Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Subway Hero

Quote of the blog:

Brook: “Holding Out for a Hero is my theme-song.

Justin: “ order to attract a hero, you may not want to openly admit that.”


You need just a bit of background about me for the following story (don't worry, it's just a little bit). I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, sometimes called LDS, sometimes Mormon. We meet in churches every week to worship and hold our services, and then we have temples where sacred ordinances (such as temple marriages) are performed (inquiring minds can visit or

While there are thousands of churches where members meet weekly to worship, there are just over 130 temples in the world. We are lucky enough to have a temple in Manhattan just a block away from the Lincoln Center. The Manhattan LDS temple is completely staffed by members who are called as volunteers. I've worked as an Ordinance Worker in the Manhattan Temple for almost four years. It's been one of the most amazing opportunities I've ever had and I love it.

I currently work every other Wednesday evening after work, but when I first started serving in the temple I worked every other Saturday morning. My friend Anna and I worked on the same Saturday morning shift and we would leave our building at 4:40 am to catch the train to be there by 5:30 am.

Just a bit more background - when a member of the church is called to fulfill a “calling” whether it’s as a Sunday School teacher, Bishop, Ordinance Worker, or Primary Teacher, we are interviewed by an authority in the church. If the calling is extended, or offered, and the person is willing to serve in that calling he/she is receives a blessing and is “set apart” to do that calling.

So when I was interviewed and asked to serve in the temple by Pres. Lee, then a member of the temple presidency, he asked me if my neighborhood was safe early in the morning. I told him that I had never really been out in my neighborhood at 5:00 in the morning. I’ve never felt unsafe in my neighborhood but know that, like most neighborhoods, the later it gets the more crazies come out. When Pres. Lee set me apart he said that I would be protected and safe in my travels to and from the temple.

Ok, a couple of months later, Anna and I walked the ten blocks or so to the 1 train. The Dyckman 1 train stop is one of the few outdoor, elevated, subway stops in Manhattan. It was chilly 4:30 am morning in April and we walked quickly leaving little puffs of breath to dissipate behind us. We walked up the chipped stairs at the Dyckman stop and sat on the wooden benches under the peeling awning. Few people are on the platform that early and as the only white people and the only females we were the minority.

The trains come every 20 minutes or so that early. We sat close together for warmth and waited and drowsily chatted. A few minutes later a massive man walked up the stairs. He was well-built, 6’3 and probably 220 lbs. The word hulking came to mind. He was unkempt and looked like he had had a rough night. He sat at the end of our bench. I would need to confirm with Anna to see what she thought, but my impression was that he’d been in a fight earlier. He just looked rough. He sat for a moment then looked over and started talking to us - maybe "speaking at us" would be more appropriate. I won’t write what he was saying, but it was uncomfortable at best. It didn’t take long to realize he was completely drunk. It’s hard to know what to do in those situations. Around my neighborhood I find it more effective to ignore catcallers, etc. because they usually just kind of shrug and let it be. In Harlem I take a different approach since ignoring men there tends to incite them.

Since Anna and I were already talking when he started speaking to us we just kept talking and didn’t make eye contact. He spoke to us the whole time we sat there. It was maybe the longest ten minutes I’ve ever waited for a train.

When the train finally arrived Anna and I looked at each other. I could tell we both thought it would be wise to walk down one car so we weren’t on the same one with the drunk. We stood in front of the train shifting our weight and adjusting the grip on our purses. We were impatient and nervous. As soon as the doors opened we hurried to the next car and hopped on. We looked around: there were ten or so people in the car, mostly older men on their way to work. We sat down at the same time we heard outrage erupt behind us. It was the drunk. He had assumed, rightly, that we went into a different car because we were trying to get away from him.

It was like one of the moments in the movies where the protagonist dashes into the elevator and you hope the doors can close before the assailant gets in. We could hear him coming. His roar reached the doors before he did but they didn’t close in time. The train had sat motionless just long enough for him to exit his car and rage to ours.

He entered cursing, balled fists held out to his sides and the doors closed behind him. His head was lowered and his bleary eyes burned at us. He charged. I really didn’t know what to do. Anna and I stood up and rushed between the moving cars into the next one. We raced passed passengers whose only motion was to register surprise and apprehension in their expression. The drunk was still roaring his rage. He moved with surprising agility – and was catching up to us.

I didn’t know what to do but was sorting through options. The next stop was coming but not soon enough. The belligerent drunk blocked access to the train conductor (who was in his booth three cars back). To get to the driver we needed to race through another five cars and I was doubtful we could make it before the drunk reached us. I looked around at the passengers as we passed. There were three men in this car. They looked up, looked back as the roaring drunk entered, and then looked down again.

The words from the blessing when I was set apart as a temple worker came to mind - that I would be blessed with safety and protection on my travels to and from the temple. I knew right then that we would be OK, but I just didn’t know how. I wasn’t scared but I was definitely nervous. My heart was pounding. I heard the drunk close behind us yelling, “Where do you think you can go? You think I can’t follow you?” I glanced back; he was ten feet away. I realized that he would reach us before we could go through another emergency exit door to the next car. Anna and I turned to face him. He was just a few feet away.

Just then the door at the other end of the train was yanked open and a young man, about 25 years old, ran into the car behind the drunk. He had a small build - maybe 5’6 and 140 lbs? He reached up and tapped the angry drunk on the shoulder. The drunk half-turned. Our Subway Hero said pointedly, “What are you trying to do? Get yourself arrested? Leave these ladies alone.” The drunk turned fully and started yelling at Subway Hero –spat out obscenities with vehemence but the young man stayed calm. The drunk sat on a seat still yelling and swearing .

Our Subway Hero placed himself between us and held his hand up in front of the drunk, like a cop stopping traffic. As the train pulled into the 191st station he informed us that the drunk was not going to bother us anymore and that we could go to the next car or get off at the next stop, whichever we preferred. That if anything happened this guy would get arrested. We nodded our understanding and appreciation. The doors opened and we went to the next car. Subway Hero stayed with the (still swearing but sullen and subdued) drunk to make sure he couldn’t follow us.

He was our Subway Hero. I’m not sure what would have happened if the drunk had made it the last five feet and reached us, but I’m grateful someone intervened. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even say thank you to our Subway Hero, all I could do was nod. I still wish I knew his name and could thank him properly but I think, and hope, he could see it in our eyes.


  1. That is a scary one! My heart started pounding.......thank goodness for heroes.

  2. Wow! What a crazy experience. Do you think the hero wondered why in the world he felt like he needed to be on that particular subway car at that particular time?!! No coincodence(spelling?!) for sure!! Glad you're safe!

  3. I love happy endings! And I love that story! Hooray for real heroes among us!

  4. Great story Brook! A REAL subway hero! I hadn't heard this story before and was on the EDGE of my SEAT!

  5. this is a late comment, because i've been catching up on your blog, but this brought tears to my eyes! what a brave a wonderful man, i wonder if he knew that he was on the Lord's errand when he did that? Maybe he did! anyway, i'm glad you and your friend are ok!