death on 86th street

Today I had a great day planned. I always planned for a great day when I stayed in the city. I would visit my new  accounts in midtown and then cold call spas on the West side. I would start buy taking the 6 train down to 51st Street, work my way across town in the 50’s, travel by foot up the west side and end on 86th Street.  I planned to stop in and see my friend Nancy, the psychotherapist who no longer practices in my living room, but has her very own office on 86th street and a brass plaque bearing her name on the outside of the building that houses her workplace.

I left my apartment just before 11:00 and walked east on 85th toward the subway. As I turned right onto 2nd Avenue in the direction of 86th Street, I saw massive police activity. Lights everywhere, police cars, ambulances and a bus. Traffic was stopped between 2nd and 3rd Avenues on 86th Street.  The usual hum of the very crowded Street was absent. It occurred to me that no one was moving and in the seconds it took me to visually scan the scene; my body had already reacted to it. The air was still and death was palpable. A woman was just hit by NYC Bus. The west bound M-86 bus stood still in the middle of the block. Lying ½ under the bus covered in a sheet, was the dead woman. Although there were people everywhere, there was little activity.  My feet felt as though they were glued to the sidewalk beneath me, and my body still, as I stood twenty feet away from the dead body. A reporter from CBS news stood next to me. When I found the power to speak, I asked her what happened.

“She was carrying tomatoes. See the tomatoes?” The reporter pointed to several tomatoes that had rolled out of a plastic grocery bag lying in the middle of 86th Street near the body. I glanced at the tomatoes and then my gaze found its way to the reporter’s pad which had written on it:


50 ish


“She was on the phone”, added the reporter before she left my side to reposition herself nearer to her cameraman.

My mind was swirling with questions, my body stiff, my eyes glued onto the corpse. What was I waiting to see?  I felt completely alone in a crowd of about forty silent people next to me. They too were silently staring at the body under the bus.

Why did she cross the street in the middle of the block on one of the busiest streets in the city? I’ve done that, I answered to myself.

How could she not see a bus coming?  How could the bus not see a woman standing in the middle of the road?

Cops, paramedics, the medical examiner, reporters and photographers from every major news station were there. The photographers were snapping pictures – for what?  Was this something that the public wanted to actually see on the news?

In my mind I had manifested a family for this poor soul. A husband and children.

What was her husband doing right now as I watched her lifeless body lie under the bus? Was he at work in an office chatting on the phone while his wife lay dead before my eyes on 86th Street?

What about her children? Did she have any? Were they in social studies class secretly IM-ing  their friends while their mother was dead under a bus? How would they find out about the tragic news? Did they already know the woman’s identity? How long would it take them to find her family and how exactly do they go about finding the family? What were the cops thinking as the stood within inches of the body? Were they used to being so close to death that it no longer bothered them – or would they go home and give their families extra love tonight? Why were the paramedics still there? Did they have to wait until the bus was removed and take the woman away? I thought about that job. Why was I standing there for so long and thinking about all of these things while staring at a corpse under a bus? Why was everybody there?

I wondered what all the observers were thinking. I began to study the faces in the crowd and wonder what was going through their minds. Some women had children with them and I thought about that. How might a child be affected by witnessing a dead woman lying under a bus? I tried to reserve judgment and I continued to watch. I continued to read the minds of all of the observers. What was it that compelled us all to stay and watch? Were the employees of PC Richards and Banana Republic too busy with their tasks inside the stores, unaware that a woman lay dead in the street just outside? Just one block away, hundreds of people were going about their day completely unaware of the tragic scene so close by.

I was unable to control the turmoil in my mind. I began to emerge from the surrealism and knew that I did not want to be there any longer. I said a prayer and walked west on 86th Street with no clear direction as to where I was going. It just seemed too strange to continue on with my day as planned after that. I walked in the direction of the 6 train but then decided I would do my day in reverse. I would start on the upper west side and work my way downtown. I very carefully walked across 86th Street and waited for the M-86. I took the bus to Nancy’s office for a visit with my own personal psychotherapist before calling on my first account.

Around 3:00 this afternoon I received a call from my brother Thomas. He had just heard about the fatal accident on E. 86th Street. Thomas called to make sure it wasn’t me under the bus. I assured him that it wasn’t and he said – “OK, just checking, gotta go – bye”.

Although my mind kept replaying scene of the accident throughout the day, I managed to open one new account and keep a good mood about myself. I ended the day in midtown and took the 6 train back uptown to 86th Street.  It was 5:00. The buses were running along 86th Street, people were laughing and shopping – buying tomatoes as usual. As I walked past the exact location of the earlier fatality I saw a dark stain in the middle of the street right where the woman had been struck. No one else seemed to notice.



“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
 Norman Cousins