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Should I be Scared? Riding on the Red Line

Kyle Makkas

UMass Boston is a commuter school, and that means people come from all over, leaving whatever dwelling they may call a home to make use of this bastion of learning…if that’s what we’re supposed to call this place. That means everybody has to make some sort of journey to campus, whether it’s a short or long one. My journey, as you can probably guess by reading the title of this little rant, took me through one of the most dreaded locales in all of Boston—the Red Line.

All right, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Not many people casually drop words like “bastion” if they aren’t trying to sound a little grand. But, the thing is, the year I spent using the Red Line left me with several memories that’ll probably stay with me forever. I went to school to learn but I rode the Red Line to experience. So, with this publication’s focus on the Sights and Sounds of Boston, let me tell you about a few of mine. In no particular order, here are a few tales about some people in their comings and goings. Maybe they’ll help you get to a destination of your own.


Let’s go back to February 2022—if you can even remember those long ago days. Russia had just invaded Ukraine, and the entire world was on edge. Was World War III starting? Would Putin use nuclear weapons? We were all scared, each in our own way, and I was carrying those concerns with me to the station while I was waiting for my train to arrive.

Due to both those concerns and a general impatience I tend to have at all times, I kept looking down the tracks for my train to arrive. “You don’t have to keep looking,” said a voice from behind me. “The train will come when it comes. Looking ain’t gonna change anything.”

I turned back to see a fragile looking man with a veteran’s hat on his head staring at me. He beckoned me closer and I walked toward him. I don’t remember what his next few sentences were, but I very clearly remember where the conversation led. “You hear about that Putin guy? What he did? He’s crazy.” I happened to agree and told him so. He mentioned that he was a veteran of the Korean War before kicking the conversation into high gear.

“If he was here, I’d shoot him!” he said. While I’m a generally peaceful man, it was a sentiment that I knew a lot of people had at the time, so I just kind of nodded. Then, he started reaching into his jacket pocket. Now, I normally don’t get too paranoid about these sorts of things, but there are a few factors I feel I should emphasize. First, he was talking about shooting someone, and when people reach into their jacket pocket in the movies, it’s pretty clear as to what they’re going for. Two, I live in America, “Land of the Free and Home of the Armed.” No matter how you feel about gun laws, there’s no denying that there’s way too much gun violence in this country, and it seems to happen anywhere and everywhere. Last, this wasn’t the only time I wondered whether someone I was commuting with had a gun—we’ll get to that later, promise!

So, with great concern, I watched as his hand went into the pocket and pulled out…vodka. Actually, it was specifically Russian vodka, as if some cosmic force felt this situation needed some irony. The conversation finished quickly afterwards. I said, “Well, nice talking to you,” and walked away.


Why don’t we jump right to the other time I thought I might get shot. After all, I’d hate to leave you in suspense. It was a sunny day in Boston, and the abundance of light should have lifted the spirits of everyone it touched. Of course, as someone who knows the difference between “should have,” “could have” and “would have,” I’ve already signaled to you that this wasn’t how it went down. Unfortunately, things happened like this.

A woman was rifling through her purse. It wasn’t anything worth making any note of at first but as she kept at it, she started muttering things under her breath. It all seemed unintelligible at first, but as the ticks kept tocking, she grew louder. “It’s the freakin’ illuminati. Them and the jews kept it from me.” Everyone on the train looked at her, with the confusion I was feeling apparent on their faces as well. She swore. She said slurs. Some people tried to laugh it off while others kept their heads down. However, something occurred to me.

What was she looking for?

Of course, it didn’t have to be a gun. It could have been anything. However, I refer you back to some of the reasons given in my last memory and my overall paranoia. Honestly, as the minutes passed by and more suspense was built up, it became difficult to believe she was only searching for her phone. Of course, real life doesn’t work with the same logic as fiction, but it does have a strong sense of irony.

The train reached my stop and I left. I never found out what she was looking for. Maybe she’s still rifling through her purse, muttering conspiracy theories and hateful slurs as her train rides off into the sunset.


This has all been a little dark so far, I know. So, while there’s certainly more doom and gloom to get to, I’d like to briefly touch on a much more eloquent and profound Red Line memory. Let’s set the stage. A young man—yours truly—sits alone on an old, hard chair. Strangers surround him. A stop is reached. The doors open. ENTER: Strangers One and Two.

Stranger One is a man who looks a little…tipsy, shall we say? Stranger Two is a woman who appears to be his partner, holding onto his arm and whispering things into his ear. Stranger One is not so quiet, loudly replying and carrying a Bluetooth speaker with him that blares music at all times.

They sit down, Stranger One blessing those around him with his large singing voice while Stranger Two giggles and tells him to be quiet. Suddenly, a new song starts up. Three familiar notes come together to form an iconic hook that never fails to calm me. One of the eighties best new wave songs, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, plays through the speakers.

And, hey, the two strangers might be annoying a group of people who solely want to get to their destination in silence, but—at least for one passenger—there’s no denying it's a nice song to commute to. The tune goes on. Instruments join in and singers start crooning. Then, just as soon as Tears for Fears is about to tell me what everyone is looking to rule…it happens.

Everybody wants to suck my glob!!”

That right there was Stranger One “singing” over the chorus and giving the song a little personalized update. “Shh,” Stranger Two says right before she starts giggling.

“Stop it.”

“What,” said Stranger One. “It's kind of true.”

At that moment there was nobody I hated more—no moment in time I needed to be deleted as much as that one. I left before they did. Maybe they’re still playing music to a tortured audience in the same train as the conspiracy theory lady, with one side of the car spouting slurs and cusses while the other tries to sing over them with their own words of choice. It would all balance out.


As I walked up the stairs to the JFK/UMass station, my friend pointed out the window and told me, “that’s where it happened.”

There was a set of stairs with a visible hole in them. Everyone on campus had heard about what happened. Someone tried to go up and, with the stairs being old and in need of repair, the man fell a great distance to his death (1). If I remember correctly, this started the seemingly never-ending list of accidents you hear about happening on the Red Line. Whether it’s the escalator stairs closing while a family is using them or someone getting caught in a closed train door and being dragged as it goes away (2), the amount of horror stories that come from there are simply absurd.

Still, even if there were no more accidents, I’d always remember how what was seemingly the most mundane part of my day suddenly seemed more eerie. School was supposed to build me up for the future, while the way there and back served as a reminder to what lay past it. It was that very mundaneness which made it even harder to ignore what had happened. After all, all I had to do was look out the window.


Picture a crowd of people. Nothing special about it. Just average faces walking in average ways. Everyone was scrambling through JFK/UMASS, eager to get to wherever they were going. I wasn’t in as much of a rush as usual. I don’t remember why. This meant I was going a little slower and noticed that there was one other person who was doing the same. Actually, he wasn’t moving at all.

“Hey! Can anybody help me get downstairs?” People answered by walking past him. I don’t think there was any maliciousness to it. People were just in their own worlds. Usually, when acting as one part of the mass that is a Red Line crowd, I am just as distracted. This time, I was a bit more present than usual, so I decided to help him.

I walked over and offered my help. After accepting, he told me he needed to leave the station but couldn’t walk very well on his own. He held onto my wrist and we walked downstairs. I remember his grip was strong. I felt like he was going to pull my arm off. It was painful. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t. I figured he wouldn’t be holding on so tightly if he didn’t have to. So, I kept walking, trying to slow my usually quick walk down so he could keep up.

We got downstairs and he let go. “Wait,” he said. “Which bus stop is this?” It turned out he wasn’t at the right place. I didn’t know what to do. He said, “that’s ok” and started asking other people for help. I walked away.

For a few seconds, I knew what to do and I did it. Everything was clear. That passed and I was back to normal.


The door to one of the cars was left open. Whether it had broken or was simply open due to someone forgetting to close it, I don’t know. The car was almost empty save for me and a few high school students. As I sat still, they went over to the door, held onto a railing and let their bodies go limp as they hung outside of a moving subway car. I imagine they hung onto that railing tightly but that’s only a guess.

Those kids looked familiar. They may have been the same one’s who’d drag their friends over to the railroad tracks and act like they were about to throw them off. In either case, things were the same. No one yelled at them to stop. We were all in our own worlds.


Operating on practically no sleep, one day I blinked a few too many times and drifted off. When I woke up, everyone else on the train had left. An empty car! What would I do? I thought of laying down on multiple seats, but quickly dismissed that for sanitary reasons. Maybe I would walk around? I’m the kind of person who paces the floors to think. Except the thought of doing that on a moving train, when hours of school had left me wanting to rest up, wasn’t exactly appealing to me. What about playing music? I could have done that with my headphones anyway.

So, I just sat there. Just as I would have if the car had been jam-packed. I saw the same sights, heard the same sounds and thought the same thoughts. The truth is, whether you’re in a crowd of one million or pacing the floors of an empty room, you find yourself stuck in the same place. Your head.

When we’re talking about the sights and sounds of this city, it is impossible for me to do so without entering that place, however small it may be. Boston, along with every city on Earth, has a history all its own. A determined person could detail it in a book, or two or a trillion. Yet, I ask you to think about your experiences here. Where does your mind take you? Is it to the architecture and history of Wheatley or the time you got lost there?

Here, I wrote about commuting to UMass Boston in the most honest way I could. The truth is, everything I saw and heard in the Red Line is constantly moving around my head and I am constantly in the process of trying to define what it means to me. Everyone, from the Korean War veteran, to the slur-spouting woman rifling through her purse, to the man who needed help getting down the stairs, is riding their own special car together. I’ve yet to see where their final stop is.

Of course, it could get derailed. It is the Red Line after all.

(1) NBC Boston (2022, February 10). Newly Released Video Shows Moment BU Professor Fell Through Staircase to His Death.

(2) CBS Boston (2022, April 11). Robinson Lalin Identified As Man Killed After Getting Arm Trapped In Door Of Red Line Train In South Boston. WBZ News.

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