Train Hard - Stay Humble
Let me go back a bit.
I’m waiting on the platform, writing responding to email on my crackberry about an animation idea involving candy characters. Train arrives, get on the train. Like any other train. Holding my bike by the stem, I walk onboard and quickly see that the space for wheelchairs is taken by another bike but it’s a new car so there’s an empty space next to the door on the other side. I swing my bike around, closer to the wall and being to lean against it for the trip home until, looking further down the car, I see the wheelchair spot on the other end is available with seating. So with two hands on the handlebar, I lift my front wheel and roll my bike ahead of me down the aisle. Get to the other end, hook my bar on the railing and sit down. The chain lock around my waist is in a bad spot so I raise myself halfway to standing, take off my backpack and adjust my the chain as I set myself down and my backpack partway on my right foot in front of me. Settle in, start responding to email. I’m finishing up, saying I’ll check out the link when I get home, about to hit send.
Let me digress a little further. I had just bicycled to Powell street from the Richmond district. As I was riding down Fulton, I saw something flash on the ground. Nothing unusual, could be shiny metal reflecting a street light, though it bluish white, not streetlamp orange. Then it flashed again as I rode past. I decided to stop and turn around. Maybe I just ground scored an iPod Nano or something. Sure enough, cell phone. “Rachel Leung” is calling, I answer. She asks, “who is this?” I respond, “Are you looking for a phone?” I tell her that I’m on Fulton at 10th, or wait, let me check the street sign. Phone cuts out. I’m at 11th, but no big, walk down a block, wait. I try to turn on the phone, maybe I can get that number and call them on my phone. It boots up to a San Francisco Giants wallpaper but promptly dies. And dies again. Three kids walking toward me, all clad in Giants gear. The young man on the left says, “do you have a phone?”. Sure, here it is, have a good night. My good deed for the day, though it’s just as lucky that it landed screen-side up and that I was riding by and that the phone didn’t die 10 seconds before I picked it up instead of after, I didn’t really do anything. Keep on riding to BART.
The train is slowing to a stop; Montgomery is only a few blocks from Powell, where I got on.
A scream. A young woman’s scream. I should assume it’s a distress call, but I consciously wonder if it’s kids playing around. I’m an old man at 36, these kids playing on the train make a lot of noise, I don’t know why they have to be so loud sometimes. By kids, I mean anyone clearly younger than me, like under 23. I look up and I see a young, lean Black kid wearing a baseball cap holding a laptop moving fast toward the door. I’m still wondering if he’s playing around, if he’s the friend of the girl who is still screaming. I start to standing up, just in case he’s not.
But my feet are still planted on the ground. I’m taking a mental inventory of my belongings.
I should be scanning the area, but my gaze is fixed on the open train doors.
Then I see the girl. Short. Long dark hair, pale skin, maybe Latino. She’s crying, running toward the door, but much slower than the guy. I know for sure now- that was a thief. Not some friend playing around.
I’m still partly standing, backpack still in my right hand. I feel I should chase after the guy, but my brain asks “How do I run after him with backpack in one hand and bike in the other? My laptop, my script notes, a whole lot else is in this bag.”
I sling my backpack over my right shoulder.
I look around and see a couple guys busting out the door on the other end of the train, chasing after the thief. Some other people on the platform seem to have taken up the chase also, or maybe it’s just the pandemonium. The girl is screaming for someone to stop him. They are probably as stunned as I am. Their first instinct, in this courteous, non-confrontational city, is surely to step aside when someone is running toward them. I look back to where she was at the end of the train- her orange neoprene laptop sleeve is on the floor in the aisle.
I decide at this point there’s no way I’m going to catch up to him any faster than those guys on the other end of the train. They looked reasonably fast, after all, or at least they moved out the door pretty quick.
Everyone on the train is a little shocked. Some people are stepping out of the train, looking down the platform. I am still in the same spot. I can’t see down the platform and I assume he fled up the first stairs or elevator. It seemed like he knew what he was doing, where he was going.
People are murmuring,
“What a jerk”
“They must have caught him, it’s hard to run with a laptop”
“The gates will slow him down”
“What a jerk”
I think to myself how easy it would be to speed vault or just hurdle the gates, even with a laptop under my arm. It doesn’t take parkour training to hop a gate. I don’t say this, it can only incriminate me, I think.
I wonder, what would have happened if I had left my belongings and given chase. Maybe that kid sitting in the middle of the car is an accomplice, quietly picking up the pieces of people who had gone after the first kid.
I’m standing like many other people around me, almost all men, looking around at nothing in particular looking for an answer to what just happened. I finish up the email I was writing.. I tell my friend, I may be here a while, I just saw a guy steal some girl’s laptop. Visions of BART cops taking statements flash through my head. I update my Facebook status with the news, careful to self-effacingly include myself and how my parkour training has done nothing to make me the superhero people jokingly assert I must be.
Someone says something about having seen some other person have their PDA stolen out of their hands in a similar manner just recently.
The girl comes back in. She’s bawling. A guy standing near the door tells her all her other stuff is where she left it. Crying uncontrollably, she pulls the disorganized pile into her arms, picks up her large handbag from the seat and walks out.
I’m still standing, thinking about how the thief was only two strides away from me as he ran out the door. Had I looked up immediately, it would have taken nothing for me to intercept him at the door with a hard shoulder. It’s hard to tell from the reactions of people around me if there are any reports of someone stopping him before he passed the gates. I wonder why I didn’t so much as look up for the first few moments I heard the screaming.
The train doors close and the train starts moving. I sit down. An older, Black woman who just got on the train complains matter-of-factly that there are no emergency numbers on the platform level, they are only posted on gate level. I say that it really doesn’t matter in a case like this- by the time you call, the perp is already on the street level. The two 30-40something White men around me agree. One of them was just repeating “What a jerk” like a mantra. The other settles into a conversation with her about how 911 calls from cell phones go to CHP so you should have the local police number programmed in, in case of real emergency. They go on to talk about her past in what sounds like civil service and she notes that for anyone who wants to make some bucks, they should go into law enforcement, all you have to do is pass some basic tests and you get as much work as you’ll take until you say no.
Normally, I would put in my earphones, but now I wonder how much more out of it I would have been. How even without them I was just proven to be hugely lacking in situational awareness. Maybe I would even have been asleep. Or maybe the guy would have taken my bag. I certainly would have been more responsive had that happened.
But there’s really nothing to do now. Halfway under the Bay, I take out my earphones and put them in. I wear them to protect my hearing even when I’m not listening to anything, which is the case right now, though I plug them into my Blackberry out of muscle memory.
When we get to West Oakland, I hear some commotion behind me. A BART worker is on the train, taking the bike and backpack that the pursuers left behind to catch a thief. A man on that end had taken responsibility for their stuff after they ran off the train. He sits back down and a stranger says to him with a bit of smile, “you’re off the hook.” That was dutiful of him, to be sure, a basic support role for the rest of us when those braver individuals spring to action without as much regard for their profane trappings. Physically at least, the train is cleared of any trace of the thief, the victim, and the guys who at the very least made an attempt to help out another fellow human.