4:00 pm, Saturday afternoon. Heading on the Expo line to Union Station to catch some part of the LA Philharmonic perform in the subway. A bunch of singles get on, a large woman sits in front of me, then changes to the other side of the aisle at the next stop. You know…bald guys.
A family gets on, black husband, white wife, both large folk. Their two kids sit down in front of me, husband sits down next to me to stay close.
Train fills a bit more. Then an older white guy (yes, I believe colors matter here) gets on and there is something off about him. Not full-out crazy or homeless; but the screws are just loose enough that he loses his composure over the father sitting next to me because they made eye contact too long.
“What the hell is your problem???” he yells on the crowded train.
“I ain’t got a problem! What’s YOUR problem???” dad with huge arms rails back.
“You keep staring at me! You want trouble? You’re gonna get it!”
(I’m butchering this conversation, as many n-bombs and various profanity are exchanged.)
Now Dad gets out of his seat and walks over to this asshole begging for a beatdown. Wife tries to calm him down, “Come on, Baby. He ain’t worth it.”
A few other people try to quiet the crazy white guy, as he’s still mumbling empty threats under his breath. He seems to think he’s the one being antagonized.
Dad sits down next to me again. He’s inhaling deeply, trying to meditate the anger out of his system. Something tells me he didn’t use to do this, and the presence of his family had required him to develop a new skill. He pounded his fist on the empty seat in front of us, struggling to calm down.
“Fucking guy thinks he can look at me like that…” white guy mumbles loud enough for all of us to here.
Dad leaps to his feet, walks across the train to get in the guy’s private space.
“Baby, calm down!” mother says. “You don’t have to do this! You have a choice!”
“Sir, shut up–there are kids on the train!” another bystander says to the white guy.
Dad is ready to leap into the in-zone. He gears up with a tornado of profanity. “You want me to break you up? I’ll break you up, you motherfucking NIGGER!” He gets close to the guy’s face. “GO AHEAD…SAY ANOTHER WORD!”
His eyes are bulging, his arms tense, ready to inflict bodily harm as if in full survival mode. I’m staring at the emergency button on the wall, wondering if I should press that or call 911 on my phone.
White crazy guy finally backpedals a bit, “Whatever man. Whatever.” He stares away at the floor submissively.
Wife coaxes her husband back to the seat next to me and compliments him on not giving in to the violence. A black gentleman sitting behind me also joins in, pats him on the shoulder, gives him the boilerplate about how much he’d lose if he’d gone into the deep-end that was splashing the ends of his clenched fists.
Another calm, black man was engaging the white guy. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but he was clearly doing a good job of tightening the screws of reality back into him, taking his attention away from the guy who was about to break his bones.
Me? I’m sitting quietly the entire time, a half-ignorant thought of getting involved when they were about to fight, see if I could break it up. Then I considered complimenting the dad for his ability to dial back the anger, but his family was pretty busy with that.
The train reaches its destination in downtown LA. As we get up Dad reaches out his hand to me. “I’m sorry if I scared you, sir.”
I smiled, shook his hand. “Sir, YOU took the high road.”