Thursday, February 5, 2009

"If it gets bad,we'll kick that window out" what the older man standing next to me on the train last night said to another guy nearby while they both gripped tightly onto the hand poles above us. I consciously eavesdropped on their conversation, taking mental note of their game plan in case there had to be an evacuation. People were panicked, others stayed quiet, I just tried to console one of my associates who was on the verge of hyperventilating.

Coming home last night was definitely an experience I can add to my list of strange things that always happen to me. However, this by far was the most dangerous situation I have been in in quite some time... the odds of this happening to my train out of every train running at that moment seems so slim.

C and I left work and got to the train at around 7:25. We went downstairs and the first train that showed up was an express train. Express basically means that, unlike a local train, it will skip all of the "smaller" stops on each block and take you to a major transfer hub. In our case, it was going from the 70's to 42nd Street/Grand Central without stopping. We entered the subway car and were standing toward one end of the car next to a mom and her little boy and a bunch of other people. A lot of people were on the train because it was prime-commuting hour at that point. About two minutes into the ride, C and I were talking when all of a sudden her eyes narrowed in on something behind me and expression turned bleak. I looked behind me to see what she was staring at. About 15-20 people were shoving their way into our subway car from the car attached to ours. Everyone was shouting to move. My first reaction was that someone had a gun or something, but I waited a few moments before I made any drastic movements. Someone started to yell out loud, "What's going on!?" and someone yelled back "FIRE!!!!!!!!!!" I looked back at C, who was standing wide-eyed and starting to breathe heavy. She started to freak mean freak out. She wasn't the only one. All of the people around us started to shout. I grabbed C's arm quickly and started pulling her down the isle toward the back of our train car. Others had this same idea and we all started caravanning from one train to the next. We were walking accross these makeshift bridges of chain and metal in between the trains. If you looked down, you could see the tracks quickly moving by in a blur below us. I grabbed the person's arm in front of me while C grabbed mine behind me. About two train cars later, we reached a dead end and couldn't go any farther because the door was locked. Around 62nd street, the train slowed down a little bit and then came to a stop in the middle track, with a train track on either side of us. Looking back now, I think maybe the conductor was trying to figure out if we could evacuate at this point. There were three issues if we were to evacuate here: One - there was about a six foot drop from the train door into the sludgy sewery tracks beneath us. Two - there were trains coming and going on either side of us. Three - how would we all get back onto the subway platform?

Some people around us were shouting, others were quiet. One guy started yelling something or other about how we should complain to the MTA about this, while one guy yelled back, "If we make it out of here alive!!!" Another girl with a thick east coast accent shouted, "if it's our time it's our time, mind as well not freak out about it!" and smiled at me. C kept telling me that it was a terrorist attack, she just KNEW it was. I tried to keep her calmed down while I stood there trying to figure out what was going on. The smell of smoke was getting a little more prominent at this point. I listened to the older man next to me talk about kicking out the window. That sounded like a good idea.

Suddenly, the train started to pick up speed. We got to 60th and sadly the train slowed down again and stopped. I kept praying that they would just haul down the track to 42nd street as fast as that train could go. It would have been much faster to speed down there and evacuate there than to stop at each block and figure out a game plan. We were all getting cramped in the train. I could feel tons of bodies touching me. C looked like she was about to hyperventilate. I usually tend to get extreme claustrophobia and panicky in circumstances like this, but surprisingly, I felt abnormally calm while chaos was going on around us. I tried my best to stand there and take in everything. I was listening to conversations around me, comforting C and an older woman sitting in front of us and calculating the situation in my head in case I had to make any quick decisions.

I can't remember how much time had passed since the ordeal had started. It felt like we were stuck in there for 30 minutes or more. I'm sure it was only 15 minutes, though. The panic around me just made the situation so tense and I could individualy count and hear the thuds from my heart echoing throughout my body. Eventually we got to 42nd Street and when the doors opened, we all flooded out like ants after you spray their home with bug spray. As we exited, I looked over and a big pillow of smoke expanded from the subway car. Flames were licking the roof from the inside. I stood for a second while everyone flurried out of the cars and up the stairs. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. "Police, Police" was repeating in a robotic voice on the loud speaker while policemen pushed us aside to others out of the train. C jolted me out of my transe and pulled me up the stairs. We hugged eachother when we got to our separate subway entrances and I shakily walked to my next train.

On the ride home, I couldn't stop thinking about what had just happened! What are the odds of that? Out of all of the trains, it was mine that caught on fire. I have never been in a situation like that before. It forces people to act in ways they might never act before. I shockingly stayed so calm and attentive while it was happening. I suddenly felt so protective over C and the other girls around me. While many were pushing people over to get past us closer to the exit, I tried to stay still and not make any brash decisions. If there would have been an opportunity for us to escape the train, I realize now that I would have been one of the ones leading the evacuation and helping others before I helped myself. It was a weird part of my personality that I hadn't yet discovered...but I'm really glad that this happened.

This morning I could feel my chest tighten up when Kate and I got onto the train. I'll probably feel nervous coming home tonight, too. Ahg. Something more to add to my list of crazy NYC experiences.


ryan mcdumdum said...

Crazy Ty and her crazy adventures! I'm glad it ended as it did and that I misread a part of it as:

"It forces people to act in ways they might never act before. I shockingly stayed so calm and ATTRACTIVE while it was happening."

chris walker said...

crazy/great story. written very well.

wpl said...

glad to hear you're OK....

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