Monday, March 26, 2007

Who says New Yorkers aren't friendly?

I took the subway to Lincoln Center the other day, and followed the underground tunnels to the little-used exit that led to my destination. The MTA, in its infinite wisdom, had set this exit up so that it could not be used as an entrance: there were turnstiles, but a large, locked gate on the "entrance" side prevented passengers from being able to swipe in. There was no such gate on the subway side of the bank of turnstiles, so you could, if you wanted to, walk through in that direction, but then you'd be face-to-face with the aforementioned gate, so the only real exit options were two "high exit turnstiles" -- you know, those floor-to-ceiling spinning gates that people hate to use. Normally I wouldn't have bothered to take note of all this, but it turned out to be the set for an exciting pre-theatre event.

As I said, there wasn't much traffic at the time, but as I approached the exit I noticed a man standing on the other side of the gate, looking concerned. And then I noticed the cause of his concern: a blind woman, led by a guide dog, was heading for one of the gated-off turnstiles. The drama was already in progress, and I missed whatever happened in Act One, but by the time I got there the man was clearly trying to talk the blind woman out of exiting through the turnstile, and she was clearly not heeding his advice -- in fact, she seemed to resent the intrusion, or so I gathered from the way she was snarling at him. And so he watched helplessly as she and her dog exited through the turnstile and found themselves imprisoned by the gate on the other side. At which point the woman said, sheepishly, "Gosh, I guess I should have listened to you, sir. I'm sorry to have to ask, but do you think you could help me get out?"

Just kidding! What actually happened was, the woman spluttered angrily, "Now what am I supposed to do?!" as if the man were the cause of her being stuck. He didn't really have an answer for her, and I didn't, either; her only options were to duck under or climb over the turnstile that had locked behind her, and she didn't look nimble enough to manage either maneuver, even under the best of circumstances (i.e., sighted and with no dog to worry about). So the man just said sadly, "I tried to tell you not to go through..." And she responded with more incoherent biliousness, finally accusing him, "I asked you a question and you didn't answer me." Although I missed the first part of the exchange, I'm going to go out on a limb here, based on what I saw of this woman's receptivity to assistance, and say that's not actually true.

Ordinarily, my hat is off to anyone with impaired vision who has the courage to navigate the subway system. I find it difficult enough with all of my senses intact. And the MTA probably should do more to prevent something like this from happening. But I don't care what your personal burdens might be, or how much you are inconvenienced by the mismanagement of the subway system -- when a well-meaning stranger goes out of his way to help you, I think you ought to respond with something other than unbridled abuse. Call me old-fashioned.

So now the woman was well and truly stuck, more dependent than ever on the kindness of strangers, and more abusive than ever to the few strangers who were trying to help. I can understand that she was probably feeling a bit humiliated by this point, but she wasn't about to learn any lessons from that! Another woman who'd been looking on came to the defense of the man, saying as gently as possible, "He did try to tell you not to go through there..." And the blind woman snapped back, "Oh, shut up!" Um, lady, I thought, at this moment you are completely at the mercy of strangers. Perhaps you could tone down the bile just a bit. Perhaps informing passersby of their shortcomings should not be your very highest priority at this moment.

Seeing that my help wouldn't exactly be welcomed -- even if I could think of a way to help -- and feeling bad about standing there gawking, I walked on. But I would love to know how the situation resolved itself. I was sort of rooting for the man to just walk away and leave her there; he'd absorbed more than his fair share of hostility already, and perhaps, by the time another helpful stranger came along, the woman might have been humbled into a more grateful state of mind. I'm pretty sure he felt obliged to see it through, though, God bless him. I'm also pretty sure that woman never thanked him for his concern, or apologized for her behavior. And I'm certain the guy will think twice the next time he's tempted to help somebody out (what is it they say about no good deed?). As for me, I think there may be a parable in all this, but I'm not sure I want to know what the lesson is.

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