Day 69 - An NDE on the rail track??
The dateline reads 5/5/5. One of those dozen special days that come once in a century. Though I'd never imagine that it would turn out this way.
Come to think of it. It was a very normal day, and barring those 10 seconds, there was hardly anything that could have made this day so different from the rest of them.
Well, for once, I got out of office relatively early, at around a quarter to seven. In the next 20 min, Amit and I had reached Grand Central and we rushed down the stairs to catch the waiting 7 Express train, when we noticed Ashok boarding the next coach. As we made it to the train just ahead of the closing doors, we thought of going over to the next coach to have more company on the ride back home. As luck would have it, it was an exceptionally crowded 7 express today and we hardly had any space to reach even the next door, forget the next coach !
And so, it was decided that we will get down at the next stop and move ahead to catch up with him.
Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue is one of those deserted subway stations, where trains barely halt for a few seconds before moving on to more populous thoroughfares. At most times of the day, there is hardly a soul around. The only constant companions being the dingy tunnel with plaster peeling off the walls, and the electric rail passing just above the murky water all along the tracks, this is one place you'd rather not be.
And at half past seven in the evening, even the MTA officials for the station had probably called it a day and returned to the homely pleasures of life.
As the crowded 7 express entered into Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue, I and Amit came closer to the doors to get ready for a quick run down the expectedly empty platform. We knew we had about 7-10 seconds to run the length of our coach and get back onto the train, and we expected it to be a real breeze. Already, we were looking forward to a fun-filled ride over the next 30 minutes, wot with all the amusing anecdotes that Ashok so effortlessly keeps coming up with all the time. So, as the train came to a screeching halt and the doors slid apart, we stepped out, all set for a 23m dash.
The run was simpler than expected -we reached the next coach's door in probably just 3 seconds - and were about to step in when something flew from my jacket pocket and ricocheted off the edge of the platform. Had it not been the metallic clang, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to see what had happened. I had a small pack of biscuits in my jacket and though I was a bit surprised about how it slipped out, it wasn't worth the effort to search for it now. But the metallic clang had me concerned. More than the concern, I was surprised at how fast it flew over the edge of the platform. And that brought me to a stop just as I was boarding the train.
Well, Amit followed suit and we both peeked into the gap between the train and the platform to see what it was. We were just in time to notice my brand new mobile phone sliding beside the wheels of the train onto the side of the track.
The moment of indecisiveness was gone! I knew I wouldn't be hopping onto this train. For a split second though, the surprise overwhelmed everything else and I found myself wryly smiling at the situation. I looked up and saw two extremely surprised girls giggling at two blokes who ran to the door and just came to a dead-stop when they were about to climb in.
As the doors closed and the train pulled along, it finally dawned on me how close I was to losing my mobile phone for good. The phone had slid to the side of the track, so it wouldn't be crushed. But the back cover had flown off and I had no idea of where it was. And I had no clue on what else had happened to my little piece of joy.
Even the monetary angle of a one-year contract came to the fore, but more than that, I was looking at the prospect of losing the only connection to my near and dear ones. No longer can I call back home at my whims and fancies, no longer can my friends call me over the weekends and ask me to come over. Added to that, this was Ashok's phone (with a blank credit history, I wouldn't have got a phone for quite some time to come.) Losing a brand new phone in under a month would have been really bad on my part.
Well, there I was watching the train pass, with all these thoughts flying in and out of my mind...knowing very well that I have to brace myself for losing something very useful.
Like most subway services, the New York City Subway has a third rail that runs alongside the two tracks and powers the system with hundreds of volts of direct current. At times, it's even said that a constant current through the third rail causes a high-voltage field around it, though I am not sure whether it really happens. In the New York subway, the third rail always runs on the opposite side of the two main rails from the platform. But with disinformation ruling the roost, no one is really sure whether it is indeed safe to touch the two main rails, or whether they are possibly charged because of the proximity to the third rail. At the Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue station Queens line today, there was a water drain in between the two tracks and that had me wondering what I should do.
The 7 line to Queens is quite busy in the rush-hours and you have a train practically every couple of minutes. At times, trains stream into the station seconds after the previous train has passed by. Since the Vernon Blvd-Jackson Avenue station is situated just outside a curved tunnel, it's quite difficult to judge whether an incoming train is on its way. So, if at all I had any time with me to get down on the track, it was going to be just a few seconds.
A few months ago, R-D India had come up with a special edition to celebrate 50 years of Reader's Digest. With a selection that included some of the best articles from the past 50 years, it was something that a collector like me couldn't have done without. And as I stood there watching the last bogies of the train leave the station, it all came back to me in a flash.
This edition of Reader's Digest featured a true-life story set in the backdrop of the New York City Subway system. It was all about how two guys saved a baby who accidentally fell onto the tracks in front of an incoming subway train. One of them ran down the middle of the tracks and picked up the baby whereas the second pulled him over the edge of the platform just half a second before a train would have crushed him. It all came back to me now and I knew it was safe to get onto the tracks. And I knew I needed help to get back onto the platform. And I knew this had to be done real fast, coz even I had no idea how I'd react if I saw or heard a train coming on the same line.
As the 7 Express train moved out of the station, I emptied my jacket pockets and asked Amit that I needed a hand to get back onto the station. The next instant, I had parked myself on the platform ledge and put my legs over. (I remembered people breaking their ankles with the four-feet jump onto the tracks - Mumbai suburban rail experience - and also, I didn't want to take the risk of touching any of the rails or the water drain.) With Amit holding the palm of my right hand, I slid down and picked up my dear mobile phone and the battery cover. But something was missing. The phone seemed empty !!
I looked around again and found what I was looking for - the battery. Once that was picked, a quick glance told me that I had the SIM card in place (though that was the least of my worries !)
I put all the items on the platform and with Amit's help, was back onto the platform. A final glance at the tracks confirmed that nothing else was lying around (though I'd have never known if anything would have fallen in the water drain). The whole operation was completed in under 4 seconds !!
Back onto the platform and with all the risks behind us, suddenly I was concerned about the phone. I put the battery in and tried putting on the the battery cover, but it just didn't fit. And then I found my fingers start becoming unstable.
The moment had passed, I was back to the safety of the platform. And now, the danger of being on the tracks was sinking in. And that was blurring my mind. I somehow managed to put on the cover, but the phone just didn't start.
Took a deep breath, opened the cover again and found that the battery was upside down. Well, in the next five seconds, 'Hi Sathish' came on the display and my phone seemed fine too, after all the adventure.
As the next 7 local thundered into the platform, I found myself sticking to the station wall, staying as far away from the rails as I possibly could until the train passed.
And then, as we waited for the next train with my phone in the top pocket of my jacket, it was time to smile and laugh. On inspection, my phone showed just one small scratch as a reminder of what we went through. We wondered whether anyone would go to all the extent for recovering a mobile phone.
Well, as we walked onto the next 7 Express train, we patted ourselves for having done a cool job. As Amit would later put it, it was a swift and smooth operation. :)