I may have stopped a fist-fight on the subway, tonight. It was one of those godawful nights where everything on the TTC seems to go wrong - where a ten kilometer trip took well over two hours (less than walking speed).
On the east-bound train someone suddenly yelled, "You wanna watch where you're swinging that f'n back-pack?" The speaker was a too-skinny-to-be-that-aggressive twenty-something fellow with a musician's amplifier tucked between his feet. He looked a real mess with sunken cheeks, shabby hair and clothes, and a barking madness about his demeanor. Chemical, psychological, or neurological, there was something not right with this guy (my bet was on the second).
The guy with the backpack was in his fifties but wheeled around and started retorting just as angrily. Which I really think was dumb.
The first thing that happened was that the women in the immediate environment fled the area. A couple of would-be peacekeeper types started exchanging glances.
Mr. Wrong called Mr. Backpack "Faggot."
Mr. Backpack said, "No one's called me a faggot since I was seven."
Mr. Wrong issued a threat of violence.
I spoke up. In a loud voice I told them to knock it off, both of them.
Mr. Backpack turned to me to start arguing his case. I told him that I didn't want to hear it, and that they should knock it off. Mr. Backpack seemed to see the sense of it, and wavered. He was quickly approached by one of the peacekeepers trying (too early) to get him to sit. He waved off the peacekeeper, but the moment of violence had passed.
Then Mr. Wrong tried to rekindle things, clearly not even attempting to read the situation. He loudly declared that he'd break Mr. Backpack's legs.
But all he got was amused looks from the people around. The subway had stopped at this point, and a quiet moment passed.
A woman then approached Mr. Backpack with a smile and put a hand on his arm. He started making some stupid comment about the other guy's rage.
Mr. Wrong angrily snarled at all of us, took his amp, and left. Maybe upset that the fight he'd been itching for hadn't worked out.
Mr. Backpack, possibly reacting to adrenaline, started telling anyone who'd listen that he'd just had a hip replaced and that he was carrying a thousand dollars in cash in his backpack etc etc. He looked at me, and I told him that I'd included them both in my scolding to give the other fellow an out. He thanked me. I didn't join his excited post-game babble with the peacekeepers (one of whom told him that he'd been accosted by the same nutjob on that same TTC line just the day before). I didn't think that he'd been very smart at all, but saw no point in telling him.
As I left the subway car, I noticed that we'd been only five meters from the TTC operator who rides in that little box in the middle of the train, and that in fact a second operator had been lounging even closer. They'd done nothing at all to intervene in a showdown that they must surely have heard.
I bought some decent rye on the way home.