Clareified

Where does the good go

EMERGENCY 911

EMERGENCY 911

I know the drill.
Breathe normally until the smoke comes, then shallow breaths through the nose.
Stay still.
I was running late for work this morning. Late even for an associate getting used to working with a partner known for keeping “cocaine hours.”
I didn’t board the bus to the subway until after 1. Thankfully, when I got to the station the message ticker said the Express B was coming.
I ran down the stairs to catch it.
I easily found a seat in the near empty last car and closed my eyes.
The sound of the conductor announcing the last stop in Brooklyn woke me up about ten minutes later.
I looked at my cellphone clock. Not too bad, I should be in the office my 1:30ish.
I really like the B because it’s one of the few trains that travel above ground, which means if everything works well, you get three minutes to make a phone call, check for new comments and respond to any e-mail.
Like clockwork, my Treo flashed a full four bar signal seconds after the train crawled onto the Manhattan bridge.
I checked my work voicemail: whew, no calls.
I e-mailed my secretary to say I’d be in soon.
I visited Clareified to see if anyone had signed up for my free TV offer. (Not for nothing, but Karol’s already done with the TV and is now working on the computer and handbag – must the Republicans win everything people?)
The train reentered the tunnel in Manhattan.
It was running express, so in just three stops I would be in Midtown. I put the Treo away and closed my eyes again.
Next stop, Broadway-Lafayette. We were in the station for about two minutes when the conductor announced that due to a train derailment earlier in the day, there would be some delays.
Five minutes later we were still parked at the station.
Hmm, I should just get out here and take a cab in…plus, I could stop at Magnolia’s since I’m kind of in the neighborhood.
No. I was just there Monday, no more cupcakes for the week.
Mmm, cupcakes.
Plus, this station has like four levels of stairs and no escalator.
Cupcakes suck.
Finally, the doors closed and the train pulled away.
Oh well.
A few minutes later we came to a stop again.
This time in a tunnel.
“We apologize for the inconvenience, but due to an earlier derailment there are delays on the uptown line.”
Dammit. The derailment happened about 4 o clock this morning. What the hell?
After ten minutes the conductor came back on.
“Umm, ladies and gentleman please remain calm.”
Oh my God.
“There is a fire up ahead. The fire department has arrived, but we cannot proceed. Please remain calm.”
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
No one in the car said anything – well, nothing that I could print anyway.
We idled for fifteen minutes before people started trickling into our car. The first man was holding a newspaper over his face. Another woman carried her son in her arms as he buried his face in her coat.
Since I was in the last car, the car furthest away from the next station, these people were the first signs of any real trouble.
“Oh My God, what’s happening up there?,” a woman asked the newcomers.
“There’s smoke everywhere. The first car is completely filled.”
“Ladies and Gentleman, we apologize for the delay but due to severe smoke conditions up ahead, this train will be delayed. Please move to the rear cars immediately.”
By now, a steady stream of people had started filling the car.
Crap, if anything happens, no one will know that I was here, I thought.
So I sent an e-mail letting Karol know I was on the train.
“Do you have service on that thing?” a woman asked, after I stopped typing.
I checked.
“Actually, no.”
She then moved to the front of the car, held up her cellphone checking for a signal. Then she moved to the doors.
Nothing.
Then she moved to the windows.
Still Nothing.
She reached for the latch on the window.
“What’re you doing?” yelled a man from the other end of the car.
“I’m going to see if I get a signal when I hold the phone out the window,”
“Don’t open it. There’s smoke out there,” the mother with the little boy said.
By now, the car was pretty full.
I could smell traces of smoke on the clothes of the new people, but the air was fine. I’ve suffered from asthma since I was a little kid. Running too hard, pollen, cigarettes have all triggered emergency room visit episodes. But with medication, a killer loud cough that shames smokers into moving away from me, and avoidance of physical exertion I have successfully controlled it since high school. So I don’t take steroids every day or walk around with inhalers, but every now and then I’ll have a really bad episode and wish that I did.
The train wasn’t moving.
Smoke was coming.
I sat very still. A twenty-something woman kept trying to open the front door of the car.
“I have to get off this train. I have to get off this train.”
“Hey, calm down, Miss,” said a man that had gotten on with me back in Brooklyn, “They’re working on it. We’ll get out of here.”
“I have to get off this train. I’m getting married. I can’t die. I can’t die.”
“Look, no one’s dying,” said another voice.
“Calm Down, Miss.”
We could all hear the motorman and the conductor talking to dispatch over the PA system. They were trying to back the train into the Broadway Lafayette station, but another train was there and the motorman was having difficulty seeing in the first car.
“Ladies and Gentleman, we are working on pulling back into the Broadway-Lafayette station” said the conductor in his “official voice.” I guess he didn’t know the microphone was on during the whole time he and the motorman were talking in their full-on panic voices.
“Why don’t they just back the train up?”
“Yeah, fucking assholes. They had to know that there was a fire, why did they keep going.”
“I’m getting married. I can’t die. I can’t die.”
“Miss. Please. You’re scaring the little boy.”
At the mention of his presence, he hid his face in his mom’s lap and she rubbed his back nervously.
“I’m sorry, I can’t stay here. I can’t,” said the bride-to-be as she started to shake uncontrollably.
“Fuck this, said a burly man who walked toward the motorman’s door and started rattling the door to get it open.
“Alright! Enough. Back away from the door.”
Turns out the man who had gotten on with me in Brooklyn was a police officer because now his badge was hanging from his neck and he was taking control of the situation.
“Look, I want everyone to back away from the front of this car.”
At that moment a man came into the car and walked through the crowd toward the driver’s seat. He was wearing an MTA uniform.
“What’s taking so fucking long? Get us out of here.”
“Look, lady I’m a passenger just like you, but the motorman is having difficulty back there and so I’m going to try to move us back into the station. Just give me a break.”
By now the smoke was filling the car. I had pulled my lips between my teeth to make sure I didn’t accidentally breathe any of it into my lungs.
Shallow breaths. I mean cuts. No breaths. Sorry, flashback to Dawn’s bloodletting.
The bride-to-be was lying on the floor now and the crowd was getting more nervous.
The “passenger” explained to the cop that he was also a motorman and just needed to get clearance from dispatch to allow him to drive our train.
“Fuck clearance, you have our clearance. Get us out of here” ordered the genius who earlier tried to open the windows to get cellphone service.
But she agitated the crowd and within minutes someone had yelled that this was exactly why all those people died on 9/11.
“I’m not waiting for anything”
“HEY! You will all just CALM DOWN NOW!” Yelled the cop holding both his hands out in front of him protecting the new motorman and preventing anyone from moving forward.
A few moments later the train hissed to life.
Then we saw flashlight beams shining through the darkness.
The motorman opened up the front door and he and the cop helped two men climb aboard.
More cops.
The bride-to-be made a run for the newly opened door.
The cops stopped her.
“Hey, lady where are you going?”
“I have to get out. I have to get out. I can’t die.”
“Look, the safest place for you to be right now is here.”
Nobody believed him.
The place was full of smoke, my eyes had started to water and I was wheezing.
BTB kept shaking. And I couldn’t blame her.
We were going die.
The motorman was on the CB asking for clearance to drive and permission to pull into Broadway-Lafayette. He got the clearance and we started back – which was now forward.
But within seconds we stopped. There was another train in the way.
“Come on, move the train.”
“Calm down, sir. Please.”
“How much longer until we get there?”
“Once we get permission, we’ll be there in a few minutes. Jim and I just walked through to get here. It’s not far”
“Will y’all just let these men do their jobs,” said a lady with the walker.
“Yeah!”
The motorman was moving the train again, while continuing to call to see if the station had cleared.
Hmm…shouldn’t he stop moving the train until he finds out if the other station is clear?
Peer pressure is a bitch.
“Ok, B Bravo, you’re clear.”
One of the cops told the motorman to just pull in the first car since most of the people had already moved up.
So that’s what they did. They then opened up one side of the front doors in the car – the cops held everyone back until the woman with the walker had gotten up. Her walker was too bulky to fit through the half open doors and as she struggled to turn it sideways and wiggle through the crazed BTB pushed her way to the door and “helped” get the walker through. Everyone else followed. By now Broadway-Lafayette station was filled with smoke.
The car was at the far end of the platform and people just started running toward the stairs.
Others of us, after too many months of too many cupcakes and closing airways walked.
Three men helped the women with the walker out of the station. When I got to the street level, there were fire trucks all around and uniformed cops ushering people away from the station.
I was in full pulmonary distress, but it was almost 2:30. I was ten blocks away from my mom’s clinic. I could go there for medicine or to try to make it to work. I hailed a cab and decided to try to get to my office, but if I felt worse by the time I passed her job, I would get out there.
Of course, I didn’t feel worse until I was almost at work.
Oh well.
Later, Karol sarcastically asked me if I would start living my life differently having almost suffocated to death in a subway car. But the truth is, even as I sat there hearing people freak out, cry, panic, I didn’t really have any big moment of truth. For all my complaining about not being rich and famous or even out my childhood bedroom yet, I wasn’t regretful or bitter about dying in the subway car. I didn’t really think anything at all.
And not for lack of trying.
I figured if it was the end, I should have some great final realization.
If it wasn’t the end, I was sure there would be throngs of reporters waiting at the entrance when we all spilled out into the streets—I should have some good soundbite ready.
But no.
All I could think about was staying still and breathing through my nose.
Hardly fit for a tombstone…or the 11 o’clock news.

18 Responses to “EMERGENCY 911”

  1. Jessica Says:

    what a story. i got the chills just reading it. good for you – sounds like you really kept calm. me, i would have been BTB, except without the ‘I’m getting married’ part.

  2. Jessica Says:

    what a story. i got the chills just reading it. good for you – sounds like you really kept calm. me, i would have been BTB, except without the ‘I’m getting married’ part.

  3. Dawn2 Says:

    That is really creepy.

    I too take the B to work every day.

  4. Dawn2 Says:

    That is really creepy.

    I too take the B to work every day.

  5. Sean Says:

    Wow.

    I best that was just an excuse for being late for work 😉

  6. Sean Says:

    Wow.

    I best that was just an excuse for being late for work 😉

  7. Coelecanth Says:

    You did exactly what you needed to do to get through the situation. Wouldn’t worry about great revelations or soundbites, be proud of your survival skills.

  8. Coelecanth Says:

    You did exactly what you needed to do to get through the situation. Wouldn’t worry about great revelations or soundbites, be proud of your survival skills.

  9. jb Says:

    Soo…

    You’re saying NYC sucks?

  10. jb Says:

    Soo…

    You’re saying NYC sucks?

  11. th0m Says:

    Sorry to hear this happened to you. Your ability to communicate it simply shows your calm maturity in the face of adversity.

  12. th0m Says:

    Sorry to hear this happened to you. Your ability to communicate it simply shows your calm maturity in the face of adversity.

  13. Brian Says:

    Riding the NYC subway will never be the same…

  14. Brian Says:

    Riding the NYC subway will never be the same…

  15. Mills Says:

    Beautifully written. I can just about smell the smoke. *snif snif* actually that might be the toaster…

  16. Mills Says:

    Beautifully written. I can just about smell the smoke. *snif snif* actually that might be the toaster…

  17. Joy Says:

    Beautiful, Well written story. I felt like I was there, And they say all the trama is on TNT! LOL I am glad all of you made it through

  18. Joy Says:

    Beautiful, Well written story. I felt like I was there, And they say all the trama is on TNT! LOL I am glad all of you made it through

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