After more than three years of commuting on the caltrain to various jobs, I have gotten used to it. It’s how I sleep, how I pack in my writing time, the method by which I catch up on Twitter and Facebook, browse endlessly on articles, fill up on people watching.
It is my time. But there’s still part of me that hates it. The fact that I am stuck on a metal tube hurtling down and up the peninsula to a career far, far away. But the thing is people have done these for years, for decades even. Popular in the east coast to move from state to state. To be the bridge and tunnel people. But in this modern era, I am the road warrior, on a train, among the hordes of young professionals headed to an open office layout full of snacks and drinks and treadmill desks.
I never see people my parents age on the caltrain. Perhaps because I take the rush hour trains—the ones that stop every 15 miles or so, skipping the stations with little demand.
This morning though, there was a woman, wrinkly skin, oozing anxiety about finding her stop and understanding how the train worked. We were in the bike car, so everyone was a cyclist hoisting bikes and helmets, except for her of course where she filled a nearby seat with Caltrain material—the schedule, the announcements, etc. She asked questions to a nearby passenger and responded to each answer with a grateful “Oh thank you so much”. In between the lines, I heard I appreciate that you listened to little old me, I don’t know how I could survive this day, it’s scary to me
Sometimes I wish that I wasn’t filled with so much apathy, sometimes turning into cynicism and self-righteousness, as I ride this train. Having embodied all the social mores of riding the train. Get up before the stop. Say as little as possible. Don’t stare. There’s a strangeness in this because it’s as if we’re together, but we’re not. I don’t even know who is riding with me, except for the recognized bags, the jackets. Occasionally, I see someone I know. But the whole ride up and down, I am silent, save for the “excuse me” when I bump into someone. Keep eyes down, get off the train as quickly as possible, exit. And whoosh, the passengers leave the car, walking to the exits, arriving faster there than by car.