The people you meet while commuting, from A to Z (1/2004)
Anne is petite. Blonde hair, blue eyes. She sways down the aisle with an air of such superiority that men ignore her despite her beauty. She sits in a seat by herself and busies herself by powdering her nose and applying more lipstick.
Ben is 17, maybe 18. He’s got a minefield of raw, red pock marks on his cheeks. He’s wearing a t-shirt that looks like it’s from some heavy metal rock band concert, and ratty jeans. Amazingly, he’s sitting and confidently chatting with a nice, pretty girl. She doesn’t seem to mind looking at him. Ah, young love. Must be blind, like they say.
Charles chooses to go upstairs, to where the single seats are. He’s in his sixties. He resents the fact that he still has to work at his age, but somehow manages to pick himself up each morning and put on a suit and tie. He looks around at the younger generations and sneers at their sweat pants, jeans and t-shirts. I have to say, there is something to the way he always looks so natty.
Deborah eats a pack of peanuts. She chooses to sit in one of the “quad” seats, which have two double seats facing one another. She smiles politely at the gentleman tapping on his laptop who is sitting diagonally across from where she sits. Deborah is from Shanghai. She moved at the age of four with her parents when they fled the country. Deborah dreams that one day she’ll return to her homeland, but seems to have found contentment while she’s in the United States.
Eric is a high technology guy. He’s got a belt full of electronic gadgets. A pager. A cell phone. A BlackBerry. A Palm. In his briefcase, he’s got a state-of-the-art laptop as well as an MP3 player and a Sony Walkman CD player. Eric’s single, and doesn’t understand why.
Fred is tall, skinny goofy looking guy. He’s got a crooked smile and hair that doesn’t seem to know where it’s supposed to lie. He chats with the guy next to him and laughs boisterously at frequent intervals. Probably more frequently than the other guy thinks appropriate. Before boarding the train, Fred swigged down two Fosters. An alcoholic, Fred is the life of any party he attends. But Fred, like many alcoholics, is unaware that he has a serious problem and that he’ll die from liver failure in eight years. He looks like he’s only thirty or thirty five years old.
Georgia is a southern belle named after her birth state by an overly clever mother. She hates living in California. She hates the familiarity, the lack of formality. She hates that men here don’t always open her door, or rise from their chairs when she leaves from, or approaches her seat. She married a biotechnology executive, who had to live in California. At the time, it seemed like a glorious adventure, but now she regrets the decision. Both decisions.
Henry, a black man, is angry all the time. His friends and the leaders of the African American culture have convinced him that “the man” continues to hold him and all blacks down. He was easy to convince, but would have been easy to convince the other way, too. Henry owns his own plumbing supply company and makes a decent living. With a BMW and a Range Rover in his driveway, Henry misses the irony of his life.
Iris is a lovely French woman. Iris, her venture capitalist husband, and their two delightful children moved to the area a few years ago. Iris has dark hair and even darker eyes, eyes that pull at you, draw you in and absorb you. She’s got imperfect teeth that make her beauty all the more perfect. She talks amicably with the woman seated next to her and seems unaware of her beauty, or of her mesmerizing affect on the men seated around her.
Jake is a sixteen year-old boy genius. He’s returning home after spending half of the day taking three classes at a local university. His high school teachers don’t know what to do with him. He never needs to study, never struggles with any material presented in any class. Maddeningly polite, the teachers feel guilty that they are seemingly unable to teach him anything.
Keith is Jake’s eighteen year-old brother, sitting next to Jake. While no slouch in school, Keith wasn’t – isn’t – a Jake either. A solid B+ or A- student, Keith was also well liked at school. He always had a girlfriend, usually one of the prettiest girls in his class. Keith is also the starting point guard on his high school basketball team. The team is 23-1 and headed for the State final.
Lana is a Hispanic woman that shows the wear of trying to run a household with two sets of live-in parents, a low-life, do-nothing husband, and six kids. Her trip on the train is a rare event; her mother agreed to watch the children for a few hours so that Lana could go shopping at the local mall. Unable to afford a car, Lana could never have managed a trip to a mall if it weren’t for the fact that there weren’t one nearby located along the train tracks.
Manny is a sales guy returning home from a day full of deal making. He made President’s Club the year before last, but not last year, and it still bothers him. He’s still pissed off about it, but is committed to making Club again this year. Only two more small deals and he’s all set. And it’s only Q3.
Nobody wants to sit next to the guy that smells. It’s not clear if he’s homeless or not. His face and hair seem too clean for him to be homeless, but his clothes are filthy. Several rows are now empty in front and behind him. He sits completely still, completely quiet. It’s as if he’s meditating, but somehow it doesn’t seem like he is. He’s just sitting there, sensing nothing, being nothing. Perhaps this is how he feels all the time if he actually is homeless.
Oprah Winfrey is the topic in the row behind me. One woman says she’s her hero. The other points out that she’s a lousy actress and lucky. They banter back and forth for a half an hour. The man sitting across from them can’t believe women would waste their time discussing something so inane. He doesn’t realize that they feel the same way about his obsession with batting averages, win-loss records and the like.
Peter is a nurse at a local hospital. He wears powder blue hospital pants every day as he rides the train. He also wears a knit cap, tightly pulled down around his head. Even on days that don’t seem so cold. He looks Middle Eastern, maybe Persian or Iranian. It always looks like it’s been a few days since he’s last shaved.
Quietly, a young Chinese girl reads a book. It looks like a novel, not a kid’s book. She seems happy, but I wonder if she’s been pushed too far, too fast by her parents. I’m all for a culture of communicating to children that you expect academic and professional excellence, but sometimes I wonder if families take it too far.
Robert, Sam, Tom and Uppilli all work together at a high tech company, although none in the same department. They talk about their company, and it sounds like they work for completely different employers. One likes the CEO, while the others can’t stand the son-of-a-bitch. One says he needs the executives to demonstrate that they have a vision, while one of the others scoffs at him, saying something like, “vision shmission.”
There’s little violence on the train. In fact, in the year I’ve taken the train, I’ve never seen anything worse than a pushing match between two drunk guys after a hockey game. What do you want from hockey fans, anyway?
Wendy is a single mother in a state of perpetual sadness. Maybe it’s because her husband left her, but I think it has more to do with something more fundamental. Pretty, petite and neat, Wendy still emotes low self-confidence. Why, I have no idea. If she has a deep, dark secret in her past, I don’t know about it because, well, it’s a deep, dark secret.
Yolanda is a noisy, obnoxious Black woman. She had dreadlocks that seem to stick up in all directions from her head. She says she’s “in advertising,” but I never hear her provide any concrete details of her clients or her work. She annoys me, although I’m not 100% sure why.
Zachary is my son. He’s never ridden the train before. Of course, he’s only two years old, so it’s not like he’s got to commute like the rest of us. I’m looking forward to taking him with me to work one day soon. Not just because I want my coworkers to meet him, but because I want him to experience the train. The undeniable, unmatched and often uncomfortable diversity of the train. It is so utterly incomprehensible, that it’s important that he experience it.