Thursday, March 31, 2011

Diary of a Commuter: The South Shore Tales.

Looking back, I have been a South Shore rider for about 20 years. I can recall traveling with my dad quite a few times before the age where it was acceptable for me to ride on my own which usually meant that a Cubs game was in order, so it was very exciting indeed. I can't really remember my first trip as a commuter, but it was probably around the time I did an internship in downtown Chicago, circa 2002-03. It's only recently that I self-diagnosed myself as a train commuter. Back then, I always told myself that it was only for three months, after which I could then return to my judgmentally elitist video store clerk role that had been so easy to maintain AND disregard.  Usually I was barely awake, and probably a bit hungover, if not slightly still intoxicated. Don't judge, it was the swingin '00s, and I was still a conquer-everything college kid, and staying out till 4:30 really wasn't that much of a stretch. It's amazing how 7-8 years and few times sleeping in your car will change things. I digress...
Now that I'm on the cusp of being 10957 days old, I realized that as long as I choose the lower cost of living in Indiana, I am gonna be riding this sucker and it's gonna last longer than three months. This now causes me to observe so much more, and probably doesn't have a whole lot to do with the decent nights of sleep that I now get at this advanced age. (advanced being more skilled and badass, not old) This caused me to come up with a list of people that one will find on commutes to and from downtown Chicago:
  • The smelly person. Ya know, a few months ago, this would of been the smelly guy, but after various experiences with the two-seater 8:12a.m., 40-minute ride, I can't be gender specific or, well, anything specific. This is consistently the one that confuses me. Now, as unpleasant as it is, I would be willing to accept if you have a bit of funk to you on the ride home. You've had a long day at work, and some people don't sit in a climate controlled environment in a chair all day, but WHY THE HELL do you smell like you just ran a marathon and then didn't fully dry after the 2 minute shower you took to rinse off the sweat at the start of the work day? Now some have argued that there are 3rd shifters who might be just getting off of work at this time, but if they are working in Northwest Indiana and living in Chicago, then I have seriously underestimated the job market there. Now, where I did say I would be more willing to accept at the end of the day, I still don't have to like it, and will try to reserve a special place in hell for you if you decide that you've already reached your couch and can take your damn shoes off.
  • The phone talker. Usually I like to end my marriage, argue with my kids, gossip about friends that aren't the one I'm talking to, berate my mother, and do my automated-voice prompted banking sometime after 10am, but I seem to be in a minority. I hate talking on the phone. I know that this gives me a bias, but every single one of the conversations that I've been privileged to on the morning train is definitely something that could of waited till you got in a less populated arena. One morning I was treated to a conversation about a woman's fear of catching an STD after she took a stranger home from the bar two nights earlier. Try fake sleeping through that. Ironically, this was around the time that the discussion about cutting funding to Planned Parenthood became top news, as I was thinking how painfully uninformed she was. It was my own living PSA. I understand the need to get things done on that morning ride, as you will more than likely be busy at work for the day and won't have the time. But, what you should consider is that you are inviting everyone within an earshot into your life, and some of those people might have a blog.
  • The eavesdropper. I'm a super interesting guy. I know that. But really, if the text or email that I'm sending, status I'm updating, Sodoku puzzle I'm struggling with doesn't have you as a recipient, un-blocked friend, or...well, actually, I would rather die than ask for help with a Sodoku, so forget that one. My Kool-Aid flavor is Mystery, so you better get outta it.
  • The Kindle/Nook/book/newspaper reader. Good ones here. They have no intention on bothering anyone, being loud or out of my experience so far, smelling like a gym bag sock. Probably a train veteran, this person has a monthly pass, gives you a nod of recognition without overselling the point, makes their way towards the doors one stop before theirs, and has a stainless steel travel mug. They would be the direct companion to...
  • The earphones guy/girl. All the same attributes above, with the added respect that they are sometimes sleeping. You might teeter into the annoyance territory if you happen to be snoring, or have the volume cranked so loud that I can hear your music with all the clarity that you can, but for the most part, you're alright by me minding your business and listening to your Steely Dan.
  • The double-seater. Look, I know that everyone would prefer not to sit directly next to a stranger for an extended period of time. It's in the fear that they fall into one of these lesser categories. If you are riding a train anywhere from 5-8:15am, or from 4-7pm you are not sitting alone. So GET YOUR SHIT OFF THE SEAT NEXT TO YOU. If the train goes through the major stops and the seat is really not required, then by all means, seat your bag. Until then, my ass trumps your laptop every time.
  • Rookie train rider. Usually you can spot these even before you get on the train. One day, when I went in a little later than normal and there was no agent at the ticket window, I spotted a young girl with an expression of confusion on her face as she dragged her two suitcases around the Hammond station. Looking around the room, there was a homeless man there to use the bathroom and get a drink of water, a lady on the phone and a middle-aged man with his nose buried in 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', so I knew for sure that I was gonna be her source of information. Questions will always consist of: 'how much is a ticket?', 'can I buy it on the train?', 'where do I get off for Chicago?' and probably not much else besides that. Due to the lateness of this particular day, I didn't mind all of this, but if it would of been at the regular time when I'm in 'commuter mode', probably would of taken her head off. Least I be seen talking to a rookie.
  • The talkative one. A while back, I would of been on the negative end of this person, even considering, that I, myself am very talkative once I get going. I would of cited the same annoyance over hearing someone talk on the phone and getting all up in their biz-nass. But, now I realized that there is a huge difference between what you hear inadvertently and what people actually intend for you to hear, which can sometimes be storytelling gold. Let's take Got Kilt? Guy. This guy was, to be polite, a very obese man. He happened to be carrying on a discussion with a very kind and accommodating woman directly behind me, which I guess was like hearing a phone call...but the way he was announcing every statement, I truly believe he wanted the whole train to hear. From this, I learned that he belongs to "a little known, affectionate groups of gays called Bear fags", he has been unemployed for 2.5 years but aspires to be a pastry chef, was currently on Vicodin, enjoyed cold weather, and he was meeting his partner downtown as a surprise. I imagine it's a two-fold surprise as his partner probably didn't expect him to actually be wearing a kilt, which he was.
  • The disaster movie savior. If terrorists, a comet, an electrical short, dinosaurs or flood ever got in the way of a normal ride in, and the conductor was the first casualty(he would probably also be the sacrificial black guy), then there would be that one rider, likely in his late 40s/early 50s who has been riding this line so long and knows the train so well, that he would be able to step in and gain control of the train before it killed every on board.  He's also the guy to ensure that the doors between the cars is closed as we leave every station. For example. He probably might wear a trench coat, Burberry scarf, and Red Sox baseball cap. For example.
  • Half your high school. Well, maybe this isn't as common for everyone, but really, between Facebook and every other digital tool available to keep in touch with people from high school, this train has ensured that I can still see some people in real life that I might not have had the chance to see too commonly if I drove in every day. It's in the win column for human interaction before computers become self-aware and kill us all.
  • Seeing someone you don't know...again. Self explanatory. Also, anyone familiar with Louis CK knows what this is about. I don't have a link for it, but that's good, as you can now watch his stuff in search of the joke. Which you should do anyway.
  • The daily beer drinkers. Good for them.
I used to think that it was solely because of socio-economic standings that people behaved the way they behaved. Those standings would trickle down to parenting and privilege and affect everything else if you wanna look at in the freakonomics point of view.  I still believe that to be partially true, but from what I've witnessed, it's too wide-spread to be pinned to that. A little social grace and courtesy go a long way, even if it's just shutting up for a bit.
I sometimes wonder how some behave in their regular, non-commuting life. Do the double-seaters make dinner for their families and then proceed to lick a few extra dinner rolls claiming them as their own? Do the phone talkers discuss their sex life outloud at their daughters dance recital? Of course all of this leads into a new category:
  • Quiet, judgmental, opinionated guy. Proudly accepted.

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