What Would You Do?

What would you do if your wallet fell onto the subway tracks? I thought I knew the answer to that question until it happened to me.

The other day I was biking to work when I realized I was running too late to make it solely on my own steam. So I decided to take my bike on the train for part of the way. The lines for the elevator were long, so I carried my bike down the stairs…all three flights of them. Once I’d finally reached the subway platform, I put my metrocard back in my wallet. As I zipped my wallet shut and was going to put it in my backpack it fell from my hands. And as though it were a convict running from the law, my wallet slid across the subway platform and fell down onto the tracks. I stood there motionless for a few seconds, stunned…looking at the tracks…looking at my empty hands…amazed that a wallet could travel so far on its own…wondering why those yellow nubs near the platform’s edge hadn’t caused enough friction to stop my wallet’s escape. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and I stared at my empty hands again hoping to make it un-happen—like maybe if I looked at my hands hard and long enough, I’d see them holding my wallet, and it’s falling on the tracks would turn out to have just been a daydream-nightmare. There was a man standing not too far from me who must have seen everything. As our eyes met, he gave me a “sucks to be you” look and went on with his life.

I looked around in vain for a transit employee. I looked down at my wallet laying on the tracks. The tracks looked remarkably clean…no puddles, no garbage, just my blue wallet looking lonely. I looked down the tracks to see if a train was coming. I knew what I SHOULD do—find a transit worker and ask them for help. But that would mean lugging my bike back up the three flights of stairs, and I didn’t feel like doing that. For a moment I hoped one of the men standing around would just get the wallet for me, but this was not to be a story of chivalry coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. I looked back down at my wallet on the tracks. I looked again to see if a train was coming. I was sweating now, and my brain was racing with contingencies. Should I just leave my bike on the platform and look for help? Someone would probably take it. Should I lug my bike back up to the agent’s booth and get help? But then someone who saw me my wallet fall might jump down and take it before I got back with assistance.

I looked back down at my wallet. I again looked around the platform hoping to see a police officer, a transit worker or to garner the pity of some do-gooder gentleman who would help me. Nothing. I looked again to see if a train was coming. Nothing. So, sweating profusely, I did what I had always thought I wouldn’t. I jumped down onto the tracks to get my wallet. It was easy getting down, but when I turned to get back up (wallet in hand) I saw that I was deeper than I’d anticipated. The top of the platform came to about my armpits. I immediately regretted my decision. What if I couldn’t get back up? What if a train was coming?! My brain starting racing though all the stories I’d heard about people being hit by trains because they tried to get something. Hadn’t I always tsk tsked, “no material thing is worth your life.” Then my thoughts moved on to theoretical teasers for the evening news. How would my sad tale be told? “A woman was killed today by a Manhattan-bound train. She had foolishly jumped down onto the tracks to retrieve her wallet, which, by the way, only had two dollars in it. What a shame.” What was I thinking? I knew the tracks were deeper than they appeared. I knew nothing in my wallet was worth risking my life. But loosing my wallet and having to report lost/stolen and then replace everything or trying to get help with a bike just seemed like too much of a bother at the time. So I did the unwise thing. And now I was almost face to face with a train platform wishing I was taller.

So I dug deep, and then jumped then pulled then dragged myself back onto the platform. By then, the train I needed had arrived on the other set of tracks, so I grabbed my bike and got on it. Again I stood in a state of disbelief. Had I really just done that? I reprimanded myself for doing something so foolish to save 2 dollars and a bunch of change and cards. But then even darker thoughts started coming to me…what had I inadvertently touched? My skin was crawling. Certainly I was now covered in a thin indiscernible layer of rat excrement, subway train track grime, saliva, and homeless man urine.

I also began to wonder at how no one had helped me. Now, I realize it was naïve of me to think anyone would jump down onto the tracks for another person’s wallet. But I am surprised that not one person, upon seeing my five-foot-five head barely clearing the top of the platform, offered a hand to help me back up.

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