Escape from the T (Weekly Dig)


Originally published in the October 24, 2007 edition of Boston's Weekly Dig

This column is about a guy named Bill, a hero whose story has never been told in print.

On Friday, October 5th -- a polar ice-meltingly hot day -- Bill left his Central Square office at 5pm and boarded the first car on the inbound Red Line. The train stopped on the Longfellow Bridge, between Kendall and Charles/MGH.

The operator explained that there was traffic ahead, and that they would be moving shortly. Minutes passed with no movement. Then she explained that there was a fire at Park Street. In the distance, helicopters hovered in the general area of Park Street, but there was no plume of smoke that might have explained why this train could not move.

It was getting late. It was getting hot. People were getting irritable. A female passenger used the intercom to ask for the air conditioning to be turned on.

"I don't know if I have the authority to do that," the operator responded.

More time passed. Tempers, along with the temperature, rose.

After another AC request, the operator claimed, "I don't have permission from Central Command." Her own windows were wide open.

Most people grumbled and got even more irritable, but most did nothing. Bill is not most people. Surveying the train car for any opening, Bill and another passenger homed in on the emergency release above the doors at the front of every T car.

They pulled the levers, and the doors opened. Shock and sweet relief poured through the car, along with fresh air.

Bill and two other men jumped four to five feet down from the train, clearing a spiked iron fence and landing in the heavy traffic of Cambridge Street. They crossed and headed into Boston on foot. Then they turned around. Seeing their fellow riders back on the train, the men returned to help.

One blocked traffic while the others helped lift dozens of riders down to street level. Soon, the doors of other cars slid open and passengers helped each other down and across the street. What a scene. Moses would have been proud. Public officials should be ashamed.

"Your work is done here!" boomed an orange-vested MBTA worker from one of the open doorways. The jig was up. As helicopters and state troopers arrived, Bill decided it was a good time to leave. "I'm pretty sure what I did was illegal," he told me.

How sad is that? Not only did officials refuse to help people, but they stopped people from helping themselves. It's a lesson we keep learning. That's why my emergency preparedness kit now includes an innocuous LED display. Whenever I require a rapid response from the government, I'll just fire that bad boy up. I may get hauled off to jail, but at least I'd have air conditioning.

BARATUNDE THURSTON IS A COMEDIAN AND AUTHOR. HIS COLUMN RUNS BIWEEKLY. YOU HAVE PERMISSION FROM CENTRAL COMMAND TO VISIT BARATUNDE.COM.