I was talking to my dad the other night, who inquired how the commute was going.
“Anybody bother you?”
“What do you mean ‘not really’?”
There wasn’t really any answer that I could give my dad to put his mind at ease, and no way I could accurately describe the culture of train commuting without freaking him out even more. For those of you who are commuters, you already understand that being “bothered” on the train is par for the course. It is inevitable that you will experience, directly or indirectly, some sort of behavior that will amuse or befuddle and whether welcomed or not, you will have to directly engage with the people around you. But then again, there are also moments and interactions that make you laugh, make you smile, and make you keep that little glimmer of hope for humanity still burning…
Here are the most recent interactions/distractions/amusements/frustrations that have come from my commute:
While waiting for the hardrail from Hamilton to Trenton, a woman approached me and asked what time the next train was expected to arrive. I told her and she proceeded to tell me how embarrassed she was because she accidentally got off at the wrong stop. I smiled and tried to say something reassuring, but realized quickly she was less interested in having a dialogue than she was at talking at me. And talk at me she did: She proceeded to tell me how she lived most her life in Brooklyn, how she moved to a small town in NJ and hated it, how she tried to make it back to the city when she could because “there is no other city like it” and how there’s nothing to do in her small town. I asked her if she had gone to Philly yet, since it was so close by to where she currently lives.
“Philly?” she scoffed. “No.”
She continued to tell me how well-traveled she was: how she is originally from Jamaica and that people from Jamaica usually leave and end up in three different places: Canada, England, or the States, and that she chose the States while her sister chose England. She then went on to tell me about her travels to see her sister and that her friends wanted to plan an trip back there, but that she was hesitant because “they would want to do all the touristy things and I have already seen them all.”
She continued to lament about the burden of living in NJ and how she longed to be back to The City until the train finally came.
“Well, thanks for making me feel better,” she said before quickly dismissing me and bee-lining for another car to avoid having to interact now that her need was met.
A hardrail interaction like that is rare, considering that I’m only on the train for one stop. The only other point of interest for that line is one of the conductors, who has a raspy, gravely voice, complete with a gruff New York accent. Every day, he and the other conductors repeatedly have to announce that that train is the local train and that if a passenger is interested in catching the express, they should wait for the next train or get off at the next stop. Repeatedly hearing the announcement is tiresome, so I can only imagine having to say it over and over and over again, day after day.
For his own amusement above anything else, he often likes to shake things up with stupid jokes and wordplay.
“This is the local train, people, local, local! We are slooooow moving, so if you’re heading to Newark or beyond, it’s best to catch the next train!”
On Friday he was shouting, “Lowwwww-cal! Lowwwww-cal! we’re fat free, people. This is the low-cal train!”
OK, yeah, that’s lame… but at 8 a.m., it’s pretty amusing…
But still, the RiverLine by far provides the most fodder for stories. Considering that I ride it for its entire duration–from Camden to Trenton and back–I get to see allllll kinds of people and hear allll kinds of things.
For instance, as I was initially typing this blog (I started it on the train last Friday and am finally finishing it up today), I listened to one guy talk about the “good shit” he’s got, encouraging another guy to “smell it…smell it. that’s how you know the shit is goooood right there.”
Earlier last week, I eavesdropped on one man giving the sordid details to his friend about a rendezvous he had with a special lady friend and his admission that he “didn’t wrap it,” which caused his friend to verbalize his disappointment. “Man, you serious? Mmmhmmmm. That on you, man… That on you.”
I have also been privy to the phone calls, ring tones, and music selections by many a passenger. Apparently headphones (or appropriate headphone volume, when they’re actually being used…), cell phone etiquette, indoor voices, and discretion when making/taking personal calls are passé in the world of public transportation. Many of these offenders are nameless faces, non-regulars who blend with the others who lack social graces, but there is one girl who manages to be on my train at least once a week, equipped with her Twilight messenger bag and either her phone or mp3 player blasting Lil Wayne and friends.
I’m also becoming exposed to a new set of regulars thanks to Derek, a particularly chatty guy who started to get on at my stop in the morning. The minute I stepped on the platform, he was ready to talk, and happily rambled on about his work, his family, his sister’s upcoming 50th birthday bash. I didn’t mind so much at first until the train pulled up and instead of following the rule me and my other morning spot buddy had silently established (politely making small talk until the train comes then going to our separate cars), Derek declared, “Well, I’ll get on the same car as you to continue our conversation!”
Even then I wasn’t too miffed. He was pleasant enough and wasn’t attempting to hit on me, and thankfully only stayed on for a couple stops. But after the one day, I was certain we had nothing else to talk about. He had already extensively overviewed where he lived, where he worked, what he did (drove a truck), what he transported (food, building materials, various equipment, liquids… Seriously, he must have listed the many different cargoes he carried for easily 5-10 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but I assure you, for the topic, it was), the details of his sister’s party (it was to be a 50s theme and would be held at a hall and was a dressy affair; he had already rented a tux, which his mom and him had gone to put the down payment on the week before), and various other tidbits about his life.
However, Derek saw things differently. The next time we rode the train, which was after New Years, he was ready to pick up right where we left off and wanted to dispel all the details of his New Year’s Eve (he stayed home…wanted to save himself for the upcoming party) and catch me up on the other details of his past few days. I politely and abruptly blew him off and shut down the conversation as quickly as possible. But damn if he wasn’t persistent. Knowing which car I favored, he made his way aboard when the train pulled up and so I made my way to the car behind it. The next day, I was engrossed in a very important phone call at 6:45 a.m. (ie, checking my old voicemails, specifically the drunk dial from Parr that’s easily 6 years old now…) until the train appeared. But Derek still made his way over to say hi, to make sure he got at least a word in. He ended up walking onto the same car as me, the one I had gotten on the day before, but I was determined to not let him totally overtake my commute. I walked from that car to the last car on the train and made my way to my usual spot in the new car.
Thankfully Derek has since disappeared from the train stop in the morning. And just in time because frankly, I was running out of train cars.
So that’s a sampling of the most recent slew of crazy that comes free with my monthly train pass. Stay tuned, dear readers, for the next installment of “WTF, NJ Transit?!”