When push comes to shove

by jexmas on January 8, 2011

I am sprinting to the station nearest my office to catch the train to a meeting in the East Bay. It is late in the afternoon, just before the rush but the carriages are already crowded with commuters, people leaving work early and many of them carrying bags of brightly wrapped gifts since it is two days until Christmas.
I push through the crowd directly across from the door, squeeze into a small space where I can lean against the wall, pull my iPhone from my pocket and, like almost everyone else around me is doing with theirs, study it intently. A commotion catches my eye and I look up to see two of the most unlikely men to be caught in a standoff boarding the train.
One of the men is small and slender, wearing casual work clothes and carrying a backpack slung across one shoulder. He looks to be in his thirties and I imagine he could work for a technology company, maybe as a programmer. The other man is very large and much bigger than the smaller man in all directions. He is tall but mostly wide and deep, with a thin belt pulled tightly around his middle as if to try and rein in his corpulence. He is wearing business pants, a shirt and a fleece vest and looks somewhat older than his adversary. He also has a bag, although his is more like a messenger bag, and it is slung over his head with the strap across his chest. He could easily have the same job as the other man. They are ordinary commuters going home from work.
As they get on, the small man pushes against the big man with his shoulder and simultaneously says in an irritable tone, “Don’t push me!” presumably a reference to having to jostle to board the train. The big man turns towards him and, putting both hands on the smaller man’s shoulders, pushes him back quite firmly and retorts loudly and angrily, “Well, don’t push me!” The smaller man’s face turns very red and he looks as if he is about to leap on the large man and the thought crosses my mind it would be a rather useless move.
Several people in the carriage gasp or say, “Whoa!” but before they can even get it out, a middle-aged woman who has been sitting down and reading a book, springs out of her seat and inserts herself between the two men.
“Oh, for goodness sake.” she says angrily, “Stop it! You’re both grown men.”
Both grown men initially look taken aback and, after a short and tense hesitation, both look down. By then, the doors have closed and the train is moving.
The woman continues firmly, speaking to the large man and pointing over his shoulder, “You, go up that end of the carriage…now!” She turns to the other man and points over his shoulder in the opposite direction, “And you, go down that end of the carriage. Go on, go!”
Both men turn and push through the crowded carriage in opposite directions. The small man says loudly and huffily as he walks away, “Asshole!” The large man retaliates, “Little jerk!”
The woman stands her ground, “Stop! That’s enough.” When the two men have gone to their corners, so to speak, and she is sure the conflict is over, the woman sits back down and resumes reading her book. I wonder if everyone else felt the same adrenalin rush as me followed by relief that someone stopped the escalation. I am impressed with the woman’s quick thinking, fortitude and agility, and wonder if she is a kindergarten teacher.
I catch the eye of a man sitting on the other side of the carriage. In a rare moment of connection, we raise our eyebrows at each other and smile.
The train slows down to stop at the next station and by the time the doors open and some people get off and new people get on, the incident has passed. Whatever it was we all shared in the tunnel between the two stops seems to have been left there and we continue on, looking for the real news on our iPhones.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: