Friday, December 14, 2012


Tonight I watched a train rumble over a helpless man on the tracks.

I was standing on the elevated platform at 125th, tea in hand, ready for the 6:13 train to my gig. We were all bunching our shoulders a bit against the cold, avoiding each other’s eyes.

Then to my left a shout, stark, then cut off. I turned and leaned over the edge of the platform. Very nearby, a man lay hunched over the nearest rail, unmoving. I saw his red-checkered shirt and white t-shirt and pale jeans. His limp legs curled away from him and his back was a mound over the track. I heard his pleas for help. He begged for help, shrill, over and over, could anyone help him. I looked past him.

The 6:13 was late, and now was a white flare, growing, harsher and brighter by the second. There were shrieks in the crowd, groans, cries to God. I turned right. There were three women in yellow reflective MTA jackets. I hoped they had radios. They didn't. Wild waving of arms, of palms pumping the air to will the train into stopping. We shouted, incoherently. I don't think we used words, only cries.

There was no time. I walked a few feet closer. The white light grew and grew and grew. You could never have leaped into the track, picked up a wounded person, hoisted him to safety first, then yourself, in time. It was impossible. In our helplessness, there was only horror. You could only watch. Those very few seconds when nothing but watching could be done, they dropped away one by one.

The white flare was now brilliant. The front of the Metro-North train was sooty blue, #209. It had begun to slow down, in a fashion almost grotesque. It slowed just as it passed over the helpless man's form. I felt perverse.

An ugly moan rose from the crowd. Around me were a few women who burst into instant tears. One turned her back. One, in the reflective jacket, gripped her own head and wailed and stomped in circles and cried to God that this was 'overwhelming'. That was her word. It struck me, that word, almost from afar. I had my hand to my mouth and my eyes had never left the train.

Minutes passed. Very few of us left the platform. We remained, hardly logical. But we did remain. The firemen and police arrived with near instant speed, cordoning off part of the platform and gathering near where the train conductor leaned out of his window and darted around an anxious head.

I called out of my gig. They were very sympathetic.

Then I called my father, the original YVES. I had to talk to someone, and for all our differences, he was the one I thought to call. I told him the story while I still watched the train. Through a shifting crowd I could spot flashlight beams crossing each other and flicking underneath the train. I finished telling my father the story. He swore softly. To swear is his way. To swear softly has never been his way.

Then he instructed, "Get the FACK out of there, you can do nothing, just go, it was a horrible experience, traumatizing, but get the FACK out of there while you still can!" Not necessarily unwise.

All at once, heads started to snap to each other and murmurs trickled over. The woman in the yellow reflective jacket bobbed from one person to the next, "He's alive! He's alive! He's under there, they hear his voice and he's sitting up! But they can't move the train or they'll kill him!"

This news was no less overwhelming but shouting it to God seemed less urgent. He likely knew already.

I told my father the news, in a voice less taut, less repetitive and nearly piercing.

"THERE you GO, see?,” YVES declared. “He's alive, he's fine, no problem, now get the FACK out of there!" YVES is often of a fixed mind on things.

The firemen used a ladder to climb down into the track and a cluster of them, helmeted and in striped, heavy jackets, bent around the front of this frozen train.

I ended my call. I couldn't leave. I had to know. They got him out, and I only wish I knew how. But they did. The fallen man survived.

I picked up my tea from where I'd dropped it then threw it away. I didn't have a taste for it anymore. I passed the cordoned off stairwell and down onto Park Avenue where a mass of flashing sirens and speculating citizens stood with their heads craned up above.

Tonight I watched a train rumble over a helpless man on the tracks. Then I watched him live to tell the tale.

© Eric Yves Garcia 2012


  1. This is such astute reportage, and not only that, but also great empathy. I applaud you, my friend.

  2. I have known of such tragedies. But I have never felt, seen, heard so intimately what you have witnessed on that platform. You did all, everything you could do immediately: write. And we, fortunate readers, can relive your Christmas miracle.