Seeing a man on the subway tracks. What would you do???

For those of you expecting something funny or something newsworthy about comedy, well, I apologize in advance for this post. But I'm a journalist who, in this age, writes as much about my life as I do about comedians and comedy, so I feel like I need to explain what happened last night (or early this morning).

Because life as an independent online journalist is so profitable, I also work three to five evenings a week for a company in the Gramercy neighborhood of New York City, and usually come back to Brooklyn via the subway in the 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. hour. It's quiet. It's cold. On some late nights such as Halloween or New Year's Eve, you can hop on the 4 train and find it packed with silliness. But usually it's quiet and lonely on the 23rd Street southbound platform of the 4/6 line. At about 2:40-2:45 a.m., I entered the platform alone and almost immediately saw a man lying down in the ditch right in the middle of the tracks. He was out cold. Or dead. Wasn't sure at first glance. Because my first instinct was to shoot my head to the left to look up the tracks to see if a train was coming. On the southbound side at 23rd Street, you can look north at least two stops — it's one of the straighter parts of the subway lines that way, when you're looking to see how long you need to wait. And at this hour, you can wait about 15-20 minutes for the 6 local or the 4 express (which runs local overnight). No lights. Good sign. I now had at least a few minutes to figure out what to do.

Looked around in all directions. No one else on the platform. Well, there was that one homeless person at the very north end who's always sleeping down there, but he was of little help. The MTA still mans this particular station (they've cut back in other city stops in the past year), so I ran over and shouted at the elderly man who works there most graveyard shifts. He shouted back: "Is he dead?" I ran over and bent as close as possible. No sign of blood. Eyes closed. I could hear him breathing. Wait. No, snoring. He's out cold. Ran back. "He's alive. I hear him breathing!" The MTA agent had a phone in his hands. I kept running back and forth to check for an oncoming train. Nothing yet. Would I need to jump down and try lifting him up? He looked younger than me and definitely larger, and also, which one is the third rail, again? I thought about Wesley Autrey, the New Yorker who famously jumped down and covered a guy in the ditch three years ago this week. This guy already occupied all of the ditch. No clearance, Clarence. Not an option. I also thought about the woman in Boston who stumbled into the tracks, and had several people wave the subway train down. I also realized there was nobody else here but me and the elderly MTA guy in the booth. He was on the phone, at least. He told me he called for an ambulance. No trains coming. No need to fear. Go to a different stop. By this time, a younger man also had shown up and was looking at what was happening. He took off after the MTA agent said this. I stuck around, because I wanted to know if he was OK. Also, something told me to stay and make sure the train actually would cross over to the express line and skip the stop.

Maninthetraintracks It's then that I saw a train two stops away. Then one stop away. It's not crossing over. Jump? No jump? I ran back near the MTA booth and shouted at the agent. "The train's coming and not switching over!" Where is the ambulance? Where are the medics? I could hear sirens, but didn't see them yet. I stepped to the very edge of the platform. The train is still coming, but slowly. That's only slightly comforting. I stood above the guy, still on the very edge of the platform, and waved my arms. The train slowed to a stop at the beginning of the platform. I ran up, and the conductor poked his head out of the window. "There's a guy on the tracks!" I shouted. "Oh, wow. I can see him," the conductor replied. I turned behind me, to see the MTA agent had emerged with a flashlight waving it toward the unconscious man in the tracks below. About a minute later, the NYPD, firefighters and medics were here. The MTA cut the power to the line, as everyone was concerned about the third rail, and they began jumping down. The man remained unconscious as they yelled at him (I had yelled at him earlier, no luck), and immobilized him before putting him on a stretcher and lifting him up. By the time they did that, I could hear him mumbling responses to one of the medics who asked him for his name, where he was from, and where he had just been.

And then they were all gone. MTA workers showed up along the tracks, and looked to see if any of the man's possessions were left behind. None appeared to be.

I don't know who he is, how he ended up on the tracks, nor even how long he had been lying there. Did other trains pass over him? Did he lie down? Did he stumble off the edge? He was lying nearly perfectly in the ditch. I think he's going to be OK, and I suppose that's the only answer that matters.

Related: My two real-time posts to Twitter, the first from the platform just after everyone left, the second when I got home to Brooklyn.

OK. Time to get back to comedy news. I could use a laugh.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →

13 thoughts on “Seeing a man on the subway tracks. What would you do???

  1. That’s insane — I’m pretty sure in the same situation I’d be frozen solid and completely useless. Glad he got out, and glad you didn’t have to try anything drastic to make it happen. I saw this on Gothamist this morning; hopefully they direct people to the full story, because it’s certainly worth reading.

  2. My god, Sean. You really did save another human being’s life. Seriously – it’s humbling.
    It’s also proof that you are a good and decent person, and therefore unqualified to cover standup comedy.

  3. WOW! I like to think we’d all react this bravely and levelheadedly. But, I’d probably black out.
    You literally saved this man’s life.

  4. Knowing how FEMA-slow MTA workers are, I would have jumped down and pulled him out with visions of Donald Trump handing me a check for $10,000.
    But seriously, you did the right thing. Good for you…and him!

  5. What did you accomplish besides delaying a bunch of sleepy passengers on a cold subway train?
    In my day, we would’ve taken his wallet, banged him in the ass, then gotten on the train, gone home and had a snack.

  6. Well I think I would look around me in all directions and if I had someone to help me out of there you scream for help, if not, then cry out for 911 to take him out of there as fast as you can …

  7. Well I think I would look around me in all directions and if I had someone to help me out of there you scream for help, if not, then cry out for 911 to take him out of there as fast as you ca

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