A drop of water falls with the sound of broken glass.
On the downtown F train I look up from my copy of Please Kill Me, now with a wet splotch on page 338. Three white hipsters stand over me. The tallest, with strings of carrot-orange hair, is also the sweatiest. I wonder if it isn’t a drop of water but a drop of sweat. And that one drop brings what happened tonight back in a flood of anxiety. I’ve been trying to forget it, burying my mind in the oral history of punk rock, but it’s no use. This annoyance pokes at some very raw nerves.
I’m alive and grateful to be alive. But I also feel like I’m standing on a tree trunk five hundred feet in the air.
I’d gone to see a movie at Lincoln Center with my friend Brian, then to a Starbucks on the corner of 63rd and Broadway. Brian, who had his back to the wall, asked me what I thought of the movie. As I started to answer, a hollow, metallic-sounding BAP! came from outside. I looked over my shoulder and heard—and felt—a thunderous crash.
Terrorism, I thought. A bomb. Go home to your wife and son.
Yet my eyes did not see fire and smoke. They saw a black Mercedes-Benz careening through the façade. Glass fell straight down in rainy beads. I shook in place. The store burglar alarm sounded, unendingly, as exhaust fumes overtook the coffee aroma. The car was halfway in and out of the Starbucks. Running, but stopped. Where we’d been standing in line not five minutes before.
Brian and I scrambled out the nearest exit to the sidewalk. A taxicab with a mashed-in front fender was idling in the middle of Broadway. It looked as though the vehicles had pinballed off one another, ricocheting the Mercedes backward into the Starbucks. I steadied myself and dialed 911. All circuits—you guessed it—busy. Maybe the 50-odd others gathering on the scene were also calling for help. I was nervous and scared, but also feeling my adrenaline spike.
A blonde emerged from the Mercedes, followed by her little girl. Both looked like zombies, yet neither seemed injured. Sirens joined the din of the alarm and the chatter, as two paramedic vans zigzagged to the corner. Four paramedics hopped out, hustled over and yelled for us to make way. They examined the mother and daughter—
And then a high-pitched scream came from inside Starbucks. An Asian woman visible through the hole in the store was pushing at her cheeks with her palms and staring at the floor. One paramedic went in and immediately brought an Asian man into a chair, wrapping his head in mummy gauze. The man was stunned but conscious. Apparently, he’d been strolling down the sidewalk with his girlfriend when the force of the Mercedes batted him inside.
Another woman screamed: “Somebody help me!” This one was sitting in the backseat of the taxi with a face so bloodied, it looked as if she’d slammed her face against the Plexiglas divider and broken her nose. “There’s a woman over there who needs help!” I cried, pointing into the street. A paramedic hurriedly threaded through the crowd to tend to her and to the cabbie. I was heartened that New Yorkers had acted against type and wanted to help. But the crowd was threatening to become its own hazard. “Let’s get out of here,” I told Brian.
Grinning with sheepish relief, we marched down Broadway, deciding Columbus Circle was far enough away to catch up—and to catch our breath. After going over what the hell had just happened, we went back to talking about happier things: the movie, his engagement news, my experiences as a new father. The night was summer perfection, too: hot but breezy. An hour later, we said good night and took different subway lines home.
So now I’m on the F train. Still looking at the drop of water on the page of my book. I gaze up at the tall, carrot-topped hipster. “Sorry,” he says when we make eye contact.
I realize he’s holding a dewy bottle of some kind of energy drink. The not-inexcusable offense of sweating down on a fellow subway rider could have set me off and made me lose it. But the drop isn’t even sweat. It’s water. I must relax. Still, I want a drink or a cigarette. Or better yet, a drink and a cigarette.
Tonight I’ll forego both. I’ll take the comfort of the F, rocking like a cradle, delivering me to the sanctuary I call home.
For more on this incident, including photos, go to