It was 4:55 pm. and my regular train lurched into Suburban Station, its wheels emitting a high-pitched squeal as it slowed along the platform. With a pneumatic hiss, the doors opened and passengers exited through a narrow path made by the parting of new passengers waiting to board. I shuffled in behind a lady lugging a wheeled case and I quickly located an empty seat in the last row of the car. I slid in against the window and pulled my current book* out of my bag, opened it up and proceeded to lose myself on the commute homeward. The last few passengers trickled in and the train again chugged to life.
Less that five minutes later, the train pulled into Market East Station and more passengers, finished with the workday, boarded. I had just begun reading a passage, when I was distracted by someone plopping themselves down into the remaining eighteen inches of ass-space available in the double-seater that I occupied. I scrunched myself closer to the window. My new seatmate, a large, broad-shouldered man wielding a well-worn leather briefcase shifted and adjusted with no regard for my personal space.
And he smelled. Bad. Real bad. An elusive mixture of sweat, dirt and the smell that comes from the bulk plywood department at Home Depot.
The center aisle became clogged with passengers left to stand as each seat filled. I was trapped. I was wedged against the window, my head turned away to avoid the stench. I was careful to twist my body away so my seatmate's clothing would not brush up against me. And I had two more stops to go.
I held my breath and read my book, hoping the descriptive text would be a distraction. It wasn't. In my peripheral vision, I could see him fiddling with his iPhone, his elbows resting on his briefcase which was now horizontal across his lap. How could he not know he stinks? I could see the two backpacked students we picked up at Temple University Station standing in the aisle covertly gesturing to each other and giving this guy "the look." They could smell him, how could he not be aware?
Just as the contents of my stomach began to churn, the conductor announced "Elkins Park" — my stop. I mustered up an "Excuse me, please." and the odorous passenger stood and allowed me to exit. I bolted down the aisle, nearly bumping into the woman with the wheeled case waiting to exit herself.
I walked across the station parking lot and I laughed as I thought that some unsuspecting soul surely took my seat.
* This time, it's comedian Jay Mohr's 2004 memoir Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live.