A Different Subway Story



Things aren’t all so rosy, or at least things took an interesting turn today on the train. Thus far, I've had some really fun subway stories. Odd, interesting, different. With no intention, just kinda living life and enjoying the scenery while I'm still here. But sometimes, I guess, while on the journey you have some not as savory encounters (i.e. conversely learning experiences :D).

I wrote this blog post on Tuesday (2.9.16). As I was just finishing it up a bit on the train last night (2.10.16), I had super ironic set of events transpire. I try to keep the dates in line, but because the post was written over time as the things are happening--and I don't want to just whitewash over it--I try keep it real. But yea, sorry if the dates are a bit confusing.


This part was written Tuesday February 9th.

I was headed to a lunch downtown, nothing out of the ordinary. An older guy, maybe in his 60s, started saying/yelling something to the people in the train car. I was listening to an article at the time, and only heard bits. I wasn’t really sure if he was asking for money, and the only words I hear was about ‘putting phones into their mouths’, which I’m still wondering if he was saying ‘feet’.

It did seem like he was ranting about something else, as he seemed agitated/angry, but as he started heading down the train car (didn’t seem to be collecting money), I thought to check with the person to my right. I asked her if the guy was asking for money, and to my surprise she said yes.

I then took out a joelikeshelping card, and started to head to the other side of the car where the guy seemed to be going into another round about talking about something (which was odd, considering that there weren’t many people on that train car and most probably heard him from the end I was at). As I started approach him, he started saying something and yelling at me that I couldn’t really figure out. I don’t know what he thought. Super odd. I started walking back to my seat as he continued yelling, this time really directed at me. Mot much of what I heard was so coherent. Whatever it is, the smiling/chuckling in disbelief got him annoyed, because I am pretty sure he was yelling about my reaction, too, as I heard the word 'laughing' in there.

(I'd like to pause here and just say that there are times where your initial suspicions are wrong. And there have probably been similar circumstances where someone seemed angry and was actually looking for money.)

Anyway, I sit back down to myself, and ask the person next to me if they were sure he was asking for money, to my surprise, she said yes. And she seemed perhaps as confused/surprised by the whole thing.

As I walk off the train, the guy gets off at the same stop and as I go by, I say have a good day (it could have been another casual good bye deal). Maybe he thought I was making fun or something, but as I walk up the stairs, he says something, takes out his flip phone, points it at me, seems to press a button, before walking away.

It looked like he took a photo of me, but who even knows. Maybe my photo is on the hitlist of some dude’s wall. Ha. Go figure.

C’est la vie!

Holding Hope

Now as I write this back home on the train, there is a guy across and to the left of me, talking out loud to himself, looking around, muttering random things. Some words are coherent I think. Occasionally staring wide-eyes at me. (Maybe he is singing along to a song [addendum—I heard the words "coke" and "B.I.G.", pretty sure it’s at least part of a rap]). There are kinds of people, from all different circumstances/backgrounds/situations here in NYC. It’s what makes it beautiful, but also pretty wild.

Basically all of the things that went down when I made an effort to help someone out here have been what we could call positive encounters. This is the first one I can think of that is in the not so good category.

There were two layers of trust here: there is a level of trust with the guy I’m hoping to help, and here also with the person I asked if he in fact asked for money.

Any time you open up to giving or receiving, you are vulnerable in a way. Whether you are stopping to help someone who appears to have a flat tire, or if you connecting a homeless person to dental care.

I often wonder if the person I’m about to go up to on the subway, or panhandling on the streets, if they might not have the best motives in mind. Most of the ‘wonder’ is a kind of semi-background evaluating that we do when approaching anyone.

Yea, I’m sure a certain small percent of people have negative intentions, and some might be in a gray area. But I couldn’t live a life on the basis of that assumption that the person I am going to open up to with heart will shoot an arrow back. We gotta be careful, be realistic, but hold out hope.

The Fun Goes On

This part was written Tuesday February 10th, right after it happened, and February 11th.

I planned on finishing up this post and cleaning up the html, having having gotten through my emails. But well, I got another couple of subway events that have just transpired.

So here I'm sitting on the train, and I hear a guy come on the train and say incoherent things in an aggressive tone. At first I thought he was asking for money. But then I thought I heard, "I'm gonna bite you," but I honestly have no idea. He was being all agressive about it, so I could have just interepreted his words because of that.

The dude was now getting up in people's faces, shouting at them. I didn't like the idea of me not helping him out if he is agressive, but I guess it got to the point where I knew that this wasn't the time to chat with him and give him a joelikeshelping card.

The guy continues to shout, on the train, and I hear him say "you don't even look at me" or something like that. He is getting more angry as people on the train just look past him.

My emotions at this point are torn in two directions. I feel incredibly bad, imagining what it would be like for people to not able to look you in the eye. But then, I have an equally strong emotion of being really close to wanting to physically throw this guy off the train, feeling bad for the people he is shouting at.

At one point, he seemed to be picking on one passenger. The passenger seemed to be taking it quite well, but if the dude layed a finger on the passenger, I was ready to jump into it. And if this passenger was instead a young more 'vulnerable' person, things could have escalated real quickly..

I guess if things played out, I would try to toss the guy off the train, and then offer him help. It sounds crazy, but it's hard for me to ignore these two emotions that I was so deeply feeling then. (I'm brought back to a paper I wrote on the criminal justice system. The essential thesis being despite the momentum in modern neuro/psych, we should accord fully responsibility to people and accord sentences as such, while treating them humanely.)

So that was jarring, thinking how close I was to maybe doing something that would have intense consequences. Eventually the dude walks off, much to my relief.

Round 3

As this is going down, I begin chatting with the dude to my left, on all the craziness going on. And how funny it is that I was going over the blog post about that very kind of incident.

By now, there aren't many passengers on the train car. A kid, maybe about 18 years old, then gets on the train, with a signup donation sheet. Something related to sponsoring a basketball team or something I think.

As the kid walks by, I told him that sorry I didn't have any money on me (I rarely do), though I would give him a dollar if I did.

Maybe that could have been said more tactfully. Whatever it is, that comment set the kid off.

He then began shouting at me, about how people would die for a dollar, etc. And then he begins to shout and rant through the train car (still directed at me it seems) about homicides, and people getting killed, and shot. And throwing out all these words. Most words I heard were in the "homicide, kill, dead" type category.

The dude is super agressive, ticked off, and I don't know what's going on. I turn next to the guy to my left (who I was chatting with earlier) about how this keeps on getting crazier. We chat amongst ourselves as the kid is flying off the handle.

It was definitely unsettling. It's when people aren't rational that you wonder how to deal with them. The guy to the left was saying how we should just ignore him. Which seemed like a relatively standard and reasonable appraoch.

But the line between rational and irrational blurs, and I guess I just like treating people without any category or distinction. But then we run into quite a few problems.

Anyway, the kid walks off the train, and then--shaping his fingers like a gun, says something like I'll see you around. And motions pulling the trigger.


I'm definitely not planning things that these reflections turn into deontological vs consequentialist deals. But I know I live very much in that first camp.

I have this idea that we should treat everyone equally. But then to treat them equally is to treat them differently. Based on what? Based on consequences. So you don't treat the apparent crazy dude on the train because you don't want it to escalate into a fist fight. But that would changing how you act towards people.

Once you jump from a strong deonotological stance, there's this gray area of not being quite sure. I'm cool with that. After all, if what was the right course of action was always so clear, things would be less interesting, a book written in advance. and I'm sure as things go along I'll gain only more new information.

Rock on,

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