When the train hit the car, it snapped me back to reality.
I had boarded the train at the Farmingdale station to go home to Manhattan. I wasn't paying much attention to anything. I took a seat in the third or fourth car back from the front of the train.
I felt the impact. The train car started wobbling, then rocking.
It’s probably nothing serious, I thought. The impact felt like, maybe, the engineer had hit the brakes too hard.
The flames flaring up outside changed my mind. A young woman sitting across from me screamed when she saw the fire only a few feet away from her window.
The train veered to the right. I thought the train was going out of control, that we had derailed.
I tucked my head down toward my knees, the way a flight attendant tells you to do in a plane crash. The train was still grinding its way along, slowing. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t see much. I was judging things pretty much by sense and sound.
Then everything came to a stop.
It was me and maybe two or three dozen people in the train car. A mom with two little kids. Two 20-something women. A woman dressed like she was coming from work. Some folks had suitcases.
Nobody said anything for what seemed like a long time. I looked at the guy across from me, who I found out later was the husband of the woman who screamed. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows as if to say, "What just happened?"
After the train hit the car, it rammed into a concrete platform at the station. I didn’t even know where we were.
All of a sudden, an LIRR guy came hurrying into our car. He had a cellphone in his hand. He was staring at it, as if waiting for a call or waiting for his call to go through.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he told us as he rushed up the aisle.
I looked out the door, that somehow somebody had opened, and saw chunks of concrete from the platform on a grassy embankment. I thought how hard it was going to be to get people down that steep embankment.
The people in my car started huddling together, trying to figure out what happened and what to do next. I could see the fire trucks and ambulances pulling up to the street. They kept coming and coming.
I called my wife to tell her what happened, and that I was OK.
Emergency workers came rushing through our car, asking over and over and again whether anyone was hurt. The mother was in her seat, holding her two kids in her arms. They started whimpering.
The emergency workers propped up a ladder to the door of the train car. Somebody said something about getting the kids out first, and the mom nervously handed her two kids, one by one, to the emergency workers who eased them down the ladder.
I was supposed to go next down the ladder, but I wanted to stay on the train so I could take photos and talk to people. I told the first responders that, and a cop had a few choice words for me: “I’m sick of your [expletive]. Get down the ladder.”
It must have been a half-dozen steps or so. When I finally stepped on the ground, it was nothing but red-and-white flashing lights and earsplitting sirens.
It was, of course, freezing cold outside, the kind of cold that bites into your bones and doesn’t let go for a long time.
I felt bad for all the passengers standing in the cold, waiting for some way to get home. The authorities crammed about 30 of us into an indoor taxi stand.
I took an Uber all the way into the city. And when I came through the door, I hugged my wife.