Train Rage

There are a variety of different ways to start off a morning. Some people go for a jog while others opt for ingesting caffeine, usually in the form of coffee. This morning, I got my day started by being assaulted.

I work in Cambridge but the Cynical-C Mansion is located a few miles away so I take the commuter train in every morning (my building doesn’t have a helipad…yet). I got on the train today as I would any other day when I felt a hard shove from behind. I looked back to see what happened and some guy was screaming that I had cut him off. I immediately went into commuter defense mode which is to pretend nothing unusual happened and keep walking. This is usually the best way to handle anybody who has started exhibiting erratic or aggressive behavior on the train/subway. It failed me this time. He punched me in the back of the neck as I was walking away and kept yelling unintelligibly as his wife/girlfriend/handler jumped into the fray to pull him away and most likely give him another dose of thorazine.

I was shocked more than anything else at being punched in the back of the neck in front of a trainload of people and the incident was witnessed by the conductor who promptly called the police. The train was held up for about twenty minutes while we waited for the police to arrive. I then had to identify the assailant and give a statement. The conductor had witnessed the incident so the police didn’t ask if I wanted to press charges but just arrested him. I got back on the train and headed off to work.

I’ve been talking to people about this all day and getting a million different opinions on what they would have done if they were in my position. Some people say they would have hit him back but if I had to do it over again I think I would have reacted the same way. I was a bit bigger than him (He was about 5’9 and skinny and I’m 6 ft, 215lbs, none of it muscle) so I didn’t feel physically intimidated even though he did hit me as I was walking away. I remember at the time realizing that I had several witnesses who had seen him hitting me and wanted them to remember that picture if they were questioned by the police. If he had taken a less cowardly approach and attacked me from the front then I probably would have been forced to defend myself.

And what would you have done? (Yes, you!)


  1. Give him a big hug while secretly hocking a huge loogie in his hair.

    Normal-ites would say you did the right thing. But c’mon, you know you’re pissed at yourself for not doing anything.

  2. Seems like a reasonable, if not a satisfying response. Sorry to hear about your experience; hope the rest of your day went better than the way it started.

  3. Dan’s reaction suggests an interesting point. That fellow’s conduct is the sort of thing that just isn’t done in states with well-publicized concealed-carry statutes. (I’m assuming Dan lives in such a state. Please don’t correct me if I’m wrong.)

    I’m sure I would have reacted much in the same way you did to the situation because 1) I’m not used to being blindsided by antisocial louts, and B) I don’t pack heat.

  4. Well, knowing that I’m not a very agressive person, I think I would have responded exactly the same way you did. I’m not entirely sure whether that’s the best way to react, but it generally isn’t a good idea to get into pissing contests with raging idiots. That much I know.

    BTW- the whole “pressing charges” thing is a bit of a myth. The police/district attorney can prosecute whether the victim wants to or not. It’s not the victim’s decision (though it is easier if the victim cooperates). The police and the DA represent the State, not just the individual victim.

  5. I too have been assaulted on a public train, although in a different manner… I told the man LOUDLY to keep his hands to himself. When he did not comply, I told him to move to another seat IMMEDIATELY. I guess he realized I wasn’t willing to play games with him, and he did switch seats. He then lobbed obscenities at me for the rest of the trip, so I called my friend on my cell phone so that I could pretend to not hear him.

    Sorry to hear about your experience, Chris. But I think you did the right thing. Public transportation can be a b****, eh?

  6. I would have done the same thing you did. No doubt about it. Fighting back would absolutely have been the wrong response, I think.

    Good luck with the helipad construction!

  7. I would have the EXACT SAME THING. Assuming the punch from behind was grievously harmful; I would have looked aound in confusion, made sure I or no one else was in some sort of mortal danger, and try to ignore it. When that proved impossible, I would have played by the rules, and then went home and posted it to my blog.

    Which I am going to start immediately. As soon as I get punched in the back of my head. Not the front, the back.

    Anyway, you did the right thing, which was very little.


  8. Has happened to me (not exactly, but assaults). I have great difficulty dealing with it because it hits some sort of ‘does not compute’ barrier. My brain comes up with ‘nah, no-one would really be stupid enough to do that with that number of witnesses’ which rather short circuits any responses.

    Last person who groped me was about a foot shorter than me. I whipped round, all ready to deck him when I saw he was a foot shorter than me, and all my ‘you don’t hit people shorter than you’ training kicked in, which let him get away. Stupid manners.

  9. You’re to be commended. I think you did exactly right. Throwing down with that guy would have only made things worse. Sounds to me like the guy was generally looking for a fight and by you not giving it to him AND the fact that he got arrested makes it all the more satisfying.

  10. Passive response to neck attack make no sense. Me would yell loud at little man while jump up and down and bang stick or large bone on ground in threatening manner. Him know me mean business.

  11. Being a vulcan, I’d have gripped his shoulder and made him grimace.

    Seriously, though, I’d have lamped him (after checking to see I wasn’t surrounded by his mates). But then, I’m 6’5”

    Bad news, fella. Glad you weren’t badly hurt.

  12. I used to take the commuter rail and know exactly what you mean about commuter rage. You did the right thing. Punching the guy only would have escalated the entire incident. The guy got arrested so all is right in the world.

  13. And think if the guy was actually mentally retarded. You’d feel bad afterwards for cleaning his clock, although it might have felt good at the time 🙂

    I’ve never actually used masstransit before, so I have no idea about that aspect of it.

  14. Right or wrong, I would have reacted exactly the same way.

    If there had been few witnesses and no arrest made, I might have been pretty frustrated with myself for not fighting back.

    But the way it went down, you did exactly the right thing.

  15. You did the right thing Chris. For all you know he was carrying a knife or gun and just waiting for you to throw a punch to give him the excuse to use it. That way onlookers would say they were both fighting when the smaller one “defended” himself with whatever implement he might have had. Although I probably would have tried to talk to him. Sometimes these wacko’s will calm down if you talk them in soothing even tones.

    However, I’m just kind of curious, did you cut him off? Surely you would have noticed a maniac tailgating in your rear view mirror on your way to the train? Or was the guy mistaken and thought you were the guy that cut him off when you weren’t? (which is even more pathetic) Or was it you cut in front of him waiting in line for tickets? Or the train itself?

  16. I think I would have reacted the same way. I’ve been punched on top of my head while looking down at school work and in similar situations as yours, and usually i’ve been cool enough to ask them WTF? I get very vulgar and start getting very hostile with the person. Probably best keeping my mouth shut those times as my language and booming voice has gotten me in more trouble than the punks that have hit me.

    There was another time however, a person hit me in the side of the face while I was drawing. Don’t remember having time to reason with the bastard but did leave him with a swollen eye. Fortunatly for myself and the puncher, a good samaritan stopped the fight.

    So far I can’t decided, when people punch others like that, are they expecting that a person will fight back or just take it? Maybe they just expect people to fall down.

  17. I would not have struck back at him and candidly it’s really hard to even say what I would have done, who really knows?

    If I had to guess, however, I don’t think I would have hit him but I would have turned around to face him to make sure that I kept an eye on him.

  18. I am sorry that you were physically assaulted. I think you did the right thing because you didn’t know if he had a weapon or was COMPLETELY psycho. One’s actions are dictated by the specific circumstances in which one finds one’s self.Next time you find yourself in a scary situation, you might react differently. Always try to use reason first when dealing with these warped kind of individuals; anyone can react with violence but it takes a person of a higher character to do what you did.

  19. I would have tried to eat him with delicious BBQ sauce. It would have been tough at first, but once I unhinged my jaw it would pretty much be over.

  20. There’s a lot of pacificism in these comments. Ok, the way it ended up was cool, but what if the guard wasn’t there? What if his girlfriend wasn’t there?
    The vast majority of bystanding witnesses to violence do nothing, say nothing, look away and let it go ahead, so the only person you had to rely on was yourself. What if he hadn’t been satisfied with just a clip on the back of the head, threw another punch and caught you a bad one? God gave us a pair of fists to punch with, feet to kick with and teeth to bite with for a reason – so we can defend ourselves. It’s your right. Use it. Some people respond to words which is enlightened, but people like him, who resort to violence first, typically understand that better. Who cares if he was mentally backward? He’s still violent and can hurt you. Badly.
    “What if he had a gun?” Well, what if he didn’t??
    Learn to fight, and if anyone hits you again, kick their ass!

  21. OMG!!! I can’t imagine what I would have done. The beauty of living in Detroit is that we all have cars…minimal mass-transit (which I don’t use). The nice thing about road rage is that I have steel surrounding me and when people get all raged at me I just smile and wave or make the sign of the cross, the reactions I get from those are priceless. I agree with Marge on the “does not compute” part. I think if that had happened to me I would’ve been to stunned to react. I do have quite a foul mouth, though, so after I regained my senses I might have released a barrage of swear words. You did well, Chris…I’m proud of you.

  22. Chris, I commend you for your actions.

    If it was me – it’s another case. I have a habit of… er.. well, not taking prisoners.

    Last guy who disturbed the tranquility of my inner peace now picks his nose now by proding the back of his head.

  23. The normal-ites are all too predictable Mr. Chris. Search your heart, you know it to be true. You’re pissed at yourself for not screamin and swingin.

  24. I’ve changed my mind. Don’t eat him. You shoulda tried to make out with him – that woulda totally thrown him off.
    It may not be too late.

  25. Stalk him, find out where he lives, kill his dog. No, wait – I mean DON’T do that. I love to replay moments where I have been physically threatened so that I can come out as an ass-kicking victor, which I never am. You did the exact thing any reasonable person would have done. Make sure you absorb plenty of sympathy today! I love your blog!

  26. You handled yourself admirably. Being assaulted by a stranger, even if you don’t sustain serious injuries, is terribly traumatic. Take care of yourself and don’t stop blogging. You’re my daily fix, dude.

  27. Jeez. I’d have done the same thing most likely, then I’d have spent the rest of the day wondering why I didn’t slug the guy and berating myself for “not being man enough” and then I’d feel slightly ashamed of myself every time the memory returned, even though I know rationally that walking away from a nut on public transportation is not only the ethical thing to do but the smart one too.

    It’s the conflict between our rational selves and our primitive-id selves that makes people so unhappy much of the time. Paging Dr. Freud.

  28. Well I reckon Mr C definitely did the right thing, I mean if someone smaller than you hits you and does no damage (loss of teeth, ripped clothing, bloody nose etc) isn’t it kinda like being slapped by a woman or kicked by a child? Knocking him over and hammering them in the face isn’t going to make you a ‘big man’ – you’d just be over-reacting, not to mention, it would seem to me, justifing his reason for punching you; If you fight back, it turns into a contest – might make right kinda thing.

    Of course on the other hand he will probably get off with a fine and a caution, whereas if you had lamped him heavily it might have prevented him doing it again…

  29. Well I reckon Mr C definitely did the right thing, I mean if someone smaller than you hits you and does no damage (loss of teeth, ripped clothing, bloody nose etc) isn’t it kinda like being slapped by a woman or kicked by a child? Knocking him over and hammering them in the face isn’t going to make you a ‘big man’ – you’d just be over-reacting, not to mention, it would seem to me, justifing his reason for punching you; If you fight back, it turns into a contest – might make right kinda thing.

    Of course on the other hand he will probably get off with a fine and a caution, whereas if you had lamped him heavily it might have prevented him doing it again some other time…

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