Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Talking on trains


I realize that not everyone commutes to work via train. So this post may not be relevant to everyone. Then again most of my posts aren't. But maybe people can relate to my annoyance at small talk in general.

If you use public transit, you are likely aware that there are two types of commuters -- introverts and extroverts. Introverts take their seats and tune out everything and everyone around them. They have headphones, books, tablets with them to help get over the fact that they are trapped in a small, confined space with strangers who don't always respect personal space requirements. Introverts also may curl up in a ball and pretend they are asleep (or dead) to prevent interaction on a train.

Extroverts, on the other hand, don't read, sleep or listen to music. They talk. They laugh loudly. They band together in noisy groups and bond for the 25 minutes to an hour they are on the train. And they are oblivious to the fact that they are torturing the introvert commuters who they occasionally trap in the seats around them.

As you may have guessed, I am an introvert commuter. And try as I might, I can't seem to shut the mindless babble of the introverts out, no matter how loud my music is playing in my headphones. It is particularly had when I am on a train with one of the extrovert conductors who engage with the extrovert conductors as they pass through the train or prepare to open the doors at the final stop.

Today for instance, the annoyance factor raised a notch for me. I arrived at the station at my usual time ready to wait at my usual spot for 20 minutes until my train arrived. But as I pulled into the station the earlier train was arriving late. I debated whether to just let it leave or run and catch it and avoid the 20 minute wait. I ran for it and was the last person to board. This meant there were no seats left. Well, more accurately there was one seat open in one of the double seats that face the restroom, but a woman was sprawled out over both seats with her laptop. To add insult to injury she was right under a sign on the ceiling the read "Nobody likes a seat hog. Don't place bags on seats."

I stood leaning by the door glaring at her for awhile, but she never looked up.

Okay, my train ride is less than 30 minutes, so it wasn't the end of the world to stand. But when the train neared our final stop people began filing in to stand near the door. That's when the small talk began in earnest. The conductor walked in and started it with:

 "Whew-eee, it is a cold one out."

A woman next to me responded:"Sure is. Better crank up the heat."

Conductor: "A friend of mine called this morning and said it was 18 below zero in Cody, Wyoming. Said the chickens were frozen in the front yard."

(My initial reaction was why would anyone leave chickens out in their yard in 18 degrees below zero weather. Then I remembered he was talking about Wyoming and stopped trying to rationalize anything.)

Woman: "Wow!"

Conductor: "Yeah, all you had to do was pack the frozen chickens and ship them to the store. Cows were sure delivering cold milk, too!"

Woman (laughing) :  "Yeah! Can you turn up the heat outside when we get to the station? (More laughing...extroverts always laugh at their own witty banter).

Conductor:  "Turning the switch now."

The door opened.

Conductor: "Stay warm out there."

Woman: "I'll try! (more laughing).

I threw up a little in my mouth. Meanwhile the woman who had been taking up two seats with her laptop and bag, threw her stuff into a bag and pushed me aside to get out the door first when it opened.

If I didn't hate driving and could afford to park in downtown Seattle, I think I'd stop riding the train. 

Oh, and there is also the fact that I work for the company that runs the train. I just have to figure out a way to ban talking on trains.
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