When "Crazy" Men on the Subway Know More Than Talking Heads on TV

When “Crazy” Men on the Subway Know More Than Talking Heads on TV

“Excuse me. Please put down your phones and other distractions. I have something important to say.”

The collective exhale of exasperation filled the packed subway. A barely audible group action that was followed by heads buried into books, cell phones, tablets, or whatever else one can stare into with semi-believable interest.

I cracked open my Kindle, turning it on quickly as a man a few feet away inquired, “What exactly do you mean by distractions?” It was a bold move, breaking the third wall. Everyone knows not to talk to the crazy man on the subway. Everyone, it seems, except this guy. The original speaker responded, “I mean your cell phones, tablets, and the other devices that take your attention but don’t add any knowledge.”

I looked up from my Kindle, keeping it open for a quick escape. This was getting good.

Raising my eyes, I finally had a good view of our self-appointed life coach. The man, his long wiry grey hair pulled into a neat ponytail at the base of his neck, was squeezed between suited men with slicked back hair with a carry-on sized roller suitcase and bulky placards carefully packed into a clear plastic bag.

“There are things going on in the world right now that we need to remember. They are easy to forget in the rush of New York, but you can’t be blind to them. In Ferguson, Missouri, the police have militarized and are actively limiting activist’s ability to affect change on their communities through peaceful protest. In the Middle East, US-backed drone strikes are destroying not just their targets but also the lives of innocents. Around the world, it is being recognized that climate change, and our ability to address it, is the defining issue of the century.”

A few more people had poked up their heads, attention grabbed by the ability to form coherent sentences. It was a far cry from the alcohol-addled rant that we expected.

As the train pulled into the station, the man gathered up his things and prepared to leave. Before he got off, a young black man shook his hand, “Thank for speaking the truth brother.”

With that, he was gone.

You know that we are in a pickle when the “crazy” guy on the subway has a better understanding of world issues than most college students, or a train full of professionals on their way home from fancy midtown office jobs for that matter.

It’s about time that we start listening.