Monday, July 26, 2010

Commuting Protocol.

It was 6:30 p.m. at Penn Station and I was standing with a group of people looking at the train departures screen, waiting for my train's boarding gate to come up. I'd been staked out here on the lower floor for half an hour now, and my Amtrak Northeast Regional train to D.C. was late -- later than the screen implied.

Most of the other Amtrak passengers were upstairs with the big flip-letter board, where I like them. The downstairs area is slightly less chaotic, and more the domain of local commuters. Group after group assembled and rapidly dispersed around me, as train after train to New Jersey was called. I stuck by my spot at the pillar near the screen, and another woman seemed stuck there too. We both stared blankly ahead, resigned.

Suddenly, our vision was obscured by a tall workaday guy in a plaid buttoned shirt and khakis, iPod earbuds firmly in place along with his cluelessness. He planted himself right in front of me, the other woman, and the three or four people behind us who were all trying to see the screen. I sighed and peered around his shoulder.

The woman next to me did not have this option, as she was several inches shorter. She tapped the guy on the shoulder. When he turned around to look, earbuds still in place, she made a quick windshield-wiper motion with her right hand that said, Get out of the way, dumbass.

He gave her a deeply perturbed look. "What's your problem?" he said, shifting a little but not really moving.

"We were here. You can't just come stand in front of everybody," she said. I had to give her credit. I am not that ballsy.

The guy looked like he was going to argue. "Dude. You're standing in front of a bunch of people," I said, but I couldn't tell whether he heard, because his earbuds were still in.

He reluctantly moved off to the side, and kept mean-mugging the woman. She, in turn, gave me a stony stare that said, "Can you believe this?" and possibly "Will you be my second?" This made the d.b. turn and cast his glare on me too, with confusion and anger in equal measure. I darted a glance and a smile toward the woman that said, "What a d.b., right?" and then stared straight ahead, monitoring the sitch in my peripheral. I felt conflicted. Part of me wanted to stare the d.b. down, but the other part of me just wanted to be on a train home and not really here at all.

He really kept up the hating as he stood there, which surprised me, because he looked like a total office/family type -- medium build, not very in shape, pretty unremarkable in every way. Yet he was determined to mean-mug right up until his train came and he had to leave. Like he was a tough guy and we were all dudes in a nightclub or something. I couldn't imagine that whatever he was listening to on his iPod -- Train? An NPR Podcast? Peter Bjorn and John? -- could really be fomenting his rage. It was completely self-sustained. After about two minutes he left when his train was called. It was a local one, and I didn't get how he managed to do this commute regularly and yet fail to grasp the basic screen etiquette that everyone else seemed able to master.

When he was gone, the woman next to me shot me another piercing sideways glance. She was short, slight, blond and was wearing a neutral-colored suit. I looked back at her. She was talking to me, but I had my own earbuds in.

"What?" I said, taking an earbud out.

"I said, I thought that guy was going to kick my ass," she said. She had a look of disbelief on her face.

"He was just being a dick," I countered, not sure what else to say.

She affirmed this. "I'm glad you said something," I added, and put my earbud back in. But I felt like she deserved more than that, in a weird way. She'd stood up for both our screen rights, and was clearly weirded out.

I took my earbud back out. "I would have had your back," I said to her. "I think we both could have taken him." That seemed to make her face relax a bit. She nodded and we laughed.

And you know what? I bet we could have. A guy like that might even deserve to get roughed up by two skinny chicks. To be honest, I couldn't really picture it, even though I tried to as I walked to my train after it was finally announced. But I felt unreasonably sure that somehow, justice would have prevailed.

Music: "Stand Up"


  1. You had to go and tell people about the "secret" waiting area, huh?

  2. Ha, I seriously debated about that. But rest assured, I have a very very limited NYC readership.

  3. sounds like every other day in the kitchen at my office

  4. Those of us who know NYC anyway already know about the secret spot.

  5. I haven't quite mastered Union Station's secret spots tho.


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