Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Strangers on a Train

I boarded the L train at Belmont Avenue this morning and sat down next to a chunky young man wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey. One stop later, at Wellington, a woman boarded. She was a little out of breath, probably because there is no escalator at the Wellington station and she’d probably just climbed the stairs. Still, she seemed nimble and energetic. She immediately made eye contact with the young man next to me and pointed sharply to the side, indicating that he should get up. In case that wasn’t clear, she followed it up by saying, “I should be sitting there because of both age and disability.” Her age seemed indisputably to be approaching 70 or so, so there’s no arguing against her age qualifications. As for any disability, we will have to take her word for it. To his credit, the young man did not hesitate to rise, and he smilingly surrendered his seat to her.

The next character in this scene is Bicycle Man. We’d all had to step around him and his bike to get to and from our seats. He was a fortyish fellow who looked as if he could have been Lewis Black’s kid brother, though he seemed to have a sunnier disposition than Mr. Black’s dyspeptic stage persona. Bicycle Man tried to engage the woman next to me in a conversation about giving up one’s seat to older people. He couldn’t say enough good things about his own upbringing; how he’d been raised “the right way” to defer to the elderly. The woman seemed pleased by this exchange. She then motioned towards his bike and said, “Back home, I ride my bike all the time, but you can’t go more than 12 miles an hour around here.” I wanted to congratulate her on overcoming her disability to ride her bike so enthusiastically, but it didn’t seem like the right moment. She then said, “We don’t have public transportation where I come from.” It seemed painfully obvious that she wanted someone to ask her where exactly she came from, but no one took the bait. After a moment, she sighed and stated that she came from Vermont, though she failed to explain how she’d ended up in Chicago. I suspect it may have been the result of a weekend bicycling trip that got out of hand, but that’s pure speculation.

Just then, we pulled into the Armitage station. Another woman, apparently somewhat older than the woman next to me, began to exit. As she passed by Bicycle Man, he wished her a good day. He reached out towards her and it looked as if one of his fingers may have brushed against her arm. She turned sharply and said, “Don’t you touch me! You keep your hands to yourself!” And then she was gone.

That little glitch had the effect of discouraging further conversation on everyone’s part. The only exception was the deaf man across the aisle to my left. He was speaking in sign language with the woman next to him, periodically making an odd sound that I took to be laughter. Before long, Bicycle Man decided to try inserting himself into their conversation, thought it seemed clear that he knew no sign language. This did not stop him from earnestly making big hand motions in an effort to tell a story about his bicycle. He seemed blissfully unaware that he’d just interrupted someone else’s conversation, but the couple took it all in stride as if they’d encountered his type before.

At the Washington/Wells station, all of the aforementioned folks exited together. For all I know, they may still be standing on the platform chatting away, though I doubt it. No moral here. No proper denouement for that matter. Just an odd confluence of characters who briefly met in the Twilight Zone.

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