If you fall onto the tracks, don't try and jump up, just go to the end of the platform and walk up the stairs. That's the unofficial word from the MTA, who also remind you that whatever the hell happens, don't jump in to try and save someone.
That's not what I saw happen last night when a couple of probably inebriated soccer fans wound up on the tracks right in front of me and two brave strangers ignored all safety recommendations and jumped in after them.
I was walking along the uptown 1/2/3 platform at Times Square last night, returning home after a long trip. The last thing I want is any drama but the first thing I see is a couple of people in street clothes lifting a body up from the tracks on the opposite side, then scrambling and jumping up onto the platform itself.
Yes, this is an actual subway rescue.
The woman in the wheelchair in the pictures, thankfully, had already called 911, and someone was already running to get the police from upstairs in the station. In the chaos, my mind started to focus and I see what's going on at the express tracks opposite from me.
There is a young girl, practically my age, who is lying flat on her back wearing a green shirt (Go Ireland!) and this intensely bright shade of red lipstick. Her friends and some strangers were standing over her, fanning her, keeping her awake. I feel like I have to go over there to help even though I have no kind of special training or any skills that'll actually help anyone.
By the time I make it across the tracks, two police officers have arrived and most of the people around (myself included) have stopped freaking out. Once you see cops show up, you feel like the wheels of order are in motion.
I look at the girl soccer fan and I realize she doesn't have red lipstick — that's blood.
Her hand is bleeding, too, and there are thick grease marks over her arms and her head where she fell. Her friend in orange is fanning her, and so is a fit black guy in a white shirt.
The woman in the wheelchair tells me the events that led to the moment when I arrived and saw the two bodies thrown onto the platform.
These Irish soccer fans — fresh off watching their team lose to Croatia I assume — were horsing around on the edge of the platform and two of them (a young man and young woman) fell off at the same time. Then a couple of random people jumped in to pull them out. I ask who the other person was who fell and she points out a dazed guy, the same age as the girl and her friends, who is wandering away with no shoes on.
I ask the shoeless guy what happened and he tells me that he fell onto a rail and that she fell on her head. He has a vacant stare and is unbelievably dazed and dirty. His feet are half black with the dirt and he tries to put his flip flops back on.
I come back to the girl, who is talking now. Her friend in the orange top is still fanning, but her other friends are standing a step farther back. The paramedics arrive and relieve the man in the white shirt from his duties. Everyone is shaking his hand, the girl in the orange top can't stop saying how thankful she is. As he steps away I see the tattoos over his face and ask him what happened.
He had just gotten off the N train from Brooklyn and was coming down to the platform listening to his music when he heard the commotion. He didn't know what it was, but he stopped his music and saw the girl as "she had just finished spilling out [on the tracks]."
"For a minute you just think 'Jesus Christ.' And I didn't even think. You don't even think and I jumped down. I just wanted to make sure she was okay. Because I remember when I used to get...twisted…and I just wanted to help.
He's shaken too, and he's almost tripping over his words, but every time he repeats a phrase, it's with great clarity. He's not some insane guy; he just saw something and he had to help.
It's not even a color thing! That's what's great about New York. We can shove each other on the subway, but when it comes down to it, we just get down to it…And I felt like I was already taking too long!
He says his name is Doug. I know that jumping down onto the tracks (with another guy he said had already left) is wrong. Then I look at the girl and I see the condition she's in and it becomes obvious that he was a hero. They all could have died. There just happened to be enough people to pull everyone out, including those who had jumped in to make the rescue, and they were all just lucky that no train was coming that second because it seemed clear to me that they'd have all still jumped in to help.
The girl is sitting up, finally, and she gives a weak smile. "I'm fine!" she says, and she looks like she wished everyone would disappear. The guy who fell is looking better now, and suddenly no one walking by notices him. They help the girl stand as the train finally arrives, with the conductor slowly inching down the platform. The paramedics help the girl into a rolling chair and she points to her shoes, afraid they'll get left behind.
It's been ten or fifteen minutes since she was dragged out, and there are half a dozen people in uniform wheeling her off to check if she's actually alright. The girl and her friends are from Yonkers, says one of them to an officer filling out a report. They all go up an elevator and out of sight.
Everyone stands on the edge of the platform in New York. At Times Square at night, you always see people clowning around. You trust absolutely that no one will accidentally bump you off the edge, or that you'll lose your balance and fall. When you're drunk you don't even think about it, but people do fall. People do die in these situations and people do die trying to rescue others.
In the first moment, with the gasping crowd watching on the other platform, and the dazed and probably still-drunk guy wandering around in his dirty flip flops, it just felt like blind luck had saved some kids in a stupid, terrifying situation.
I eventually realized how much credit goes to the man with the face tattoos and the stranger who saved the pair and then just walked away like nothing happened. And the other commuters who helped lift them off the tracks from the platform. All these random people who risked their lives for them that they'll probably never meet again.
It is very much not my plan to ever fall onto subway tracks, but if I do I hope I'm in New York and I hope I'm surrounded by strangers.
Photo Credit: Raphael Orlove/Jalopnik