TV Tragedy Equals Tears. Real Life Equals Blank Stares.
I always found it interesting how much people care for the fictionally wounded on the big screen and shed tears when an actor dies, but when a life is in jeopardy in real life, in real time, nobody knows how to do anything but stand still. I never thought I'd witness that first hand, staring incredulously at onlookers watching a scene straight out of a daytime dramedy. All they needed was the popcorn.
A convulsing individual is laying right there on the ground on the Broadway Junction Station platform and everyone's standing around watching -- some shocked, some amazed -- wondering what happens next. Folks that just got off the Manhattan bound J train stare at the person on the ground (I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman), then at each other, their faces all reading: "So... who's gonna move?"
But the reality is that if anyone moves, they'll miss out on the action. The drama. As if there's a scripted ending prepped and packaged for the moment. An older guy carrying three disheveled boxes of pizza (who admittedly looks slightly off his rocker) is yelling "Police! Police!" as he makes his way down the steep stairs. The down escalator is too packed with stubborn people who probably wouldn't be willing to move to the right and let him pass. He's moving relatively slowly, but it's as swiftly as he can go without tripping. "Police! Police!" he continues yelling, unanswered. Everyone watches him go. You can see the scrunching faces of the people on the up escalator. They're wondering why this crazy old geezer is making all this noise. Wondering why he's the only one yelling so angrily. But nobody really moves or inquires about it.
I rush past him down the stairs because I realize that really nobody's moving at all, and I can get to the bottom of the stairs faster than he can. When I get to the bottom, there are no blue jackets and badges in sight. A usual Friday night at B-Junc usually promises cops crawling all over the premises, searching for trouble in East New York. But tonight no one is here. I frantically scan the crowd for them, looking past the turnstiles where if I go outside to look, I'd have to pay another $2.50 to go back in.
The old man with the pizza finally reaches the bottom of the stairs and he doesn't give a damn about the turnstile. I watch him go out the emergency door and over to the MTA agent seated behind thick, bulletproof glass. He's up close to the booth's built in microphone, but he's still yelling. "We need police upstairs and no one is around! There's someone on the ground!" The MTA agent stares at him blankly, as if he doesn't even care. From where I'm standing, it's hard to tell if he promised to call 911. I pull out my phone in case I need to call, but I'm angry that I feel the need to when there's a police base in the station less than 20 feet away.
Another girl about four or five years my junior joins me on the other side of the gate watching the fruitless encounter. She looks like she shouldn't even care about the situation. Young and sassy and ready to enjoy her night out, but she does. "Did you see any police come out of there?" she asks of the door directly beside the ticket agent that reads NYPD Transit Bureau District 33. "No, I'm looking for them, too." I replied before asking if she was going to go out there. She had the same worry as me: one way fare.
We watch the door like hawks, waiting for movement. I forgot I had a train to catch. Worry wouldn't let me leave. Responsibility wouldn't let me leave either. The door underneath the sign finally opened, albeit unhurried. A man in a grey sweatshirt and construction books mozied on out and casually made his way over to the turnstiles. My new friend walked over to him immediately. I couldn't hear exactly what she was saying, but her hands told him that someone was having a medical emergency and no police were tending to them. She pointed up towards the escalator. I finally saw what we'd been waiting for the whole time: a reaction. With a slight sense of urgency, he pivoted on his feet to follow her upstairs. She stopped mid-step and turned around to look for me, searching the moving crowd of people either unfazed by or unaware of the incident. I'd never looked away. We met eyes. She shot me a thumbs up letting me know she was on the case before continuing to lead the non-police officer upstairs. I shot her one in return and ran down to my next platform.
As the whirring of my incoming C train got louder, I said a silent prayer for the person stretched out on the concrete two levels above, wishing on everything that I wouldn't hear about them on the evening news.
Compassion is empty unless paired with action. Remember that.