Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Subways and Gorillas

The first time I went to London, I was 21. The first time I went to New York City, I was 22. And what blew this little Kentucky girl's mind in both cities were the subways. I just couldn't believe how potentially dangerous they were.

They were deathtraps.

I stood there inside those subway tunnels and thought, holy cow, anyone could just take a step or two, at any time, and, bam, down that person would go onto the tracks, to be electrocuted by that third rail or smashed by a train. There was no barrier, no guards standing there to make sure people weren't stupid - just a thick yellow line that, I surmised, I was supposed to stand behind until the train came. And in London, there was this big gap between the platform and the door - one misstep and down you would go between the platform and the train! The only warning was a voice that kept saying, "Mind the gap!"

I thought, kids must die on the subway ALL THE TIME. They must regularly squirm away from their parents hand and run right out, off the platform and into oblivion. I was terrified every time I stood in those subway tunnels, awaiting death right before my eyes as the train approached. I thought, man, if these were in Kentucky, there would be carnage every day - my tribe just couldn't handle it.

Sorry, Kentuckians, but it's what I thought.

Since then, I've been in subways all over Europe, as well as riding light rails and raised trains in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, San José, Austin and, of course, here in the greater Portlandia area. And they are all pretty much the same in terms of platforms and railings and drops and no barriers between you and the train. And, thankfully, I've never seen anyone die in the subway. According to this article, around 50 people die in the New York City subway system. The majority of these are suicides. I assume it's similar in other cities.

If you go on a subway, light rail or any passenger train, you are expected to not be stupid and NOT get close to a moving train, jump on the tracks, or push anyone onto the tracks. And you are expected to make sure your kids don't do these things either. It's your responsibility to adhere to the rules of a subway or light rail, and it's your responsibility to make sure your kids do too. It's a worldwide unspoken understanding.

So why is a zoo getting blamed for a kid breaching its far-more extensive security measures on a gorilla enclosure?

I am so glad the child is okay, and so heart-broken at the killing of the gorilla - which, in the moment, was the right choice, however tragic. No, that gorilla did not deserve that death, but in that moment, it was the right decision.

But I read all these people saying the zoo "didn't do enough."

A zoo isn't a babysitter any more than a subway system is.

Kids dart out from the clutches of their parents, I know that. I see that. If I were a parent, I'm not sure I'd walk in a parking lot with a kid EVER, based on how many kids I've seen taking off from their parents in such - luckily, I've never seen a tragedy there, but I've had my breath taken away oh-so-many times.

On one of the many editorials written about this, someone said, "If the scales had tipped the other way, and the child had been mutilated to death by that gorilla in front of his parents and a crowd of people, these same sanctimonious jack bags would be at least as outraged about unsafe animals/ enclosures, inaction by the zoo, etc. "

No. I would be horrified and saddened that a child died such a traumatizing, violent death. I would cry. A lot. But I'd no more be outraged about the zoo's safety precautions, which by all accounts were proper and have worked well for almost 40 years, than I am by those wide open subway platforms or two-rail fences at national park vista points or playgrounds in parks just 40 steps from a road or parking lots at grocery stores where we are all trying our best to not run each other over.

Do I judge parents whose children die in such circumstances? I try really hard not to. I try not to judge people who die hiking or camping either, because I've done some really dumb things in my life, and just because of luck, I didn't die. I have watched my sister suck in her breath suddenly when one of her kids just suddenly, out of no where, does something amazingly dangerous - and before she can run those four steps, the activity stops and no one has died and we're all so thrilled and I am happy, yet again, that I'm not a parent.

And on a side note, if I've embarrassed you in a parking lot or grocery store or other public space when I've found your kid and, because he or she is too young to tell me where to find you, I have said, in a loud voice, "Does anyone know whose kid this is?", well - I'm not apologizing. And if I've made you angry when I have called out, "Hey, you and your kid shouldn't get that close to that elk!", I'm also not apologizing.

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