Sometimes the chase is just a run-around


Fully bundled up for below-freezing temps and earphones deployed,I was on my way to a client, bopping down the subway steps while Joe Cocker crooned that he was “Feelin' Alright.”

Joe was feelin’ alright and so was I. The same could not be said however, for the rat that was running for his life on the subway platform.

Yes, there are rats in NYC. It's not a myth. And yes, they are big and may, like the cockroaches, outlive us all in the end. But today, this rat was just trying to get from Point A to Point B and try as he might (I'm assigning gender for simplicity's sake), he could not stay out of one determined commuter's way.

If you were to watch them from behind, you would have thought they were on the same soccer team, each trying to pass the ball to the other as they made their way down the pitch.

I met them approaching head-on, though, as I descended onto the platform. From my view it was clear, to my disappointment (and quite possibly to the rat's), that they were not playing soccer and they were definitely not on the same team.

The subway car had pulled into the track on the left and the doors were still open. Spectators, some fascinated, some anxious, were fixated as the rat ran alongside the length of the train, chased by a man who was trying to punt him in some undetermined direction, presumably so the rat would not bring harm to the hundreds of people that outnumbered him.

If there had been some hidden camera panning the onlookers (which given today is entirely possible), the facial expressions would have ranged from bloodsport excitement, to boogeyman terror, to the pins and needles anxiety of watching whether a gruesome accident would happen. The train on the opposite side of the platform pulled in providing us with a full stadium of captive audience members. 

As the rat tried to make a beeline (insert cross-species witticism here) for the end of the platform, the tall, solid-looking vigilante took it upon himself to literally tail him at top speed. I watched the rat bolting hither and yon, clearly not lured in by the people lining the open doors of the subway cars. I have no idea how a rat's mind works, but he seemed to deduce that a ride to the next station in an enclosed car filled with people who were either terrified of him, homicidal toward him or both, was not his best option. 

Hot on the rat's trail, the man alternatively swept his leg out in an attempt to kick him through the open space between the edge of the train and the subway tunnel and stomped his foot to pin the rat by the tail...or worse. Mercifully, he missed every time. 

All of this happened in about the space of a minute, yet it was like watching everything unfold in slow motion. I could feel my face stuck in blend of disbelief, horror and hope. Would the rat make it out of here alive? Unharmed?

"Wait a minute," you might wonder. Why am I rooting for the rat? They carry disease, bacteria and even fleas. It’s simple: because from what I could see, he was minding his own business. Unlike his human racing partner, the rat was not out to take down anybody. He just wanted to get out of there and get to wherever he was going, just like the rest of us.

Score! I watched the rat narrowly escape a final attempt on his life and dart into the safety of subway tunnel. The platform’s atmosphere of angst passed. As I turned to head toward the other end, I realized that somewhere in all the mayhem, Joe Cocker had passed the torch to Katy Perry, who had underscored the last part of the chase with "Firework." It seemed a fitting anthem. The rat certainly made us all go, "Oh, oh oh" and left us all behind. 

It occurred to me that sometimes we are the rat and sometimes we are the man in hot pursuit for questionable reasons. Ironically, as I learned that afternoon, giving up the chase can be a relief to both parties.