Metro: A Soft key radio and the Melting pot

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As an informal student of Ethnology, I was excited to start a three-month contract at a work place which was 30 miles away from home and that I will have to get there via our city Metro everyday. Just imagine what it would do for my blog!

So between home and work and back, my time is filled and my thoughts inundated with a surge of understanding the human behavior. The crowd is at its best in the evenings, noisy and full of life! Why the coworkers or friends only meet while on their way back home and not in the mornings is incredulous. It is also ironic that I write about the value of human touch, voices and expressions, when people around me are text messaging, watching videos and mostly listening only through their ear phones. 

Today, as I enter into the train at 4:04pm, an African American guy (wearing crocs), gets up and offers his seat. I am grateful for two things, there wouldn’t be any smell of urine inside the train, and because, just like me, he is trying hard to break the fetters of stereotypes. “Sir, are you sure you don’t want to sit?”, I ask him as I sit down and give him a thank you gesture, “No, no problem!”, he says, “Well, I might want to sit, because it is just a coincidence that I had knee surgery last week”, “Hmmm, well that’s too bad, I just want to sit and you get to stand up for the next one hour for offering up your seat!”. We both chuckle, much like it was some kind of an inside joke. Then, almost instantly, we both slip into a state of indifference, which is commonly associated with coma-inducing high-tech gadgets.

“We both murderers; because we kill time.” Lil Wayne hip hops loudly into my ears through my co-passenger’s ear phones. I appreciate good soulful literature, but because the girl is reading “Tried by War” by James M. McPherson, I have to assume she does too.

I survey the train car, and turn on Pandora and look out the window as I hear my favorite song. Looking out helps me quell my curiosity and not peasant stare at people at what they are up to. And in the downtown area the Metro runs under ground, so my ears are just not filled with music all the time. This small detail is significant, I assure you. 

The train is about to move away from the station, and I see a gentleman mouthing words as he misses getting in through the closing doors. Would he have saved those few seconds at the ticketing gate if he hadn’t slowed down for the guy to pass in front of him?

Metro Map
The Metro Route

At the Arts Center, a Hispanic woman enters into our train car with three children. She had to be coming back from work, maybe utilized the government subsidized day care for the babies. They all looked lovely, just thankful to see one another at the end of a long working day.. I peep into my handbag, and after a good 15 minutes of thinking about etiquette, cultural interpretations and so many other random stuff, I offer the mom 2 lollipops, which she grabs politely. The older gets one for himself and the two little ones share the second one. Wow, that was simple, there was no problem to begin with. Especially because moms make miracles happen!

Another mother had arrived with her teenage son and as she sat diagonally across to me, her eyes wandered. Two minutes later, she picked up her bags, pointed him to a different seat and land there. Less than a minute later, they are already targeting their next move. What is the best seat on the Metro anyway, the driver’s? How are the Metro commuters in Japan or India dealing with their discomfort of being surrounded by so many people, that their lungs can barely expand?

At a distance, in one of the seats, I see this beautiful girl. I had to compose myself and not stare at her risking an embarrassment to both of us. But I must have had a good look at her, because I wanted to know where such a woman can possibly be working, what I had to study to work with her, if she also had self-image issues like me, or whether she considered herself beautiful in the mirror. Her hair, her nail paint, her dress, her laptop bag, her shoes. Until… She gave out a big yawn that made me jump out of my reverie and figure out that she was just a simple girl on her way to work.

And just when I felt my day wasn’t going to get any better, a familiar smell permeates my nostrils. I look around and see a 7-year-old Chinese boy with crayons and papers in hand. His tiny scribbles seem to make a lot of sense to his parents, but I know where the boy and I connect. The childhood, the crayons, their discernible smell, just make me curl up and cry wondering where those days of my unaccountable life went away.

The flight attendant had been standing for a while, he now sits down next to me where the hip hop girl was before. He is courteous to return my smile, asks me how the weather has been, all the while checking his reflection on the window. He pops a gum in his mouth, and offers me one. We talk about his travel, how good he feels to be back home, his condominium which was not selling and a lot more things. At Midtown (station), he gets down after wishing me a great life. The two Architecture students who have been listening on us giggle and high-five each other. And sneer at him as he passes by our window to get to the escalator. I felt pity for those guys. I wanted to explain to them that I have had my issues with a preconceived notions, but honestly, after becoming a parent, something inside me changed. I still see myself as the same person, just more fragile, tolerant and forgiving (of norms).

While working my thoughts, my eyes eventually land on this guy at the back. I see him every day like it was some kind of a ritual. I am sure he knows me and so many of our other companions on the evening train, even though he refuses to make any form of eye contact with me or anyone else. These kind, I call, “I don’t want to get into any trouble” kind of people. 

This Metro stint is coming to an end depending on my when my office moves in the next couple of weeks, but through this “journey” I have overheard a lot of different conversations. A daughter comforting her mother telling her that a soft copy should be available with her doctor’s office and she doesn’t have to worry about her lost medical (paper) records. The cordial discussion between a Vietnamese entrepreneur and a Vietnam War Veteran. The soft banter of a dozen Korean students in English. A middle-aged man feverishly working his blackberry and a 20 something guy with a news ‘paper’.

And then some people just have a profound influence on you. Even if the interaction with them is not direct or even if it is minimal, they just make a mark. Like the lady who gets off at Brookhaven. Wasn’t she the one who wiped off a water puddle on the seat next to her, to make place for a guy who was looking for a place to sit? 

A couple come and get seated in the place of the two men who were talking about the flight attendant dude. At the first go, I get a feeling that they are mutually courting each other, with sly smiles and remarks. I am happy my radio has no signal, so I listen to the conversation, because my sad-being was in need of an evening scandal. They chat, and then there is momentary silence. She says, after drawing a deep breath. “It is going to be 25 bucks an hour.” He pauses sliding his fingers up and down her hand and landing them on her shoulder. “Really?”. She goes, “Yah, coz you are young!”.

I freeze, gulp a big ball of air, arch my eyebrows, and look down into my lap to see if I was invisible by any chance. Nope, and as if to reassure my existence, my radio comes back alive. The train stops, and outside my window a man passes by in his battery operated wheel chair, while I lie there motionless.

Eventually my station arrives, I get down, and in many ways, I move on while still struggling to keep my morbid compulsions of judgement towards my fellow Earth dwellers at bay. 

People and Relationships are complicated, if life were a journey in a metro, people get on and get off, you switch on and switch off their thoughts. The meaning of a relationship still lies on how it withers the passage of time and the storms of trust and prejudice. 

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21 Comments

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  1. This was so much fun. I’ve lived on a tiny island where I enjoy a thoroughly rural lifestyle. It has been years since I’ve had the experience of riding public transit, feeling such closeness with strangers and practicing ‘long eye’. It’s interesting that in spite of all the technological progression, my ride with you over the last 10 minutes, has changed little.

    Thanks for taking me on your trip. Do I owe you a token? :)

    • Soul, Thank you for your comments, I am so happy that my piece feels timeless to you.. I have been secretly reading your Canada / Mother Teresa story, want to write a long review, so holding off till the end. Just like you, I am always there with you inside your car looking at two beautiful women in awe! I am talking about part 1.
      :) Rach.

  2. Interesting and very entertaining – I enjoyed your thoughts a lot!

  3. This was a great masterpiece of observation. We all have our own different journeys in life, but nothing is greater and far more pleasurable then getting to experience someone else’ life, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You’ll always be wondering, “What was wrong with that girls mother that she needed to visit the doctor?”, “What was that man paying for per hour, sex or golf lessons?”, “What will become of that flight attendant that was so pleasant to talk to?”, and “Will the man with the surgery be okay?”. It’s fascinating at how one ride on a public transport (Of any sort) can fill your day and life with joy, awkwardness, and of course….wonder. It did take about five minutes to read but was well worth it. I love how you told the story, for I was able to see myself on that metro, seeing everything you described and how it took place. Keep up the good work.

    Mr. Mojo Risin

    • Mojo, thanks for your review, and most importantly for sticking with me and my blog, I appreciate everyone’s time on any given day, and it makes me feel special that someone would spend a few minutes of their busy life to give me a great review and make me so happy. I wanted to show that I was wondering why people were so prejudiced towards others when I was being that way myself. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Its an interesting piece .. transformed a dull/mundane routine going-to-office train ride .. a very learning and joyful experience ..

  5. Rachana,
    I really enjoyed following your ride and observations. It was as though I was sitting there with you. People watching is one of my favorite past times and you allowed me to see how you observe things and you did so by picking great characters and moments in time and then did a fantastic job of describing them. You mentioned human touch… I recently wrote a blog post about touch… : http://stephenkellogg.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/touch-the-endangered-art-form-of-communication-pondering/
    Take a look if you have a minute… ps care to share what your favorite song is??? I also enjoyed the fact that you use .. a lot in your writing… I do the same thing but use 3 instead :D

    Thanks for the ride…

    Peace,

    Stephen

    • Thanks Stephen, your visit means its an honor.. Yes, I am happy that you found my composition of “moments in time” comprehensible! And please forgive me for bombarding your site with my comments, you are a great artist at heart!

      Rachana

  6. Great essay! I use public transit every day and found this very reflecting of some of my experiences. It is amazing how much attention we pay to the people around us, even before any spark of relationship develops — to be sure of our outward appearance we need mirrors and people are the best mirrors one can get for the purpose!

    Short of a technology projecting holographic images of people around us with which we can pretend to interact, I think no earpieces, loud music or any similar technology can trump the urge to look at the reflective images of ourselves coming from the eyes, face, mimes and other signs sent to us by other people.

    The technology provides a comfort not unlike the darkened windows of a car — we can watch with no risk to be caught doing so. If this is true, public transit may turn into a big peep show — and a boring one at that as there will be no actors on stage, just audience. I believe the system would balance itself by ensuring that there’re always enough actors for the show to keep going, so the risk of technology killing our regular relationships might be just the stuff of bad sci-fi movie ;-)

    P.S. This essay made me think I can guess why you were attracted to my Nature vs. Nurture series http://mybin.wordpress.com/nature-vs-nurture-series. I suspect we’re both interested in decoding relationships and behavior, except I am trying to understand personality development from childhood to adulthood and I am looking at patterns and correlations as the keys to decode the secrets, while you use stories and personal experiences in your deciphering.

    • Kima, thanks for taking time to visit and comment. It means a lot, and yes indeed, when you say it, it does feel like a bad sci-fi movie! We might just have to see if people will embrace relationships in their personal form, or keep living in the virtual world. For now, I am teaching my boys what I can.. and thanks to you for showing the way! Great public service you do! And thank you for your twitter link, appreciate that.
      Rachana.

  7. smart and fun post..
    http://jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/thursday-poets-rally-week-29-sept-23-29/

    hello, friend:

    I invite you to Attend Thursday Poets Rally Week 29, linking in a poem by commenting,

    Happy Thursday!

  8. Jingle, thanks for stopping by! I have no idea how you do it, but I might be getting an idea, you are just an inspiration personification. I keep going thinking of people like you.
    It is an honor to have you in my (blog) life!
    Rachana.

  9. Hi Rachana,
    Loved the trip on public transit with you. You cracked me up with the two suckers and three children part of it. I doubt I could read or listen to music with everything going on as I am not used to the normal sights and sounds of public transit. I will be reading more. Thank-you for dropping by my blog today and leaving a comment. I’m an avid reader, so will take in your writing. Thumbs up to your five year old artist! There is something to be said for mark making and I hope he stays inspired!

  10. There’s nothing of the suburban or rural in me; so, I absolutely enjoyed this vicarious trip on a subway train. I haven’t ridden one in years and years and actually enjoyed it and miss it now.

    Nicely written with lots of got bits of insight and colorful images and impressions. I enjoyed it very much. Most appreciate your saying: “Especially because moms make miracles happen.” :-) Personal bias! And, agree that we change when we become parents.

    Morbid compulsions: an everyday battle …

    Well done.

  11. My response to Kima’s article:
    The social train:
    Newly formed Moon base..?? Kima, you got me there.. and I had to see the tags, to see it is Fiction, Ha ha.. Smart write! And .. “gathered donations to buy off train cars and buses to simulate stranger closeness, smell and touch..” Creative!!
    Thanks Kima for the Trackback, it means a lot coming from you, and I am honored, thanks so much!!
    BTW, you better patent ‘Tranzt Wrld’ before somebody steals your idea in the year 2050.. :)

  12. Every time I read a good post I do a few things:1.Forward it to my relevant friends.2.save it in some of the common social bookmarking websites.3.Make sure to visit the same blog where I came across the post.After reading this article I am seriously thinking of going ahead and doing all 3.

    • Thank you, I had a compulsion to rescue this from the Spam folder, because it seems to be a nicely worded troll. Thanks for your support and if your kitchen is on clearance, I would appreciate a brand new dishwasher and a refrigerator to be shipped of immediately.. Thanks!!
      With gratitude,
      The Blog Trollers’ Feedback Society:
      (Inspired after a friend, Amy, who would leave lovely feedback for ‘messages’ from trollers.. !)

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