Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Man Down

“The 10:24 train leaves in five minutes,” said Brian.

“Omigod!  We barely have time to make it.  Where’s Dave?” 

“Where’s Dave?” is so often my refrain that friends smile automatically in hearing it, shaking heads in bemusement before launching into their own often-used lines. “Not sure," Brian replied.  "A minute ago he was looking for his keys…” or his phone, or his computer.  This time, it was his camera.  He’d been looking for his camera last time I saw him too, his face grim.

We were attending a “Brews, Boots, and Bling” benefit for Eagle Hill at a restaurant near the depot in Portchester.  Friends in cowboy hats, boots, and bandanas had scurried about searching for the camera for the past half hour. Since my view of mankind lately tends too quickly toward the dark, I assumed it was stolen, but Dave hunted on... and found it, confirming, once again, his faith in mankind over my doubt.

Still, he was nowhere to be seen and the minutes were passing.  Schedule-ruled as I am, I headed for the door, husband or not, hoping he would glance at his watch and turn up in time.  “We’d better hurry,” said Bullets as we pushed through the guests milling around the bar. 

I’ve known Bullets since the day she was born, even earlier if you count the times I laid a hand on her Mom’s swollen belly hoping to feel a kick.  Nicknames cling to toddlers and grandparents, and little Tracy, with her big blue eyes, long blonde hair, and flowing floral sundresses, looked no more like a Tracer-Bullet than the beautiful woman with long, shining blond hair striding beside me, yet she continues to carry the title "Bullets" with grace.

For the trip down, Brian and his wife Colleen had met us at the Fairfield station.  As the train stopped at Norwalk, Cos Cob, and Greenwich, additional colleagues from the school boarded the train to hoots of welcome and compliments on whatever western attire they had donned.  I was pleased to have an excuse to wear my theme-perfect fringed brown leather jacket purchased for another Eagle Hill event years ago.  

As Bullets and I bounded briskly in our cowboy boots through the dark, down the sidewalk, under the overpass, and up the stairs to the northbound platform for the return trip, I glanced over my shoulder hoping to spot my errant Dave.  Upon seeing Brian and Colleen, but no Dave, I strode on, fueled by annoyance, as my marching would prove pointless if he didn’t show up: our tickets were in his wallet.

The platform was well-lighted, casting the track in shadow.  One girl stood alone, her brunette hair caught up in a ponytail, a red windbreaker slung over her arm.  She was tapping at her phone and when our breathless crew arrived, she gestured toward the track.  No sign of the train, which was good as there was no sign of Dave either.

The girl waved again, persistent, but not insistent, so, casually, we looked toward the track again.  “Down,” she said, loudly, so we could hear her.  On the track.  I’ve already texted 911.”


And this time we saw him, a man in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt, lying on his back on the track below us.  Holy shit.  He was moving, so he was alive, but we could see the light of the oncoming train in the distance.

Truth is, that was significant more because of timing than the man’s safety.  Metal gangways stretched across the first track, where the man lay, to allow boarding when the train pulled in on the second track over.  The man was not in danger, but the next train was due close to midnight, so we did not want to miss this one.

The girl in the ponytail said she’d seen the guy staggering along the platform, apparently drunk, and she’d told him to be careful, to stay away from the yellow line, but he paid no attention.  Where were the police?  What was taking so long?  In fact, it had been only minutes.

Dave and several others appeared as the 10:24 pulled in, and a cluster of people had gathered on the platform above the man on the track.  Suddenly I noticed Dave among them, seated at the edge of the platform, his legs slung over the side, preparing to jump down. 

“Don’t do it, Honey!” I called.  “That girl called 911.  Someone who knows what to do will come soon.  You might injure him if you move him.”  Dave didn’t look at me; but he didn’t jump.  He leaned way over to talk to the man.

The train doors slid open, spilling a shaft of light.  A conductor burst from the opening, and clanged across the metal bridge to see what was happening.  Bullets, Brian, and Colleen hung over the bridge railing, watching the scene on the tracks, and I slipped onto the train, straddling the gap, keeping one foot on the bridge and one in the train.  The 10:24 was not leaving without us if I could help it. 

A portly bald guy with a striped polo shirt stretched over his stomach hurried from the front of the train to join the group above the fallen man.  “Was he down before we pulled in?” he asked anxiously.  A chorus of us affirmed that he was, and I realized with a start that this was the engineer.  No striped uniform, no visored cap, no red bandana knotted around his neck, just a guy in a polo shirt, worried sick that with a train, he might have hit a man.

“There’s a ladder onboard,” said the engineer.  “I’ll get it,” and he hurried off on his quest.

When I swung my gaze from the retreating engineer, I saw Dave lying on his stomach, stretched full out, his head hanging over the edge of the cement platform, listening. The fallen man in the sweatshirt raised his hand… and Dave reached down to clasp it.  And so they remained until four police officers crowded onto the platform and jumped down to the tracks. As the officers helped him to his feet, the man released Dave’s hand and said, “Thank you.”

Bullets turned to me with a look of wonder.  “So,” she said, “that makes it official.  Dave is the best human on the planet.”