Sunday, August 26, 2007

CTA Stories: Don't Do This, Please

Boingboing recently reported on findings by the University of London's Centre for Neuroimaging on how fear is processed in the brain. In the face of immediate danger, processing moves away from the pre-frontal cortex to a more primitive part of the brain, one which controls quick-response survival mechanisms. That may explain why, a couple of New Years ago, I picked up a burning log that had rolled out on the rug, and threw it back into the fireplace. The pre-frontal cortex certainly wasn't engaged then. Fortunately my contact with the log was brief, and I got away with singed, sooty hands.

It may also explain my actions on the Red Line train few years ago. I boarded the train at Fullerton, and the doors were closing. A woman standing on the platform thrust her hand in between the doors to force them open. Instead the doors, which are lined with thick rubber gaskets, closed on her hand. She tried to extract herself, but she was wearing a heavy bracelet that prevented her from doing so. And...the train started to move forward. She screamed. Time seemed frozen. Surely the engineer would see or hear her, I thought, but seconds passed by without the train stopping.

Every door is equipped with an emergency lever, which is round, red, and about the size of a tennis ball. I've heard it referred to as the "cherry." Pulling it down will force the doors open, and at least in theory, the engineer will then stop the train. I was about two or three seats away, but I somehow levitated out and up and yanked the cherry as hard as I could. The doors opened, and the train braked. The woman fell back, and then ran away, perhaps embarrassed at having done something so stupid. I sat back down, the eyes of all of my fellow passengers on me. A few minutes later, an irate engineer walked back to our car. "Who did that?!" I was silent, partially because I was a little rattled, and also because I didn't want a hassle. Nobody else said a word. He finally stalked back to the front cab, and we continued our trip to the Loop.

photo credit: thirdrail

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