For me, the train is the best place to people watch. The BART and Caltrain in the Bay Area, the L in Chicago, the subways of New York and Seoul.
You’re sitting in a car full of strangers who are all going about their lives, usually brushing off anybody that dares to observe and eavesdrop on them.
The train is a great place to observe humanity in an honest and naked way. You hear people talk freely with their friends, their words traveling from their seat to yours. You see people doze off and lay their heads on scratched windows. You feel shoulders bump without apology or pardon begged. It’s a communal experience that also highlights the tunnel vision of today’s society. Everyone is within touching distance, but nobody bothers to connect on the train.
It’s a weird place that’s good for a few moments and stories.
One day, as I was going from San Francisco to Mountain View, I had heard some ratchet young’ns make a ruckus in the seat behind mine. It was an event that I like to cite when emphasizing the importance of the subtleties of language. When one change, one inflection, one small mangle of our words, and the meaning changes. Just because it’s undetectable to you, it doesn’t mean that shift doesn’t exist.
Girl 1: I fuckin’ love the Raiders yo. Imma get a tattoo on my chest that says “Raider Girl” on it.
Girl 2: Oh yeah, me too. You should totally get “Raiderette” on your chest!
Girl 1: “Raiderette?!” Uh-uh, na. That’s hella hoey.
Undetectable to you and I, but still, a shift that exists.
Another day, I was on the Brown Line going from Lincoln Square to West Loop to meet some friends. Alone in a foreign city is one of the few times I can observe without distraction. I saw a couple get on the train and bicker, and this incident simply reinforced what I learned in my years in a relationship: never, ever air that dirty laundry in public.
Husband: MAN I AINT EVEN TOUCH THAT BITCH. YOU GIVIN ME SO MUCH SHIT OVER NOTHIN.
Wife: DON’T YOU EVEN LIE. I SAW YOU GRAB THAT BITCH TITTIE LIKE SHE WAS YO MAMA.
Husband: NOW I KNOW YOU AINT SAYIN SHIT BOUT MY MAMA LIKE DAT.
Wife: WATEVA, YO MAMA GOT A FUCKIN CHEESE FACE ANYWAY.
I almost made the mistake of laughing at dirty laundry. Holding in laughter for such a prolonged period is like holding off impending diarrhea.
A few days ago, I was again on the Caltrain to watch the GSP-Hendricks fight with the boys back in San Jo. As I rushed to find a seat on a half-crowded train, I sat behind two young girls who might or might not have been in high school. I didn’t get a great look at their faces, but I did hear their life story play out from SoMa all the way to Mountain View, which was about an hour and 15 minutes on a local weekend schedule.
It was weird, seeing two girls open up to each other to the point of tears. I thought they were drunk, but they didn’t reek of alcohol and it was too early for most young’ns to start shooting liquor.
“I love you. You taught me how to love, and I’ll always love you for that.”
Friendships can be coalesced on the train. It’s a semi-cramped space where you construct your own bubble and create your own conversation in spite of all the strange ears that suck in each noise and every sentence that floats about the atmosphere of the train car.
It reminded me of my own apathy and my own comforted state while shooting shit and acting a fool with my friends on the Caltrain, the L, the Subway…
In any case, it provided a nice backdrop as I made more headway on Love in the Time of Cholera. A book that I enjoy, but also a book I probably can’t recommend to most of my friends.
“Dis Florentino Ariza mothafucka is kind of a little bitch. But dis Fermina Daza bitch is kind of a hoe for doin him dirty like dat tho.”