On July 21st, 2013 I woke up in Chicago ready for night three of Phish at Northerly Island. I walked to the local coffeeshop and brought back a couple of trays of java for the crew. Eventually we all got up and around, consumed sufficient amounts caffeine and started the day.
We all shared a communal barbecue that took up most of the afternoon and finally it was time to head to the show. The crew split up to take a variety of transportation modes into the city-centre, me and a half-dozen others ended up on the subway again.
We had changed over to the Red Line and were getting close to the venue when something odd happened. Just as we were pulling out of Grant Station a guy jumped up and ran to the door, pulling the cord marked “Emergency Door Opener”. The door slid open and the guy jumped out as the train started to pick up momentum. Outside I saw him turn to the car with a smile, pointing to nobody in particular with a laugh. We all looked at each other and remarked that that seemed odd before immediately shrugging it off.
A moment or two later the subway came to a halt and powered down. Hmmm, we thought. Then the PA came on.
“Passengers, passengers!” yelled a panicked voice. “Everyone must evacuate the train!”
The doors slid open revealing the dank, dark concrete walls of the subway tunnel. Again the panicked voice:
“Passengers, passengers, we have a medical emergency! Leave the cars and get on the ledge in the tunnel. Hold the handrail tightly and make your way forward to the next station!”
A medical emergency? Wouldn’t it make sense to keep the train moving to the next station so help could be on the way?
Unspoken, it was clear to me that this was a terrorist threat, and I assumed everyone else in my car that saw the guy jump out was thinking the same thing. Out on the ledge it quickly became clear that no one was moving forward or back. Hundreds of us were trapped in the tiny gap between the train and the wall, unable to move. Inside the train dozens of people decided to move through the train cars to the front of the line. They wouldn’t be doing that if they had seen the guy jump the train. I was pretty convinced that the authorities were pretty convinced that he had left something on the train that he shouldn’t have left.
I was pleased to see that we were a bit ahead of our car, and I determined that we were out of range of any projectiles. As the minutes went by I investigated alternate escape routes. My first choice was to get down on the ground, cross through the train to the other side, open the doors (at least now I knew how to do that), and jump out the other side where there was more room to escape (and the dangerous third rail). I also figured it wouldn’t be too hard to get on top of the train, but any smoke or chemicals would make that an unattractive option.
And still we stood. To the people’s credit if anyone was panicking they were doing it quietly, as I was.
Once again, the panicked voice: “Passengers, passengers! (yes, he always said it twice) Prepare to move forward. Remember to hold the rail tightly and KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE WALL.”
Okay, now have you figured out what happened?
“It’s a jumper,” I quietly told my crew. The guy leaving the train was just a coincidence. Someone is lying dead on the tracks and they’re going to make us walk by the mess. One fear melted into another, and still more painful minutes went by as the reality of the situation was left to sink in.
Thankfully a clearer head must have showed up, instructions were given to walk back to the previous station instead (a much farther but significantly less gruesome walk), which occurred almost immediately, and about thirty minutes after the ordeal began we emerged from the tunnel covered in soot and blinking in the stark daylight.
We took stock; we’re all here, we’re all safe, and we’re all pretty much calm and collected. We hailed a couple of cabs and booked it to the show, once again hitting the floor in time for the first note.
Given the handy markings on the floor we easily found the same spot we had been standing for the last two shows, which meant by the third night our crew had grown large.
The first set was interrupted by rain and once again the show was stopped. Trey insisted it wasn’t his idea while Page assured us they would be back, but as we stood there in the cold rain we were left to wonder, “Did he mean we’ll be back when the rain stops or did he mean we’ll be back next year?”
The rains finally abated and the band did indeed come on again, picking up Antelope where they had left off. On the floor it was cold, and I remember one girl in our crew almost convulsing with frantic shivering. We huddled together and hugged her dry.
At the end of the night our crew divided and m’lady and I ended up riding the rails back by ourselves. Fortunately our ride was significantly less eventful than the ride in had been and we made it back to Katie and Kim’s place to find the post-show party well on it’s way. Kim taught me how to tie a nifty new knot, I did some more jamming, and somehow I managed to get to sleep while it was still dark out.
Small but significant victories, I suppose.