Germ Man



On Saturday morning I took the LA Metro train downtown. It was just past nine, so there weren’t too many other riders. But the folks that were there provided some fascinating people watching.


The most interesting of the bunch was Germ Man. This dude got on at some random stop and immediately headed to an empty corner of the train. As there were only about 10 souls on that car, it was easy to find solitary space. The first thing I noticed about Germ Man were his blue rubber gloves – the dishwashing variety. The next thing that struck my eye was his homemade cape. He had some sort of skull cap tied around his head, and there was a surgical mask pulled away from his face and propped on his forehead. He was a twitchy fellow, kind of shaking here and there. And he spent most of his time looking at his own reflection in a glass window. At some point, I guess he tired of being alone, so he moved near other riders. In doing so, he reminded me of those schlubs at the movie theater on slow days. You know the type – the sap who spies with his little eye the only other person attending a matinee and then proceeds to go and sit directly in front of or behind that lone viewer. I hate those guys.


Anyhoo – Germ Man first headed over to seats occupied by a lady and her 3 small children. Within seconds, one of the kids coughed – politely – into her elbow. Well Germ Man started twitching away and rushed to stand near someone else. Then that dude coughed, which sent Germ Man into a near spasm, followed by a quick retreat. The next guy he approached, well, I swear he started fucking with Germ Man. The rider coughed a little and sent Germ Man fleeing. Then a few more folks did the same. I can’t be sure, but I’m fairly certain the only legitimate cough heard during that ride belonged to a well-mannered 5-year-old girl. And believe me when I tell you I was fighting the chuckles. Before his head exploded, Germ Man headed back to the empty corner of the train car, pulled down his surgical mask and twitched in solitude. He then began rolling his t-shirt sleeves until his shoulders were exposed, he tightened the do-rag around his head and smoothed his eyebrows. He approached the car doors and stood tall. When the train stopped at his station, he walked proudly and shakily onto the platform, ready to fight Germ crime.


That was when a no-neck muscle-head roller-bladed aboard and sat near me, knocking me with the boots he held in one hand. In his other hand he carried a metal bar, about 4 feet long. As I’m not used to anyone speaking to me on the train, I was caught off-guard when he abruptly asked my name. Without hesitation, I said “Sarah.” Then – I swear – he started saying something to me in response and fell asleep, mid-slur. He was with a buddy who woke him and they both got off at their chosen stop.


My stop was next, and I made my way up and out from the underground and to my meeting. I had only been on the train for a short time, but the trip certainly yielded some mighty fine visual entertainment.


Oh. Almost forgot. Germ Man was also wearing a studded dog collar. I’m sure that’s where his power was. Either there or in that fraying, homemade cape. It really was a marvel.

L.A. Subway Art



If left to habit, I will walk around looking 2 feet ahead of me, at the ground. I don’t know why, it’s just where my eyes naturally go. So I do my best to remember to look up. It’s something I have to work at, and it never fails to pay off.


Last Friday, I had a meeting in Hollywood and took the train in, to avoid traffic. Since I love public transportation, this is something I truly enjoy doing. And I even took my camera along, just in case. I fully expected to experience diversity during the ride. That’s how it always goes. There’s some awesome entertainment on the subway. But on that particular day, my train ride left me feeling depressed. Disappointed. You see, there were several passengers blatantly disobeying simple train rules – like eating on-board and playing music aloud. But I could’ve overlooked those folks. It was the two kids with a baby that really got to me.


I didn’t even notice them at first. They looked like they were high-school-aged. I never saw the baby, but when she cried, she had that newborn sound. Her crying made me think she couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 months old. And her cries were natural. I wasn’t bothered by any of it. What did bother me was the guy screaming at the baby, “Quit complaining! F#*%!”



I stopped breathing for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. I looked around to get a good look at him, then positioned myself so that he was in my periphery. Since I knew my phone wouldn’t work in the train tunnel, I scanned the area for the emergency call button. Once I found it and memorized its location, I went back to keeping that kid in my sight. I didn’t know if he’d do anything more than yell, and I prayed he wouldn’t. The way I figured it, that baby was already screwed. If that’s the guy responsible for her little life, she’s gonna have a rocky road. I kept them in my sight until I reached my stop. By the time I got off the train, there had been nothing but quiet coming from their seats. As I lumbered up the stairs to Hollywood Boulevard, I thought, “Babies raising babies.” I had forgotten to take a single picture.


After my meeting in Hollyweird, I dreaded getting on the train home. But I went down the steps to the subway and waited by the outbound tracks. Before the train arrived, I started looking up. That’s when I noticed it: Art.



And Beauty.



Once I started looking up, my perspective improved. By the time I leveled my gaze at the people around me, all I saw was beauty. Everyone on that platform was just plain gorgeous.


If you’re thinking I could have, should have done something when that kid yelled at that baby, I don’t disagree. That’s a lapse for which I have to forgive myself. I’m working on it. I’m also sending out prayers to that unseen child. I pray for those too-young parents as well. Lord knows, the 3 of them need all the help they can get.


When I reached the last station, climbed the monster stairs and emerged into sunlight, I was still gazing up – at trees. At rooftops. At infinite sky. It occurred to me that during their time riding the subway, and probably after, those babies with a baby never once bothered to look up. What a pity.