Archive for November 10th, 2009

One thing you can say about public transit: It may not be cheap or convenient, and you learn more about people’s personal hygiene than you ever wanted to know, but there’s nothing like it for people watching.

Sometimes, the people are just outlandish – and I say that as card-carrying eccentric myself. For instance, last weekend, a couple boarded the Skytrain walking very close together. He was tall, with a near beard and long hair and sun glasses. She was shabbily dressed, in kneeless jeans that only stayed up when she held a belt loop, and bobbing her head in a stoned sort of way to the tracks on her iPod. She also had an odor of at least two types of smoke and unwashed body trailing her like a shadow. Close inspection showed she was wearing a dog collar that was chained to his belt. Every now and again, he would give a little proprietary tug, not hard, but enough so that she would try to fix her eyes on him. I try to be broadminded, but if ever a couple needed to be told to rent a room, this one did. That’s not the sort of role-playing you expect to see in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

But people on transit frequently reveal so much about themselves that they seem to be under the illusion that nobody around them can see or hear them. I remember one time when a young man got on at Metrotown looking distinctly lumpish. He was carrying a dozen coat hangers, and seemed to be wearing as many shirts and sweaters. I’d say he got on casually, if there wasn’t such a nervous edge to his casualness.

That attitude is especially common with people on cell phones. They talk as loudly as possible, until I’m tempted to clap at the end of their calls. One man even broke up with his lover in the middle of a crowded car I was riding in. “But I love you!” he keep saying, while embarrassment spread around him like a stain. After he left, I could see people relax, and several looked at each other and shook their heads.

It’s encounters like these that generated my first dictum about riding transit: Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact. The risk of having to make conversation with some of your fellow passengers is simply too high.

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