Briefly (cue present tense):
I am riding the L from Union Square into Brooklyn, having transferred from the 6. The train has entered that stretch past Lorimer where the stops seem needlessly close together. Graham... Grand... Montrose.
The train pulls into the station and is engulfed by a swirling nebula of teenage bodies, seemingly propelled by excited vocalizations, shrieks and hollers and moving across the platform in amoebic undulations toward some as yet unseen stimulus.
Everyone in the train moves to one side, crowding into the windows and trying to see through the mass, which has become so condensed that neither the floor nor the far wall are visible. Murmurs of "what the hell?" and "yo, fo' real?" escape into the clammy air. I quickly process a thought that the conductor won't open the doors, that we'll be trapped inside until the source of the disturbance is revealed or someone of unquestionable authority appears to tell us it will be okay. My thought develops into a scenario in which the doors open and a hundred screaming teenagers flood into the cars, trampling everyone on board, but I can't tell if they are chasing after something exciting or running away from something dangerous.
The doors pop open and I exit the train with very little effort. I turn to my left to see that the crowd has gravitated to the far end of the platform, where it terminates against a glistening wall of white tiles. There is a train conductor in the middle car, hanging his head out of the window and craning his neck to see into or over the crowd. He looks like one of those characters in a Norman Rockwell painting, with glassy beads for eyes and an endearing look of determination on his face. People pause on the platform, mimicking the conductor's curiosity from various vantage points on the floor and up the stairs. Small groups of people who have remained on the train gather in the doors to look out. The path to the exit being clear, the burning dread that had formed inside the sealed subway car evaporates. The only clue as to what may be happening within the pulsating blob of kids remains a constant, near-deafening noise infused with tones of joy, excitement, entertainment...
At the top of the stairs I round the corner and pass through the turnstile. A sudden surge in the roar of the crowd below causes me to freeze in my tracks in tandem with entering passengers who now hesitate to descend into the station. I turn and wait. The amoeba is rising, climbing the stairs and flooding onto the landing. I glance toward the station attendant, who is sitting comfortably inside her bullet-proof box about fifteen feet away. She seems unfazed, content to remain separated from whatever is going on by layers of mylar, glass and steel bars. I finally witness her lift a phone receiver and look back to the crowd, the noise of which has now completely surrounded me, though I am practically alone on one side of the floor-to-ceiling steel cage that separates us. The obvious zoo metaphor comes to mind, as a kid jumps up and stands on top of a chained-up trash can, drawing my attention to the countless cell phones being aimed at the nucleus of the pulsating mass, LED lights blazing, video cameras undoubtedly rolling.
Suddenly, there is a break at one side, hundreds of blue-jeaned legs and colorful, besneakered feet press outwards in a confusing criss-cross, like an enormous, uncoiling centipede. Two young bodies smack against the filthy, wet pavement, tangled together in a furious grapple as an ecstatic "OOOH!" rises from the group.
I suppose it's not so amazing to have discovered at that point that my commuting comrades and I were witnessing an adolescent street fight. What left me so disturbed, however, was the enormity of the event, and that not one of the countless mass (I would estimate nearly fifty) seemed to emote anything but encouraging pleasure and amusement at the situation. I exited the station, leaving behind me the sounds of a woman, safely on the outside of the battle cage repeatedly calling out, "Why you all jumped her? Why she get jumped?" but making no move to intervene. In my belief that someone else would surely take care of it, I debated whether or not to call the police. I did, and then I went home.