Transit Etiquette

After years of working from home, I'm pretty new to this whole mass transit thing. Though I'm only commuting once a week, I've definitely noticed some odd coincidences in the mere handful of times I've taken the train to and from Manhattan.

Initially, I found idea of traveling to the city slightly thrilling following months of job searching at my dining room table wearing the same thing I'd slept in or worn the day (ok, the entire week) before. So, I embarked on this new venture with enthusiasm. I envisioned myself sitting near the window, watching the pastoral countryside slide past each time I'd glance up from the engrossing novel I'd be reading.

But unfortunately it's not quite working out like that. Let's just say I've had some odd distractions.

Usually when I take the train my biggest concerns involve my children NOT: 1) tripping the ticket taker, 2) licking the windows (don't ask), 3) contracting head lice while they aggressively mush their little heads into the seats' filthy upholstery.

But it seems even when you travel solo there are things that will startle, baffle and thoroughly disgust you. William Sorensen semi-scooped me in his clever and oh-so-accurate take on Metro North's Quiet Car which appeared in The New Yorker earlier this month.

While I do have issues with NJ Transit's version of the "Quiet Car," noise levels are, as my father is prone to saying, "the least of my worries."

Though, yes, I do aim to sit in the Quiet Car, more often than not lately I've been finding myself in the Flatulence Car. Perhaps you've had the displeasure of traveling in the Flatulence Car, sitting among a group of primarily well-dressed people who've decided for whatever reason that it's ok to "let one rip" after putting in a hard day's work. Because most of these tend to be the "SBD" (silent but deadly) variety (favored by teenage boys), the perpetrators technically aren't in violation of Quiet Car decorum. But still, should I have to find out like this that someone in this car had fajitas for lunch? Take your caboose to the toilet is all I'm asking.

When I'm not in the Flatulence Car, I often find myself in the Halitosis Car. One morning, I spent nearly the entire ride to work plagued by an awful stench not unlike the kind you'd encounter if you left Subway's Italian BMT footlong in the hot trunk of car for a day or two. Did I forget deodorant? I asked myself over and over again. Yes, it had a been a long, sweltering walk uphill to the train station, but surely, barring a hormonal imbalance, I couldn't smell this bad this early, could I? I was berating myself for not taking the time to do an extra few swipes back and forth with my Ladies Speed Stick when my fellow passenger emitted a belch that could've killed a small house cat.  Why are all my "Ah-Ha" moments so far from the ones Oprah is experiencing?

On the way home that day, I sat beside a man who would intermittently expel soft sighs that I took as evidence he'd just come from an early bird special consisting of dog feces and a side of monkey excrement. I wanted to say, "Please, on the off chance someone is coming to pick you up from the station, save your relationship by consuming an entire roll of breath mints before you even look at him/her. In the interim, stop exhaling like you're about to repel down a mountain and you're scared to death."

Another car I've inadvertently found myself traveling in is the Teenage Narcissist Car.  On my very first day, armed with Dear American Airlines (which I highly recommend), my trip in was marred by two of the loudest teenage girls I've ever encountered. Both wore expertly-crafted buns, so perfect and tightly-spun they'd have been the envy of Dance Moms everywhere. Even though it was barely 8 a.m., the duo wasn't shy about broadcasting their intentions to apply to Julliard. Typically it's so hard to resist the gentle call to eavesdrop but any interesting morsels of conversation were left on the platform as these two, like overgrown stars of Toddlers and Tiaras, cackled on about their "friends" who would also seek admittance to the elite performing arts school but "like totally don't have a chance!" From there, they reviewed Newsies ad nauseam at deafening volumes.

A week later, I was once again riding in the Teenage Narcissist Car when a girl regaled passengers with tales of what an awful mother she had because the woman wouldn't take a week off from work to tour a dozen college campuses in Pennsylvania with her.

"Can you believe that?" she willed her fellow travelers into a shared state of disbelief. "She says UPenn is competitive and I probably won't get in anyway. What the hell is she talking about?"

If only plucky self-righteousness were enough to land her a spot, she'd be a shoo-in.  And if I could've done anything, used any connections, to get those teens off the train immediately and into those classrooms, I'd have been only too glad to help.

While it's nice to get out of the house, dress like an adult and have a job, the commute has not been quite what I expected. But at least there's always the surprise of wondering which car I'll find myself in this week!


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