Standing room only
It’s a Monday morning—raining and cold—and I’m standing on the train again. As much as I like to bitch to friends and family about standing on the train, typically in the form of the 🙄 emoji, I secretly love it. In fact, whenever I see a lady standing, I always make it a point offer my seat. See mom, I’m not such a bad guy. Chivalry lives on.
Standing on the train requires your full attention. Sudden stops and jerks leave an unpredictability in the balance department. You’ll occasionally see some hotshot standing with his knees locked and hands in his pocket like he’s got it all under control. It’s comical to see the panic grab for a railing at the first major jerk of the train. Those hands are no longer in pockets for the rest of the ride. See what happens when you try to act cool, bozo? Don’t try to act cool.
My commute into Philadelphia typically runs me just short of an hour. The trains are always late but occasionally everything is on-time and it can be as quick as half an hour. Now you may think: “Michael, just drive into the city.” Well, pump the breaks Einstein. It’s not that simple. You see, Philadelphia has two major arteries to get into the city from the West. There is the Schukylkill Expressway, a death trap know officially as Interstate 76 or colloquially with an emphasis on the “Kill” Expressway. The second option, the Blue Route, dumps you into America’s East Coast death trap know as Interstate 95. Now here is the problem. Over 630,000 people commute into Philadelphia, and more than half of that number use personal transportation.
The traffic is brutal.
To give a little perspective, on a clear highway, which is never, you’re in the city in twenty-five minutes. On a normal day, it’s an hour and forty-five minutes. But it’s not just about the traffic. It’s also about the wasted time. On the train I can occupy myself with work, a good book, or writing a blog post like this one. You can’t really do that when you’re sitting in traffic can you? But this isn’t a story about maximizing my time or the shitty traffic patterns of the Philly Metro. This is a story about making connections. Most of those commuters who drive into the city do it solo. That’s lonely.
So on this wet Monday, packed on the Great Valley Flyer like sardines, there was a young man standing in front of me. He was visibly nervous, struggling to put headphones on and hold his coffee. I could tell he needed someone to talk to. So I asked him how his morning was and if he needed a hand. An innocuous question turned into forty-five minutes of the young man’s entire life: where he went to school, where he worked, his siblings, his favorite sports, and how nervous he was about starting his first big boy job in the city. I should’ve billed him for a therapy session, but as I told mom earlier; I’m a nice guy.
Without coming across as hubris, I know I helped the young man. As our conversation went on, he became less jittery and slowed down his talking. Imagine him sitting in traffic, stressed out and driving into the city, with all those nerves and anxieties festering in him. How uncomfortable. All he needed was someone to talk to, and the car radio sure as shit wasn’t going to give him that. Nonetheless, I didn’t catch his name but I’m sure I’ll see him again.
It’s my stop. Until next time.