April 27, 2004

Train Buddies

I mentioned before, in passing, the concept of commuting time as not being real time, as existing only in the interstices of your day. It is time defined more by what it isn't than what it is. What I mean is that it is time where you aren't: at work; at home; running errands; seeing friends; or playing with your children. See what I mean? It is time that doesn't fit nicely into the niche that is your daily life. It is time that is defined by the fact that it isn't any of those activities which constitute your daily existence. So what is it? I think of it as bubble time or time that is caught between your daily activities, which is why I consider it to be existing in the interstices -- its in between time. I think its a fascinating concept.

If, like me, you commute to work by commuter rail then you are probably in a seat, in a quiet train with relatively considerate fellow commuters who also value quiet (assuming you commute at rush hour or before). Maybe you read, maybe you sleep, maybe you listen to music. Maybe you just exist. If you are a to-do list, goal oriented person, maybe this is the only time of the day you can't be that, so you sort of shut down and exist. I can't explain it any better than that but if you look around the train in the morning you see people who are doing nothing and have such blank, sometimes almost slack, faces. Personally, I read the news paper or a book or a magazine on the way in. On the way home, much the same for me. Many people bring cocktails or beer or wine on the train home. That can make it a very civilized ride and I speak there from occasional but personal experience.

So, perhaps you agree with me that commuting starts out that way, at least. But what happens in the time you are waiting to commute. You know, you get to the station a couple of minutes early to get a good spot on the platform because the doors open more or less at the same spot every day. So you get there early to make sure you get your choice of seats on the train. But you are not alone. People are creatures of habit and more often than not will pick their group or spot on the platform. What happens when you see the same people every morning? Well, no matter how early it is, you eventually start to talk to them. Then you get your train buddies.

Train buddies are people who also only exist for you in this in-between world. You may never know their names. Sure, you may have exchanged names but you don't really remember them and the fact is that the names are not important. You know them by details and that is how you think of them. There is Bond Trader who sometimes commutes with Pretty Blond Fiancee. There is Euro Trader. There is Bow Tie guy. There is Real Estate Lawyer. There is Fire Lieutenant Jacket guy, who is always first at the platform. There is English guy. That's about it. By the way, almost all of them are men at 6:15 in the morning.

So, these guys exist in the margins only. What's odd, though, is the intimacy of the relationships. Fire guy knew I had applied for a new job that would have taken me to Florida to live. Something my parents certainly did not know. I know where Euro Trader's daughter is going to college and what she plans to study. I know about Bond Trader's former dating habits in the local bars (lots of foreign nannies) and his new wedding plans (his fiancee is a doll). I know about English guy's medical issues. I know that Bow Tie's wife just lost her job and he talked about how that will effect their house renovation plans. This is intimate stuff. And you know what else? All this takes place in no more than a 5-10 minute period shortly after 6:00 each morning. It stops when you get on the train because then you are in your bubble and no one wants to talk any more.

But, these guys are your train buddies. Keepers of intimate details of your life. You only see them for a couple of minutes a day and you may not even know their names. Maybe that's why the relationship works. Maybe we can only be intimate with others outside of our social/family circle if the main characteristic of the relationship is its anonymity.

Either way, I remain fascinated by the concept of time that you inhabit that exists only in the intersections of your life and filled with people who exist there with you.

Posted by Random Penseur at April 27, 2004 08:15 AM
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