I am a regular Metra rider, ususally on inbound train #320 leaving my local stop at straight-up 8:00 AM, arriving Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago's Loop at 8:26AM. I was on it this morning, heading to the office for a Friday full of conference calls and persuasion. I usually read my paper or listen to the iPod, but today I decided to sit quietly and look around me. I concluded something - commuting is a very odd activity.
Across the aisle from me is a man that I have noticed many times in the past. He is a tall, substantial guy, not overweight or anything, but solid. He could be 40 years old, or he could be 50. His face is unlined and his hair is thick and dark blonde. He always wears jeans and boots. In the winter, he wears a pullover sweater. In his hands, an iPhone or an iPad. The expression on his face never changes - he seems implacably calm.
To my right on the long bench is a clenched fist of a man, short and paunchy, in a pin-striped suit. His thinning hair glistens with some sort of styling gel. He has turned his back to me and pulled away to the far edge of the seat so he won't accidently catch my eye or brush his body against mine. His eyes are focused on the novel scrolling across his e-reader.
To my left is a mid-thirties blonde woman who pays close attention to her appearance. She is staring into a compact mirror, adjusting her lipstick. This process takes a surprisingly long time. She finally snaps the compact shut, slips it into a big-ass purse, sighs, leans back and closes her eyes.
Down the aisle comes the aging conductor, bellowing "Tickets!! Display all tickets!! Main Street, Rogers Park, Ravenswood tickets!!!" He is short and round. He has a gray beard quite similar to my own. His voice shatters the peace; his timbre is nasal and unpleasant; it makes my ears ring. It is incredibly irritating.
Every seat is filled and people are standing in the aisle by the time we reach our destination. The passengers generally don't converse with each other. They don't even acknowlege each other, although they have been riding in the same train car together for quite a while (sometimes for years). We can't greet each other by name, we don't introduce ourselves, we are physically close but emotionally distant.
The train stops with a jerk, the doors hiss open; we file out and rush to our high-rise offices. In eight or nine hours, we will reverse the direction of our travels and head back to our suburban bedrooms. Then we get up the next day and repeat the process. And the day after that, and the day after that, and so on until we lose our jobs or retire or die.
Doesn't this seem odd? What if someone broke into song? What if someone told the loud conductor to shut up? Would chaos ensue? Would the facade crumble?
Anyway, I should start winding down my day so I can catch......my train.