Taking the train to work for nearly four years has been a wonderful experience for someone like me. By that, I mean someone who continually marvels at the inherent stupidity of humans. I am astonished by the utter lack of intelligence displayed by people and my daily commute on the train offers me an insightful glimpse at a cross-section of society where stupidity plays a major role. From businessmen with briefcases to students with book bags to women with environmentally-friendly, reusable shopping bags they overpaid for at pretentious Trader Joe's, stupidity is rampant. The world has evolved into a bunch of self-centered, oblivious, inconsiderate sacks of blood, bones, organs and nerves — but sadly — no brains. They come fully equipped with a cellphone and an iPod and a Sudoku book and a Kindle and a Starbucks Venti (and now Trenta, for those morons who wish to feel more superior in their feeble grasp of bastardized corporate Italian) and any other trendy doo-dad that some marketing focus group told them they needed. When the train pulls into the station, the doltish masses shuffle in front of one another, vying to be the first one aboard. Grown men step unchivalrously ahead of women. (I grew up in the heyday of the Women's Lib movement, but for Christ's sake, this is a matter of courtesy!) Once on the train, the idiotic cretins territorialize more than their share of seat allotment and become visibly irritated when asked to relinquish space to accommodate another paying passenger. Then, for the duration of their journey, they stare in wonder at their electronic device du jour and mentally play out the workday ahead — a day that will no doubt be filled with banging into office walls and bumping mindlessly into co-workers until five o'clock, because these imbeciles are not capable of accomplishing anything more.
The train that I take every morning makes four stops before arriving at my destination in downtown Philadelphia. The third stop is Temple University. Founded 127 years ago, Temple is the 26th largest university in the United States. It is a respected institute of higher learning, shaping the minds of future leaders and boasting a vast array of distinguished alumni* including former Philadelphia mayor John Street, award winning screenwriter Richard Brooks, comedians Bill Cosby and Bob Saget and political activist Noam Chomsky. This morning, I saw one of the future shining stars on my train. He was scrunched in a corner seat which he shared with a woman struggling over a Seek and Find puzzle book. His eyes were heavy-lidded, but he was not asleep. He was more in a state of bewilderment, as though he had just magically materialized on the train. His lower jaw was at a loose hang and his tongue lolled just inside his mouth.
This morning's train was unusually crowded and the main aisle was lined with unhappy standing passengers. The public address speakers crackled with static as a disembodied voice announced Temple University as the next stop. The sleepy young man slowly attempted to stand, but was weighed down by his huge backpack, apparently stuffed with enough provisions for a two week visit to the campus. He strained to maintain balance, but his academic baggage pulled him awkwardly backwards. He swiped at and finally grabbed the overhead luggage rack and steadied himself. His female seatmate had already stood and cleared a path to the aisle for the young man. The train stopped, the doors opened and several young men and women sporting Temple IDs on Temple-emblazoned lanyards exited the train. Through the dirty windows, I could see them make their way across the platform to the stairs. The backpack boy remained motionless behind a standing woman reading a newspaper in the aisle. She looked at him and asked, "Are you getting out here at Temple?"
"Me?", he asked back.
"Yes, you.", she answered, her voice getting more agitated, "Is Temple your stop?"
"Uh-huh", he replied, still making no advancement in the direction of the exit door.
"Then you should probably get off the train now.", the woman prompted, tipping her head and motioning with her hands toward the door.
Without another word, the dazed young man shambled down the aisle with no sense of urgency whatsoever. He barely made it to the station platform before the doors shut. As the train pulled away, I watched as he aimlessly dawdled about and a frightening thought about the bleakness of the future crossed my mind.
* and my son.