Brian McLane

Media and Social Commentary

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WHAT THE “F” ARE YOU LOOKING AT? CLOSE CALL How to avoid a fight on the NYC subway.

June 1st, 2013 · No Comments · crime

It’s been some week. A fender bender, killed a mouse, and I was almost mugged on the A Train in NYC. Certain things I don’t like talking about. Especially if the subject is less than flattering. Embarrassing perhaps and last night I almost got caught up in one of these situations.

First let me go back. A few months back there was a story about a kid who was fighting with someone on the subway, it spilled out onto the platform and yes onto the tracks. One guy made it up, the young kid got hit by a train.

Fast forward to last night. I was on the subway coming home with my camera after a shoot, I also had a tripod.
I had stayed in the city for a meeting after and a drink but was still on the train at a reasonable hour. Some people got on at Fulton street in Manhattan. A older gentleman with a neck brace and s cane who was sitting across from me, got up to give his seat to a younger couple.

I was considering getting up to offer my seat to the guy with the cane when I heard the woman say “this guy’s looking at you.” At which point I did look. I hadn’t particularly noticed prior to overhearing that but now i noticed “the guy” – who looked like he had been wearing the same clothes for days. His companion was properly dressed, could have been a legal secretary or government employee so it didn’t compute because she was the one instigating the situation. Out of nowhere and for no reason.

They were an odd pair. I heard the woman, who was saying things to her either younger brother, or significantly younger boyfriend in a hushed tone while looking at me through sun glasses the phrase “in that bag.” At this point I’m on red alert without showing anything and looking away but I could feel him glaring at me with bad intent, almost as if wishing for can excuse to get in my face.

Which I did my best not to give him. A minute passed and I looked down from the advertising that filled the entire subway car just to see…. And yes he was still glaring. Finally (And here is where I made what could have turned out to be a bad mistake) I shrugged and asked “What?”, not in a beligerent way but indicating I didn’t understand why he was leering at me.

And he said, continuing not to take his eyes off me, “What is your fucking problem?” I would have loved to have channeled my inner Deniro, to deliver the Taxi Driver line that we all would love to whip out at one time or another…. “You talking to me?”

“I responded. Nothing, I have no problem…” He continued to look, his older sister or whatever she was continued to get a kick out of the situation – it was just bizarre. To think that in 2013, people are ready to fight, in public, over the phrase “What are you looking at? Well at least he was.

Now there are times when you have to stand up. For instance there was a situation with my son at his school when I almost got into it with the father of another boy, who was bigger than and picking on son. My son would twist that kid into a pretzel now. But with this situation, it just didn’t add up and I needed my camera to remain with me at all costs.

First, he was half my age and had zero body fat. Afterwards I thought, and there of course could be a million answers but if I had to guess, he was locked up in the tombs after a recent arrest,(Fulton street is by the courts) and the woman was a family member who may have picked him up to be released into her custody.

After being locked up for a few days, trust me, you’re not in a good mood.

But all I could think about was not giving up my camera. And there was nothing to be gained by stepping off the train to settle things with these two.

Bottom line is shit can happen, at any time, when you least expect it. the incident previous to this one was almost getting jumped at a Duncsn Donuts by a group of thugs (white btw)?on Kings Highway were it not for my brother in law peeling into rge parking lot and watching them scatter. 7 or 8 of them piled into an SUV and fled.

Here are some lessons I learned from this incident which I seem to have forgotten. You may find this useful and incorporate into what we New Yorkers call our innate street smarts.

1. Try and be engaged in something on the train. Music, a book, whatever but remain aware.

2. It’s better to back down. They teach you that in Kung Fu or Martial Arts (unless you’re stupid). If you’re being drawn into a mindless and purposeless confrontation there’s a good chance that they have something in store for you.

3. Stay on the train. In this case, maybe getting off at High Street (a dark and deserted station – the first one in Brooklyn) would or could have been a fatal mistake. I sucked it up, tighten my grip on my camera bag, and s tayed on for York St, and got out at Jay.

4. Try and be in the motorman or conductor’s cars, no exception and if you can, be near the call conductor button (which, guess what – aren’t on the A Trains since they have older cars). If you’re in trouble they’ll stop the train and keep the doors closed until the cops arrive. I have been on the train a dozen times when this happened and we had to wait for the cops. This time it was almost me and I was totally out of position.

5. If you’re alone have headphones in. Bring something to do but look up at the advertising to know what’s going on around you. But it’s obvious that some people don’t want a friendly smile or for you to even look at them. Others are hoping you do, as in this case, and it’s a set up.

6. Don’t display your expensive camera or iPad or Google Glasses. These items can be very tempting to an addict or someone who needs money in a hurry. My camera bag was a huge sign. Never again will I openly display it. From know on my gear goes in a backpack wheely.

7. Try to have phone connected for call if you spot potential troublemakers.

Above all, don’t get sucked into a fight. At the very best the cops will come and everyone goes. At worst, you die.
I could’ve used Snack Man. Remember him? If you don’t click the picture.

subway fight almost mugged on A Train

subway fight almost mugged on A Train

Social Commentary by Brian McLane only available at #BrianMcLane or

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