April 24, 2009

What Would You Do?

Last night I was riding BART home from SF to Alameda. It was a crowded 8:45pm train filled with all kinds of folks, some gathered in small groups and others riding alone. As the train doors closed at the Montgomery Street station a man leaped onto the train and grabbed the overhead handlebar as we began to speed away. Nothing unusual here.

The man, who appeared to be in his late 20s, early 30s, was dressed in a suit but had a very strange behavior that was out of step with his appearance. As the train began to travel he spread himself out like a bird, using one foot to touch the ground and one arm to hold on to the overhead bar. He began to talk to himself and make strange facial expressions. Again, nothing unusual here.

As we reached West Oakland BART and folks began to exit, some of the seats opened up and he sat in a spot next to the door. He was surrounded by women of various ages, some traveling alone and others with friends. As the train doors closed and we began to move he started grabbing his face, bending over, swirling around, talking to himself and acting generally insane. All the women were looking at him curiously but no one asked if he was OK. I was a few rows away watching the scene.

Next we stopped at Lake Merritt BART and here he stood up, then bent down, crouched, stood, leaned out the door, leaned back in and then grabbed his face. Now he was green. Again, everyone just stared. Frankly, he was quite scary and I for one thought he was either insane or... I don't know what. The doors closed and then for some reason they opened again. All the women were staring at this man, waiting for his next move. I got up, ran out the door with my hand in the air to get the attention of the driver. Then I ran up to the front car (we were in the last one) where the driver was leaning out waiting for me. She was a very nice woman who wanted to know what was wrong. I told her that a man seemed to be going insane and was very sick in the last car. She called for help. We waited a few minutes until help arrived and then I ran with the officer down to the last car.

The train had now been stopped for about three minutes, very short time and an excellent, quick response by BART officials. Some people were looking out the doors but generally passengers were fine with waiting a few minutes - even if they didn't know what was causing the delay.

When the officer and I arrived at the final car there was already a BART official standing inside keeping an eye on the guy. A woman in a seat near the door looked at me with fierce eyes and screamed at me, "did you do this? Did you call the police? What is wrong with you?" Thankfully the officer said, "we are from health and safety, to arrest anyone, we're here to help this man." Still she screamed, directly at me, "how dare you have this man arrested, what is wrong with you?!? That man didn't do anything wrong!" (I noticed that during the entire journey this woman talked to herself and didn't look up from here lap.) I looked at her flabbergasted and said, "I thought that this man was ill and I was worried. My intention was to help him, not to hurt him." She was still furious with me.

The BART officials helped the man out of the car. He was green, sweaty and could barely walk. As the doors closed I sat down in the sick man's seat. The woman continued to screamed at me while a man tried to get her to back off and calm down. Now I sat amongst the women who were sitting around the sick guy. They started to talk. "He was very drunk. I'm pregnant and if he puked on me I would have puked too. What if he had gotten into his car and driven away? I knew he was going to get sick and I was afraid it was going to be on us. You never know with all the violence on BART what is up with someone. You did the right thing. Don't listen to that lady. He is going to get arrested for being drunk in public. He'll be put in a holding tank to sober up..."

I don't regret what I did. Working in a city you see mentally and physically ill people all around you every day. I suppose that this time I decided not to stand by. The one thing I could have done differently was to talk directly to the man to see if he needed help. My instincts told me he was dangerous - seemed like he could freak out. In reality he was drunk beyond his senses. I probably helped five women stay clean and dry. Perhaps I stopped a man from driving drunk. In the end I didn't let that angry woman get to me. She was scared by the presence of the cops (something to hide?) and took it out on me.

Just another evening in the City by the Bay.