One early afternoon in December, the Blue Line platform at State Street held a couple dozen adults, a few of us obviously awaiting a train to the airport based on the luggage we dragged. The other platform, across two sets of tracks, was desolate except for one man, positioned at the end of the platform where the front of his train would stop. It was surprisingly quiet - so quiet that the sound of a suitcase rolling along the platform reverberated through the concrete station. The quiet was suddenly punctuated by the automatic voice announcing when the next train would arrive. “The next Blue Line train to Wonderland will arrive in FIVE minutes,” said the booming voice, with a long emphasis on the word, “five.” Then silence. “The next train to Bowdoin will arrive in SEVEN minutes.”
The crowd on my platform was a mixed group: well-attired men and women who seemed to be coming from work, and people in casual, worn clothing. We were Black, White, Hispanic, Asian. I’m not sure this matters; I can’t decide. I looked around at the group on my platform but I didn’t notice a young Hispanic man wearing outsized clothing and a backpack that could have come from a surplus store.
“Tap, tap,” punctuated the silence, and a couple of dozen eyes were drawn across two sets of tracks. “Tap, scrape, tap.” A tall, African American man in a dirty sweatsuit man moved slowly toward the opposite platform, emerging from a concrete, tile-lined corridor, swinging the stick the blind sometimes use, seemingly reassured when the stick hit the tiled wall to his right.
When the corridor ended at the platform, we heard “scrape, scrape,” as the stick moved across the concrete and failed to hit tile. The man paused, uncertain. He turned left, as if guessing, and advanced a few feet, still swinging the stick, but now hitting the wall at the back of the platform as he crossed the mouth of the corridor. “Tap, scape, tap.” He was alone on the platform now – the other man on the opposite end of the platform had retreated. Lost, but perhaps aware that he could be just feet from falling onto some tracks, he moved slowly, turning right, striking nothing, finally stopping. A couple of dozen eyes watched. At least two minutes had passed since the man emerged from the corridor.
“Where are you trying to go?” A woman’s voice to my left broke the silence. The voice had the unmistakable tinge of South Boston.
“Orange Line,” said the man. He was on the wrong platform.
One of the men, who looked like he had come from his office, spoke up. “Turn right,” the man said with authority. “You need to walk down the platform and take the corridor at the end.”
The blind man turned about 210 degrees, and began slowly walking diagonally toward the wall at the back of the platform.
“No,” the man in a suit said, “wrong way. Turn toward your left.”
“The next Blue Line train to Wonderland arrives in TWO minutes.”
I was in a rush. My family was waiting for me at the airport. I didn’t want to miss the train. I was not late and had time to spare, but my daughter kept texting me asking me when I would arrive.
When the automatic voice stopped reverberating, the woman from Southie tried again. “Turn left and walk straight ahead.” The blind man turned 30 degrees to his left and stopped.
At that moment, I realized that the communication had failed. Directions would not solve this problem. I stood still, holding my roller board, silent.
Then the young Hispanic man with the surplus store backpack started jogging down our side of the platform. He hit the stairs at the end moving easily, his backpack bouncing. 30 seconds later he came down the opposite stairway and walked up to the blind man taking the arm opposite the stick. The two of them walked slowly down the length of the platform and took a right turn in the direction of the Orange Line. Just then my train pulled up to the platform and my view of the two of them was obscured.
The two people who had tried to give directions got on the train along with the rest of us who had said nothing. The train pulled away without the young Hispanic man on board.