Monday, June 4, 2007

Public Transportation = Theatre

I’m sure most of my fellow public transportation users will agree that on the whole it is usually a reliable and environmentally friendly way to get around town. It is also public theatre and this aspect of it is not to be underestimated. Get a bunch of T riders together and we can tell some pretty weird stories about our experiences on public transportation. Here are some of the things I’ve seen:

- Flipflops with power suits. I’m just saying.

- I once saw a lady wearing flip flops who had painted only the nails on her big toes bright red. The other 8 little toes were left naked and undecorated. They looked sad to me.

- I do not understand women who put on their makeup while riding the T. I mean, it’s fascinating to watch in a “wow, she’s really doing that, can’t look away, shouldn’t stare, can’t look away” sort of way. But quite apart from the jolting-ness, which is bound to interfere with technique, this is PUBLIC transportation. If makeup is supposed to help you look more publicly presentable, isn’t there an implied assumption that before or during makeup application, you are sort of … well, LESS than publicly presentable? (Obviously this doesn’t apply to the naturally gorgeous types who never wear makeup.) Isn’t this a little like putting on deodorant in public? In my opinion, yes, it is exactly like that. One’s morning toilette should be completed before one steps out the front door. End of story.

- Train station musicians. Usually okay, rarely really good, occasionally truly excruciating. One guy was singing a song the other day about whatever came into his head when you walked by: when someone with an Old Navy shopping bag walked by he sang about that. When someone with a dog walked by, he sang about that. When someone flipped him off, he sang about that. It was a day to be truly thankful for the prompt arrival of my train.

- I once rode home at night on at train that was occupied at one end by a raucous group of very drunk men. Drunk men who may not have had occasion to bathe in a while. At one point one of the drunk men came lurching over very close to me and leaned in for kiss. At the last panicked moment I realized he was kissing the woman sitting beside me, and that apparently she knew him and was mildly interested in returning the kiss. I nearly had a heart attack before all of this became clear though – it really looked and felt like the weird drunk guy had suddenly decided to lay one on me and I wasn’t going to be able to move fast enough to get away. Near miss. Whew!

- A few weeks ago as my train pulled into Harvard Station a man fainted dead away in the middle of the after-work crowd. About 10 commuters leapt to the rescue, gathering his belongings, checking on him, preparing to do CPR if necessary. It was a very crowded train so he actually didn’t bang into the floor – he just collapsed on the people next to him. He recovered but fainted again, so the group nearest him helped carry him off the train and made sure his briefcase and jacket were with him. They called for help. As our train pulled out of the station I could see them all gathered around him. Like many T stories, I don’t know how this one ends.

- Last year I was waiting at South Station for someone. There are lots of little iron tables there where you can eat and read. Kind of like lawn furniture, but inside. So I’m sitting at one little green table and watching the people sitting at other ones. A man in his early 30s in a business suit approached an empty table and sat down. He took out a paper bag and out of that he pulled a bottle of foot powder, the kind that helps you combat athlete’s foot. He then proceeded to take off his shoes and socks and shake that powder all over his feet RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. He didn’t bother to clean up the extra powder he left on the floor. I was – and still am – completely horrified by this. Even thinking about it gives me the icky-shimmies. I’m not sure if it’s just the grossness in general, the not cleaning it up, or that he did that in public without a qualm. Utterly qualmless. Shudder. (I wonder if some poor woman out there is dating this fellow and has yet to discover that he’s the kind of guy who applies medicated foot powder in public…)

- When my sister came to visit last year she brought Baby Seth, who was at the time 11 months old. Seth had never been on a subway or a train or anything like it. Seth’s usual mode of travel is in a big car with his brothers. But he took to public transportation as if he’d never known anything else, completely unfazed by the roaring, the screeching brakes, the beeps for the doors, the loud garbled announcements. And being one of my nephews, Seth was born genetically programmed to charm the general public. He sat seriously in his stroller and surveyed all the people around him. Once he had identified the stranger who appeared the least interested in him, he turned on the full power of his charm. (Seth is not all that interested in easy conquests.) Huge brown eyes, demure and flirtatious eyelashes, no fewer than 5 dimples, pudgy little baby hand waves – all of this was aimed like a laser beam at his chosen one. And then, the killer finale: once he had established contact he would stop smiling, turn those solemn unblinking eyes on that person, extend his baby hand palm out, and *lean* from the shoulder in a gesture of pure yearning. Worked every time. That baby made more friends on the T in 2 days that most people make here in years.

- Red Sox home games. More Red Sox paraphernalia and fans in one place than you’ll see anywhere outside of Fenway. Fairly regular sight of a city full of differences temporarily united.

- One Sunday morning in New York a few months ago I got on a train on the Upper West Side, headed downtown. A tall African American woman in a very nice church dress was standing in the middle of the car. As soon as the train started moving she launched into a passionate sermon about Jesus, about not doing drugs, about not coveting another woman’s husband, and about how black people need to get their own PhDs because that’s what white people sure are doing. She was quite adamant and persuasive, and she said it all without holding on to any of the bars or straps in the car: she was ‘subway surfing’. In heels and a long chiffon skirt, I might add. All the people on the car just quietly listened. There wasn’t a lot of eye contact, but no one argued with her, a few uttered quiet ‘amens.’ It was quite a gentle crowd, really, for a New York subway. At the end of her sermon – she ran out of steam about 59th Street – she sat down next to me and pulled out an introductory psychology text book and began reading the chapter about the differences between mental health and mental illness. I have occasionally wondered since then what would motivate me to stand up in a subway car in Manhattan and give a passionate sermon about anything, anything at all.

- My all-time favorite weird scene on a train: It was autumn. My train pulled into the Kendall/MIT station. A woman in her mid-40s in tailored professional clothes, including a trench coat, stepped out of the train. She bumped into a mid-40s professional man she apparently knew. They stopped and talked for a moment. She reached into her pocket and pulled out…. a bright yellow rubber ducky. She gave it to him. He did not appear in any way surprised by this. He put the ducky in his pocket. They parted and headed in two different directions down the platform. My train pulled out. I have no idea if the ducky was some sort of clue, gift, or secret spy communication. The ducky changed hands and that was that.


Stacey said...

Wow...The MAX (Portland's light rail train system) has nothing on those stories!! Although, it still feels a bit like a parallel universe at times. (insert rolling of eyes)

l-bean said...

My two favorite public transportation stories, both of which happened when I lived in Fort Collins and rode the bus.

1) It snows in the winter, which lasts forever. One snowy day riding the bus to work, we gracefully slide sideways through an intersection. Terrifying, yet no one said anything. We all went along as if it were normal. Maybe it is. Being from southern Arizona, I'd never experienced anything like it.

2) There was a guy at the stop who started out a conversation by telling me since he now had his own place I could come by and visit whenever I'd like. Never seen the guy before, so that was weird. He asked if I had a boyfriend. "Yes, I do." I didn't, but you know how that would have gone. "What's your boyfriend's name?" "Jeff," I replied. He answered, "I know Jeff. Tell him I said hello." My favorite part of the story was when I told Jeff about this episode, he said in all seriousness, "Oh really, I know him?"

Daisyface said...

I read this last Friday before lunch and then went out to lunch in a cafe in Bourke Street (main street in Melbourne). While we were eating lunch my friend and I were stopped mid-sentence (no mean feat) by the sight of a man walking down Bourke Street pushing a pram with his 2 young kids... wearing a full body wetsuit. In the middle of winter, in full public view. Not sure what that was all about, but we formulated some theories:
* He has a contagious skin disease and the wetsuit is protecting us all,
* He has a rubber fetish and a wetsuit is the least weird manifestation that he can get away with in public, or
* He's one of Melbourne's many weirdo freaks.

Pumpkin said...

I'm loving the rubber ducky story....see, that's something that would and most likely will intrigue me my brain is gonna fight it's way through several wierd reasons for the 'passing of the duck' I have too much time on my hands.