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Tonight I saw something I’d actually never seen before: A woman got stuck between the closing doors of a Metro car on the Orange Line, and couldn’t get out until someone else pried the doors open. She was pinned flat between the doors, and didn’t have any leverage to open them herself.

I first noticed that the doors were closing quicker than usual when I tried to board a Red Line train at Dupont Circle. It was about 6:30. I’m on crutches with a broken foot, so it wasn’t like I was rushing for a train from the escalator—I was queued up and waiting when the train pulled in. The line in front of me was short, but not short enough: the doors slammed in the face of the woman ahead of me, and the train left without us. I cursed and laughed, and she told me the same thing had happened to her last night.

When the next train came, a kindly fellow put his hand in front of the door to hold it open for me. We boarded, and again the doors shut immediately. He speculated that they were running the trains quickly to practice for the inauguration crowds, echoing the opinion of the woman who’d been left on the platform with me minutes before.

Fast forward to Metro Center, where I switched to the Orange Line. I had boarded the train and found a seat quickly, and people were still boarding. Suddenly, the doors snapped shut, pinning a woman in between them. She turned and twisted but couldn’t move in either direction. No one inside the car made any motion remotely resembling an attempt to help her. I didn’t either, at first figuring that someone else would jump up to help before I could even get up on my crutches, and then staring in shock when nobody did. I couldn’t see that someone outside was involved, until the last moment when a hand came all the way through and wrenched the door back. She struggled for probably fifteen seconds while we watched.

Then the stern, scolding voice of the metro car warned us to Step Back! and the doors finally opened and attempted to close. They didn’t close, because the left-hand door was now jammed open. “Smooth move,” grumbled the man sitting across from me, as he thumbed his blackberry.

A moment passed. Step Back! the metro car said again, and this time the door loosened and closed, and we began to roll.

Now I know, this story comes straight from an episode of Righteous Indignation and The City, but here’s the real question: What should you do if this happens to you? Leaving aside the ubiquitous unheeded warnings and the consensus of the others that you brought it on yourself. Now that you’re stuck, what are you supposed to do? Fifteen seconds is a long time when you’re pinned between the doors of a fucking train. Are you supposed to just wait, or ask for help, or are you meant to struggle?

Photograph by F.S.M., Creative Commons Attribution License