd, people trying to get to work, get to class, night shifters trying to get home.

We pull into Penn Station in the underbelly of Madison Square Garden, the crossroad for almost every NYC subway line, Metro North, New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Railroad and Amtrak. The train gets more crowded as a few dozen commuters climb aboard.

From the middle of the subway car, near the now closed center door, I hear a guy loudly, very loudly mumbling, grunting, saying nonsensical shit. He’s causing a scene.

People on the train size him up as “one of the homeless.” That’s not fair. Not all homeless behave this way. The guy very well might have a home. Maybe, maybe not.

Homeless, I’m not sure. What I was sure of was he’s scaring people. Innocent people. People trying to get to work. Trying to get to school. Trying to get home. People, who but for random chance, ended up in this train, at this moment, with this guy.

He’s standing in front of a young woman sitting in the first seat next to the railing, next to the center door of the train. My guess is she’s mid 20s. If you ride the subway you know exactly where she is. Sitting. Scared. On a subway now too crowded for her to move, trapped in her seat just inches from what appears to be a very unstable guy.

He’s yelling and I’m not making this shit up, “Die, Die.” Not at her, not at anyone really, just mumbling and yelling.

I can’t stand and watch. I can’t. I begin slowly moving through the dozen or so people standing between me and the center of train, softly speaking just above a whisper saying, “excuse me, please,” as I move toward the guy.

I position myself next to him, say, “excuse me, please,” and move between him and the woman trapped in her seat.

She looks up for what I think is the first time since he got on the train a minute or so ago. There are tears in her eyes and on her cheeks. There are two women sitting to her right. Strangers most likely. Just sitting next to each other out of the same random chance that placed them on this train, at this time, with a couple hundred commuters and one loud, disheveled, maybe dangerous, scary guy. The woman closest to her looks over to me and silently mouths, “thank you.”

The train pulls into 42nd Street, Times Square. The mumbling, screaming-at-no-one-in-particular, very scary guy gets off the train and disappears in the crowd of hundreds on the platform.

A few minutes later I get off at 50th and Broadway and walk to my office in Rockefeller Center

There’s a saying in New York, “See Something, Say Something.”

When it comes to protecting the innocent, for me it’s, “See Something, Do Something.”

It’s not about bravado.
It’s not about machismo.
It’s about protecting the innocent from random acts of violence.

It’s the “Men in My Town” in me.

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