When I was a single girl-about-town in DC, I was taking the Metro (subway) home one night. It was late-ish, probably I had been out and about somewhere, but not closing the bars down late. Just kinda late. I took the Metro regularly, as do many people in DC. It is for the most part clean, well-lit, and comfortable. And safe.
On this one night, in this one Metro car, there was me by myself, another single woman, and a bunch of maybe six or seven young men. They were as strapping as can be, in their mid twenties or so, and they appeared to be hearing impaired. They were all communicating in sign language, anyway.
So we are all hurtling along underground, the men chatting away silently, me and the other woman ignoring each other. At one stop a man gets on, and the whole tone of our car changes. He was drunk? Mentally ill? Just mean? Who knows. But he goes right up to the other woman and immediately begins invading her personal space. Getting right up close to her face, yelling. A nightmare of a train ride, all rules of polite society suddenly gone. She is mortified--tries to ignore him, gets up and moves her seat a little closer to mine. I see his has his eye on me, and I know that I am next.
And then the group of men get up. They fill in the aisle with their bodies, continuing their conversation as though nothing has happened. As though they just wanted to stretch their legs in a train car where there are enough empty seats for everyone to have their own row, much less their own seat. And in this graceful motion they make a wall between the man and me and the other woman.
They don't confront him, they don't even look at him. They continue their conversation, smiling and chuckling as they tell their stories. They basically ignore him. But their body language is unmistakable--the aisle is blocked, the women will not be this man's target tonight.
The man settles in by himself, grumbling at first, and eventually gets off the train. I start to breathe easier, knowing I am not alone. The other woman looks positively shaken with gratitude.
The men never look at us women, don't seem to need or want a thank you. I am in awe, not remembering when I last witnessed such graceful, swift, nonviolent intervention for the aid of strangers.
Still in awe, almost ten years later.