Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Incident with the Lady on the Escalator

I had a car before I moved to London from Sacramento.  I went wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted.  Even if that meant just driving around endlessly when I was pissed off and needed to think – a gas guzzling habit that I picked up from my dad.  To be honest though, I was excited about the prospect of selling my vehicle and relying on public transportation in the UK.  In fact, I thought it would be fun and somewhat glamorous to take the tube every day and leave the navigation up to someone else.  Now instead of fighting my way through traffic and dealing with other peoples' road rage, I get to read on my way to work.

The aspect of public transportation that I never gave much thought to was other commuters.  To my pleasant surprise, I find it endlessly entertaining to watch people on the tube being themselves.  Sometimes it is inspirational - like the teenager who gave up her seat for the old man with the cane and severe limp.  Sometimes it is thought provoking - what happened to that girl to make her sit alone and cry through the last ten stops?  But sometimes I see something that makes me stop in my tracks.

The London Underground has some of the longest escalators I have ever seen.  Some seem to travel several stories to bring people either down into the depths of the earth or back up to the surface.  With these long rides, certain etiquette has been developed (and it always surprises me how well it is observed).  Those who step onto the escalators and stand there, enjoying the ride, stay on the right hand side.  Those who wish to charge up or down the escalator so they can reach their destination a minute or two faster pass on the left. 

And that is how I ended up witnessing what will now be referred to only as “the incident”.

I was standing on an escalator, admiring the colourful ads and waiting to be deposited on the train platform.  A number of people were walking down the steps on the left hand side, including a twenty-something Asian girl.  She made it two steps past where I was standing when her pencil thin stiletto landed awkwardly on the ridged edge of the escalator stair.  Immediately her ankle crumbled and her body began twisting forward. 

I barely had time to gasp at the possibility she was in for a very painful (and long) header down the stairs, when the young man who happened to be walking behind her grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her backwards. 

“Ahhhhhhh.  Ahhhhhhhhh.  Ahhhhhhhhh.” She began to scream as she landed roughly in a seated position. These were the shrieks of someone who thought her life was in danger, not someone who had been helped by a Good Samaritan.  She confirmed my thought when she turned around a half second later. 

“What do you think you are doing,” she spat. If looks could kill, this would have been acid in the face.

“You were falling…” he trailed off shakily. 

Mouth agape, I watched the woman huff loudly, stand and hurry down the escalator before any further harm could be inflicted on her person.  Shortly after the young man followed, a bewildered expression on his face.

I wish I had said something to the young man.  It upsets me that someone who was honestly trying to do a good deed would encounter a reaction like that.  I would be surprised if this guy doesn’t have second thoughts before trying to assist someone in the future.

But what really bothers me is the girl.  Really?  You fall down and are shocked that someone puts their hands on you to assist.  In some ways I want to feel badly for her.  I mean, what must have happened in her life to make her so suspicious of strangers?

I would like to say that this would never have happened at home.  I would like to think that I come from a place that has people who are more understanding.  Except that I know it could have happened.  Maybe not in the exact same way, but with its own unique California twist.  Oh well.  The only thing I know for certain is that I will never understand people.  But I do have a lot more time to watch them than I used to.

I also know that karma is a bitch.


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