Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax

I got on the train yesterday, much like I do every morning. My morning train has been fairly crowded this week, ever since Mother Nature dumped nearly two feet of snow on Philadelphia (and its surrounding area) last weekend.  SEPTA, the entity behind public mass transit in Southeastern Pennsylvania, regularly struggles with equipment problems regardless of the weather, but the aftermath of the brutal storm wreaked extra havoc on their regional rail machinery and service. Most trains were short their standard amount of cars. Trains that typically run with four or five cars were now reduced to two or three. If you are the math wizards that I think you are, you understand that this situation greatly cuts down on the amount of available seats. With less seats available, obviously more passengers will be standing for their morning commute. (Not happily, I might add.)

My train eventually pulled up into the station (late, as usual - no matter what kind of weather we are having) and I boarded along with fifty or so of my fellow passengers I see nearly every morning. I walked the narrow aisle as the few available seats were filled in by those who boarded ahead of me. Proceeding to the last train car, I spotted an empty seat near the end close to the rear door. As I got closer, I saw the seat was occupied, on one side, by a gentleman in his forties. He looked like the kind of guy who reclines at the table in a corporate conference room with his index finger poised above the screen of his external-keyboard-equipped iPad, ready to make his presence at the meeting known by interjecting terms like "organic," "synergy," "thought leader" and "let's not reinvent the wheel" and then commencing with an attempt to reinvent the wheel. The other half of the seat, while expected to be unoccupied, was covered by a multitude of items belonging to Corporate Guy. These items — a folded train schedule, a yellow legal pad and various groupings of business cards — were strewn across the empty seat while he busily pored over the assemblage, arranging and rearranging the mess.

I stood alongside the seat, looking down. I was trying to glare his collection of paper products off the seat. When my telepathic powers failed, I cleared my throat and said, "Excuse me, please.," in the most polite voice I could muster at five minutes to eight in the morning. Corporate Guy looked up, loudly, almost theatrically, exhaled and   s   l   o   w   l   y   gathered up his paper belongings. I sat down and, as per my usual ritual, situated myself within the confines of the space allotted for one passenger on a seat on a train. I removed my current book from my bag and fumbled in my pocket for the small vinyl case that houses and secures my monthly train pass. I began to read, holding my pass out for the arrival of and inspection by the conductor. Corporate Guy, however, had transferred his activity to the workspace created by his right leg crossed over his left and laying flat, the knee creeping obnoxiously into my personal space. In my peripheral vision, I could see him furiously shuffling the cards, stacking and re-stacking them into assorted sized piles. He did this through two full station stops. Once he was satisfied with the classification into which he had determined for each card, he wrapped them securely with one of a handful of rubber bands he produced from a supply concealed within his heavy coat. Each bound pile was then flexed for a considerable amount of time between his fingers, as though he was about to use them to deal a hand of poker. He finally dispensed the cards into a backpack he had placed at his feet (but not before testing each and every one for its full flexing ability). He fidgeted more. He crossed and uncrossed his legs. He reached and groped inside his coat. The first few times his hand came out empty. The fifth or sixth time he did it, he removed a large greeting card and envelope. From the opposite side of his coat, he extracted a pen. Again, he crossed his legs to create a flat surface, presumably on which to inscribe the card. (And, again, that fucking knee was encroaching into my territory.)

As he fiercely scribbled ink across the blank surface of the card, his whole body rocked and jiggled, not just the executing arm and hand. I casually looked around at the other passengers in my general area. Each was sitting quietly. Each was still. Some fiddled with a cellphone. Others silently, almost motionlessly, pored over Kindles. Others read physical books or newspapers. All were barely moving, save for the occasional, nearly undetectable, page turn or finger flick. Lucky me, I found the seat next to the proverbial "whirling dervish*." I was tempted to turn to him and shout, "Sit still, for Christ's sake! What are you — four years old?" But, alas, I did not. I remained quiet and I continued to read, finding that I read the same sentence six times while I soundlessly berated this guy in my head.

Finally, the train rambled into my station. I stuffed my book back into my bag and I stood to exit. Behind me, I could sense that Corporate Guy was also readying himself to leave the train. The door opened and I stepped onto the platform, making my way thorough the crowd and towards the stairs.

I saw Corporate Guy heading in the opposite direction. Off to fidget and squirm next to someone else today.

*Although I have heard the term for many years, I'm not quite sure what a "dervish" is but, apparently, they whirl — and this guy was a-whirling.


  1. I am happy to say that for once, Cleveland was spared the snow. I have to giggle when other people get it instead :)