Subway safety for dummies

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Speaking of which, I have a subway-tracks story of my own, though I was no hero, believe me.

I had lived in New York only about two years when I let someone do something stupid. It was late at night and I was waiting for the train on a thinly populated but by no means deserted D platform at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Near me, a girl who couldn't have been more than 20 was digging for something in the front pocket of her jeans. The jeans were so tight that she couldn't get her hand into the pocket very easily. When she finally latched onto whatever it was she was after and pulled it out, a few folded-up $20 bills popped out of her pocket along with her hand and went sailing out over the edge of the platform. They landed right in the rail bed.

The girl, who was slender and less than medium height, stared down at the bills in chagrin. "Shit," she said, "that's sixty bucks." She noticed me and came over. "Hey, mister, if I climb down there, will you help me up again?"

I should have said no way, but it was very late, the girl looked desperate, and who knows how long it would have taken to find an MTA employee and report the loss. (That's what you're supposed to do—there are signs on the trains telling you never to climb down onto the tracks if you lose something.)

"Yeah, okay," I said.

The girl sat right down on the edge of the platform and hopped down to the rail bed, a distance of probably five feet or more—deep enough that any person would have trouble climbing back up along. She picked up her cash, stuffed it into her pocket, and came back over to the platform edge.

What came next I can only assume was a classic clash of expectations. I squatted down, braced myself with my feet, and extended an arm down to her. I expected that we would grasp forearms and I would help her "walk" up the wall and onto the platform. It would take five seconds. But she just stared up at me, ignoring my arm, and said, "Help me up."

I couldn't process this. I'm not sure if I told her to take my arm or not. There was no train in sight, but I felt a certain urgency nonetheless. I shook my arm as if to say, Grab this.

She didn't. She just kept looking up at me, telling me to help her up.

Just as I realized she was expecting me to reach down and haul her up bodily, with no effort expended on her part, a couple of men hurried over and together they grabbed her beneath the armpits and lifted her up. The train didn't come for a few more minutes, but all that time the three of them, and other onlookers, spent glaring at me. For my part, my nerves were shot, and I had trouble sleeping that night.

I guess I shouldn't have assumed that anyone dumb enough to climb down onto the tracks would be smart enough to know the best way to climb out again. For that matter, I shouldn't have assumed that anyone who would let anyone climb down onto the tracks would be smart enough to help them up again.

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/356065.html ]

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on January 3, 2007 7:10 AM.

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