E Train to Hell - May 8th - 2003

E Train to HellThursday, 8th May
“Give me your wallet.”
“Come and get it.”
The mugger lunges. Tarun side-steps allowing the mugger to clumsily fall against the pavement. Tarun pushes one of his accomplices into a pile of trash cans and punch another in the face. The attackers writhe in pain as our hero escapes into the night.

This is how I always envisioned myself to act if I were to ever encounter danger. Last Wednsday, I learned that fantasy is far from reality.

It happened around 1:00 am. I finished up a late night comedy set, got a bite to eat and was on the E train home. The E train. A hellish ride complete with a passed out drunks, sleeping homeless people and yes, yours truly.

For the record, let me just say that if there’s one thing I’m really good at it’s riding the subway. Using my cd player to reduce all mental awareness, I can go anywhere in the city and reach my destination with no recollection of the actual ride.

For this reason, around 42nd street, I was the last one to notice a gang of street kids filtering onto my subway car. I’m not exactly sure how many or how old they were. Looking back, I’m guessing high school seniors. They entered from both open doors and pushed into the crowded space. A boombox blared, fleeing passengers were doused with Coke, a Chinese man froze in his seat. The doors slid closed. I was trapped.

Now I’ve only lived in the city for a few years, but I know that the first rule of “street” is to never act scared. The Chinese man sitting across from me was clearly oblivious to this rule. He bolted for a nearby door, attempting a daring escape to the adjacent subway car. Bad decision. Four kids pushed him against the wall. They held him there while a fifth emptied a bag of Cheetos on his head before letting him go. A spongy, orange crumb fell on my lap. I flicked it off inconspicoulsy and continued my pretend game of listening to my CD player, which was now turned off.

I also made a decision not to look at the two kids flanking me, burning a hole into the sides of my face with their stares. Finally, one of them tapped my shoulder. I turned and faced my potential assailant. I studied his face. 17-year old African-american, red bandanna, front gold-tooth. (Yes, a gold-tooth. Clearly I’m out of touch with today’s trends.) Another one stood above me, looking down. 20-year old, spanish descent, long black hair, earrings, Avirex jacket. Not good.

“What are you listening to?” Goldtooth asked. My heart was beating fast. I looked him cooly in the eye, trying not to give any indication that my right hand was deep inside my pocket, fingers sliding up and down the metal surface of my CD player, searching for the "on" button.

“Wyclef.” I answered. I was quite proud of myself. I answered assertively as if it was an everyday occurance that I’m interrogated on a subway at 1:00 in the morning about my choice of music.

“Give it to me.” Ah, yes. The moment that I was waiting for. A moment that was the very beginning of my long-running fantasy to laugh in the face of danger and make my stand against crime. A moment that I played over and over again in my head when I was a fourteen-year old boy sitting on my bed in New Hampshire reading Spider-man comic books.

By the time I snapped back into reality my hands had already removed the earpieces and handed my cd player to its new owners. At least I got the CD player on. Track 10, “I’ll be gone till November.” I felt it would be much longer than that before I saw my Wyclef CD again.

It’s this very belief in racial profiling and condemnation of those that reject morals and ethical values different than mine, which has left me in a confused state of mind.

Goldtooth puts on the headphones and bobs his head for a few seconds. “Good stuff,” he comments. “I like Wyclef too.” He removes the headphones and gives me back my CD player. I REPEAT. HE GIVES ME BACK MY CD PLAYER, and then ignores my presence as if I’m not even there. Of all the insane moments in my life. I almost wish that he took my CD player just so I have empirical evidence that today’s youth are crime-oriented, and we should all be doomed by 2010. But no, he gave it back to me.

Whether it was the bond of rap music or he was simply inquiring what I was listening to, he made the decision not to take my CD player from me, and let me enjoy my ride in peace.

“Give me your wallet.”
“Come and get it.”
The mugger lunges at Tarun. Tarun side-steps, allowing him to clumsily fall against the pavement. Tarun pushes one of his accomplices into a pile of trash cans and punches another one in the face. Tarun thinks over what he has just done and extends my hand. He helps the man off the pavement, pulls the second out of the trash cans and offers his handkerchief to the one with the bloody nose.


“No, it's our fault. You wanna get some coffee?”


The foursome stroll into the night and embark on a what turns out to be a long-lasting friendship.
Tarun ShettyComment