This brisk September morning gave way to a normal Tuesday for me, some writing, followed by a wine tasting. The tasting was being held at Marea, hosted by T.Edwards Wines, one of the better importers out there. The restaurant is quite accessible and lovely, and I managed to taste 45 wines with one of my staff members, Chris. There were chickpea fritters and sepia croquettes, as well as a spoonful of ceviche to aid the palette, and a long table of charcuterie, cheese and grilled antipasto for heartier fare. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time talking about wine and terroir and catching up with industry friends. Yet for me, my mind was elsewhere, caught up in what I consider to be a typical, classic New York City moment.
On my way to the event, I was feeling good about myself and the day’s schedule. I wore a velvet jacket with a hot pink shirt and jeans. I took the express at 96th St. and Broadway hoping to catch the local at 72nd St. Just my luck, the train was there waiting. I was seated at the last car when on 66th St., an elderly man with a walker tried to get off the train before the doors closed. He was moving faster than normal and dragging his walker. He made it out before the doors closed but then stumbled and fell to the ground. Everyone witnessed the fall, but we all remained paralyzed. He tried to get up, but failed and collapsed to the platform. Two people closest to the door arose and asked if he needed assistance. He waved them off from what appeared to be embarrassment at his predicament. A young woman seated in front of me cried out, “Isn’t someone gonna do something?” By then the doors had snapped shut, and the train ambled its way towards my destination, Columbus Circle.
Why didn’t I rush to help him? What was so important that I didn’t lift a finger? I got up immediately, trying to free myself from the scene, feeling disgusted with myself for having done nothing. Quickly I tried to analyze why I had behaved so wrongly. I didn’t want to be late to the tasting. Check. Someone else would eventually help him. Check. He could get up on his own. Check. He waved off the two people who offered him help. Check. If I had helped him up, I would have waited at least an hour for an ambulance and had to fill out accident and police reports. Check. Then why do I feel so ashamed and miserable?
The truth is that in our fair city, people are so concerned with their schedules and themselves that when it comes time to help our fellow New Yorker, we turn the other cheek. Someone else who has the time can do the job. I was so concerned about the wine that I was going to taste, I overlooked an elder in need and made countless justifications in a matter of seconds as to why I couldn’t do it.
It is easy to blame the pace of this town for my lack of care, and in this is only a part truth. We are so caught up with this frenetic pace that we overlook the right thing to do quite often. So often I will witness some public behavior that appears rude and savage, littering, the death of chivalry, outright rudeness and crimes against humanity. Today the grapes tasted sour, and I felt ashamed to be a New Yorker and to be myself. I am upset that my priorities are so mixed up that I couldn’t help my fellow man, even if it means the price of that special commodity – time.
I rushed to the booth to report the accident. A worker was coming out of the booth to purchase a beverage. “There’s been an accident,” I pleaded. “Report it to the booth,” she dismissed, so as not to take time from her break too. There was a line, and I asked the gentlemen who was up next if I could please get in front of him, that it was an emergency. He replied no, and I informed him that a senior citizen had fallen and required attention, and that I was merely trying to report it. Further, that if he felt it was more important to purchase his metro card first, that he should continue. “Only if it is an emergency,” he reluctantly retorted. “There is a man who has fallen at the station,” finally getting it off my chest. “Someone will see him there and take care of it,” not the relief I was looking for. “No, it was at the rear of the station and no one was around.” She looked at me blankly. “Call it in or anything that happens will be on you.” I left feeling ill, guilty and dissatisfied in my attempt to rectify my past error.
The tasting is over, and I have lots of notes, but none of this matter much. On this gloomy September afternoon, I am thinking of the elderly man who fell at the train station, needing a helping hand, hoping for decency in a time of recession, and ultimately what is the responsibility of being a true New Yorker.