Monday, January 19, 2009


I cannot yet draw any conclusions from or glean any moral to this story, so I'll just tell what happened and let you draw your own conclusions. This is kind of long, but bear with me. If nothing else, see if you can find the hidden good Samaritans in these events.

I left class at 9:30 at Grant and Market and walked toward the Montgomery BART/MUNI station. At the corner of Montgomery and Market, a few feet away from the entrance to the station, someone was lying on the sidewalk -- I couldn't see well enough to identify the person's gender. There was a shopping bag on the ground, with a few items scattered nearby, and someone was helping the person to stand.

My quick assessment was that it was someone helping a drunk friend who had tripped and fallen. But he was having difficulty helping the fallen person get up. A third man, a tall, slender black man, came over to help. They were having difficulty helping him up (by now I could see that it was an elderly Chinese man), and he was having trouble standing upright. The young black man (named Nate, I found out) started gathering the old man's items up off the sidewalk, including one trainer that had come off. I asked if they had everything handled, and they both shrugged and made faces. Nate said, "I don't know, I just got here."

The Chinese man was about five foot six with a crew cut, and a very large bleeding lump coming up on his forehead. He had blood in both his eyes. I asked him, "Do you need help?"

He said, "You know why I fell down? I've been walking around for two hours looking for my car. Someone stole my car! And I lost control and fell down."

He was standing upright now, and I could see him better. Both his forearms were swollen, but that looked like something that was a problem before he fell. He clung to the shopping bag as if he was afraid that someone would try to take it from him.

"Do you know how much BART charges for senior citizens' fare?"

Nate and the other man shook their heads no, and I said I didn't have any idea.

"My wallet was in my car, and I don't have any money to take BART home."

"Do you want me to call for help?" I asked, "Do you want me to call an ambulance?"

"No," he said adamantly, "no ambulance."

"Do you want me to call the police?"

"Yes. I would like the police, but no ambulance."

Not knowing any station numbers, I had no choice but to dial 911.

"I have a man here who fell down and has a very big bump on his forehead. He says he does not want an ambulance, but he wants the police. He says his car was stolen."

"He doesn't want an ambulance?"

"No, he said that he does not want an ambulance, just police. He's hurt and bleeding, but he doesn't want an ambulance."

"Is the blood spurting?"

"No, but he's got a knot the size of a golf ball, and blood is trickling down his face, and he has blood in both his eyes."

"And he just wants the police, and not an ambulance?"

"No ambulance, just police."

He heard this and started nodding approvingly.

"Where are you?"

"Montgomery and Post."

"Montgomery and Post?"

"Montgomery and Market."

Nate interjected, "Tell 'em we're outside the Citibank building."

"We're outside the Citibank building, just at the entrance to MUNI."

"Which side of the street are you on? What building are you in front of?"

"We're outside the Citibank building."

"And what is your name?"

"Billy Green."

He interjected, "My name's Elmer. Like Elmer Fudd."

"Your name again?" she asked.

"Billy B-I-L-L-Y Green."

"And your phone number?"

I told her. She asked me to repeat it for confirmation, and I did so.

"Is he Asian?'

"Yes, he's Asian."

I guess she didn't hear me well, because she asked, "Is he white? Is he black, latino, Asian?"

"He's Asian."

"Okay. How old is he?"

"How old are you?"

Elmer said, "Seventy-...six. Seventy-eight. Somewhere in there."

"He says he's seventy-six or seventy-eight."

"I was born in 1932."

"He was born in 1932."

"How tall is he?"

"About five foot six, he's wearing a black vest, blue short-sleeved shirt, white pants, trainers."

"A black vest?"

"A black vest, blue short-sleeved shirt, white pants, trainers, holding an orange shopping bag. I'll wait with him until someone gets here."

"Okay. I'll send out a patrol car, they should be there in a few minutes."

I hung up and told them that someone was coming. The first man, seeing no sense in hanging around any further, walked off, but Nate decided to wait as well. Elmer picked up his shopping bag and started down the sidewalk.

Nate called out, "Hey, they're coming. You don't need to go anywhere."

Elmer called back, "I'm just going over here where they can see me better." He stopped beside the JC Decaux lighted advertising kiosk, clinging to the shopping bag, looking up and down the street for the approaching police car and sighed, "They're never there when you want them." I looked up and down the street, half expecting an ambulance, since 911 calls are (or were at one time) required to send at minimum one police car, one fire truck and one ambulance in response to every call.

Long, awkward pause.

"How do you feel?" I asked.

"It hurts," he said, matter-of-factly.

"I bet it does. Your eyes are really, really red, and that knot looks very nasty. And your hands are swollen."

Nate leaned over and whispered, "Gout."

Elmer held up his left hand for me to look at. It had dozens of little cracks and scrapes on his swollen palm and fingers, all bleeding.

"That happened when I fell down. It hurts."

"It looks like it would hurt. Did you trip because your shoe fell off?"

"No, it came off when I fell. You know why it came off? I tie them loose so I can put my shoes on and off without tying them. Wastes too much time."

He put his shopping bag between his feet, and took a long time to stand back up -- partly because he was having trouble balancing, partly because he was afraid the bag would fall over, even though it was braced between his feet.

"I need BART fare. Do you know how much senior citizen BART fare is?"

"You don't need to worry about that. The police will take care of you."

"Somebody stole my car!"

"Did you see them steal your car?" asked Nate.


"Well, it might just have been towed if you were parked in the wrong place, you know."

"But it's a holiday."

"Yes," sighed Nate. "It's a holiday."

I noticed Barack and Michelle Obama's faces peeking out from under Nate's coat.

"What's the shirt say?'

Nate opened his coat to show the shirt. It was a large airbrushed black and white portrait of the Obama family with "We are family" printed over the picture, and "OBAMA" spelled out in large block letters made of the American flag outlined in gold foil.

Elmer said, "Man, that's a nice one. How much did you pay for it?"

"Ten dollars."

"That's nice."

"Yep, that's really cool," I added.

Elmer pointed at it, smiled and said, "That's history. I should call home and tell them where I am."

"Do you want to use my phone?" I asked.

"Yes. 6-5-0..."

"Hold on, slow down.." I opened my phone and dialed the number as Elmer dictated it to me. Once I heard ringing, I handed him the phone.

"Mommy? ... Oh.... Let me talk to... Somebody stole my car.... I can't. It was in the car.... I'm at Montgomery and Market outside the Citibank building.... Okay." He hung up the phone and handed it back to me. "Oh, I didn't say good-bye. My wife is coming to get me, we don't need the police anymore."

"Too late. Don't you hear the sirens? They're almost here."

As I expected, a fire truck came pulling up. Nate was running around waving his arms to get their attention and pointing toward where Elmer was standing. "Here! He's over here!" I could see an ambulance approaching from down Market.

The fire truck pulled up, and an ambulance followed a few seconds later. Four firemen got out and started toward us. The oldest fireman, the one with tattoos covering both his forearms, walked over to talk to Nate and started chatting with him off to the side while the driver made a bee-line for me and Elmer. "What's going on here?"

"He fell down."

Elmer immediately started in, "I just wanted the police."

"You just want the police? Then why'd you call us?"

I interrupted, "I dialed 911, but I told them he only wanted police and not an ambulance."

The driver pointed to his bleeding forehead. "Is this new?'

I said, "Yes. It was fresh and bleeding when we picked him up. It just happened."

"Why did you fall down?"

"I lost my balance. I fell down."

"But you don't want an ambulance. Why do you want the police for your head?"

Elmer protested, "I don't. I want the police because my car was stolen."

"When was it stolen?"

"This afternoon."

"And you're just calling the police about your stolen car now, but you don't want help with this? We're outta here."

The firemen all piled back into the fire truck. As the truck pulled away, the EMTs stepped forward.

"Do you need help?"

"No, I just want the police," Elmer insisted.

The EMT said, "Well, while we're here, can we look at that bump on your head? Can we clean that and dress it for you?"

Elmer shrugged and said, "Okay."

The EMT put his arm around Elmer's shoulder and said, "Come on in the back of the ambulance, and we'll take care of you." He looked over his shoulder and said, "Thanks, guys. You don't need to stick around anymore. We've got it."

Nate and I walked up the sidewalk together. Nate said, "That fireman told me that they encountered this guy yesterday."

"Okay. Well, we did what we could. You take care."

"You, too." Nate shook my hand and ducked into the 7-11.

I went into the MUNI station and lucked out by being able to step directly onto a J-Church. I finally remembered to put my iPod headphones back on and turned it back on.

At Powell Street station, a skinny, scruffy man in his 30s started walking up the aisle asking every person on the car, "Fifty cents for BART fare? Do you have fifty cents I can have for BART fare?" He was slurring his words.

I looked at him and said, "Sorry, I got nothing," and he turned to ask the next person.

Just before entering Van Ness station, the train stopped. And stayed. And stayed.

He apparently reached the end of the car without anyone helping him out with fifty cents for BART fare. I couldn't see him, but I could hear him quite clearly, even over my iPod.

"Not a single fucking person on this fucking train can help me out with fifty fucking cents for fucking BART fare?!?! I dying of fucking cancer, dying of fucking AIDS, and no one's going to give me fifty fucking cents?! What is WRONG with you fucking people?!"

After a couple of minutes of this, the woman in blue scrubs sitting across from me pulled the stop request cord in order to get the driver's attenttion (assuming, I guess, that the driver couldn't hear this top-of-the-lungs rant going on the car). Luckily, at the same moment, the car pulled into Van Ness station.

All the thoughts running through my mind were along the lines of "Dude, how can I possibly refuse when you ask so nicely! And besides, if you haven't noticed, if you really want BART, you've fucking stayed on the fucking train too fucking long! BART doesn't fucking connect to fucking Van Ness. I just either helped create an ambulance bill for an uninsured man or abetted an EMS time waster. Maybe both. I do not need this right now."

Of course, this was all in my head. I have much more sense than to try to reason with anyone addressing an entire MUNI car at the top of his lungs.

I hoped that he would get out at Van Ness and toyed with the idea of getting out myself if he didn't. But he seemed to have quietened down a good deal. I could still hear him talking at the back of the car now, but he wasn't shouting anymore, and he seemed to have stopped moving up and down the aisle. I pulled one earbud out of my ear to see what I could hear, and I heard, "Why won't anyone help me?" and put the earbud back in.

As the train pulled out to the surface, I turned in my seat and saw at the rear of the car that some young man was sitting in the rear seats with him and chatting with him. They both stood up, and the young man walked the length of the car and back again -- I guessed that he had gone to ask the driver for a transfer for his new-found friend.

I have no idea how he did it, but that young man calmed him down and helped him find some kind of resolution to at least one of his problems.

For that, I salute him. But at this minute, I have a headache and need to take some aspirin and go to bed.

My nominees for the real Samaritans in this story: The EMT who convinced Elmer to get his head wound dressed, and the young man who calmed down the screaming homeless person.

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