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Identifying the Train People

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Same as yesterday, last month, last Christmas, or five years ago. Same same same as I walk through the entrance of Grand Central. Same flow of human traffic around me, although always different faces. I weave and dodge to the pulse of the earbuds pounding something aggressive. Down my shortcut stairs, across the platform looking both ways to not get hit by a passing garbage cart. I arrive just the same as always to my 5:33 train.

The seat I choose is precisely so. Scientifically proven over the years to be the optimal train riding experience. How can this be, considering that every seat on every train is made of the same pseudo-leather vinyl covering in those familiar shades of maroon and blue, the hues that just make you love the color picking gents of the ’70s?

Alas, it is the optimal seat since it usually allows me to be the last person that someone will sit next to in the car. I could make that an absolute—if I only weighed 350 pounds and my belly-hip-thigh flesh hung over into the seat next to me, or if I was covered with dirt and filth and the Saturn ring of fruitflies occupied the seat next to me—but I cannot. I don’t yap on the cell; I cross my arms to avoid the War of Elbows, and I never make contact. So you could say that the optimal seat cancels out my common courtesies.

Additionally, from the vantage point of the optimal seat, I observe most of the same people every evening. Much like me, they arrive for the 5:33 after jailbreaking from their 9-to-5. I have found that over the years, while I am always curious to know what it is they do, I resist ever making conversation. Besides the fact that I thoroughly enjoy iPodding while travelling, I find a great distaste for the lifeless ‘how-are-the-kids’ conversation that most train acquaintances have. Just watch and listen, it’s true.

More importantly, I find my imagination much more entertaining in that I invent their identity for them. Who needs to know anyone when you can just make up their life stories?

That when the man in the gray pinstripe suit enters the train, it is his unearthly precision that perfectly tosses his briefcase up top or takes his suit jacket off and neatly folds it over one arm before he sits. I imagine that he runs the acquisitions department of a firm that perfectly dismantles smaller companies into core components. He is the white haired shaman of downsizing, a sonnet of business sense that churns out results until his heart gives up like a marathoner with cramps.

Or how about the Indian couple that occasionally meets in the last car? The man has a large nose, not vulture-like or Streisandian, but disproportioned on his face. His hair is slicked back, his build portly. Yet the woman is easily model-caliber, standing about 6′ in heels, perfectly toned skin like the color that a million beach worshippers would sell a kidney for.

The couple’s communication is always brief. How they are together seems unlikely to me. I imagine it could have been by an arranged marriage, or perhaps he saved her life by sneaking her out of an oppressed country. But he looks like he has a wicked temper. A penchant for punching men who stare too long at his trophy wife. It’s like watching Sleeping With the Enemy unfold in real time.

Or how about the Goth-style balding man who has let his remaining hair long grow to mid-neck? He walks with a slight hunch, sports a wispy goatee, and usually wears black (even in the summer). I imagine he is a male witch who can cast spells of food poisoning on anyone who beats him in the War of Elbows.

Or how about the stylish young woman with hair down to her waist? She wears sunglasses like Bono from the Zoo TV tour and has a different purse every day. I imagine that she is a French fashion designer, making anything she wants and getting trendfollowers to plunk down thousands for it.

Or how about the man with the small sunken eyes and bushy mustache? I imagine that if the person in front of him had her head explode, his first reaction would be “Golly gee willikers!” in a Keebler elf voice.

Now you might say it’s wrong of me to think these horrible things about these people. But it makes life seem a little more interesting for my ride. Because the truth is that 95% of these people work in either a cubicle or an office,and spend most of their day in front of a computer, in meetings, or on the phone. The truth is that they are basically the same as me, a drone working for a corporation until I retire or move on to some other corporation.

And what could be more boring than knowing that?

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Mark Sahm writes and sells rocket fuel at Blogimus Prime.

Edited: bhw

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About Mark Sahm

  • Fun stuff… I do the same think in my classes…

  • Yeah, I think that’s where it may have started many moons ago. Although watching city drones allows for more possibilities since you basically see every kind of person there.

  • True…

  • SR

    I miss your stories about Mr. Negative. Why haven’t you made friends at your new station? And have you seen Defense around the train platform lately?

    I miss my own train people since I started driving to work. =(

  • I still cross paths with Mr. Negative on Madison Avenue. Although he is now walking in the opposite direction. Or stomping. Whatever works.

    And remember, it’s D-Fens… like the license plate. No whammy burgers before 11 o’clock.

  • An Editors’ pick of the week from the section editor. Thank you.

    Go HERE for a button you can put on your blog and to look at the other picks.

  • I know this is an older post, but you linked and I peeked! Parallel universes and all, y’know.

    Good article – I think one must be an axe murderer. They ride trains, right?

  • Jackie: Thanks for reading. I guess that’s the beauty of being in a transit system that doesn’t change much: posts about commuting connect depsite contrasting views.

    People will be people, and we’re presented with the choice of either being upset that they lack manners and/or hygiene, or attempting to mentally transcend them. I hope you can see the latter more often.