The smell of lavender-vanilla laundry detergent and starch nearly masks the thick scent of cigarettes that lingers in the air as the conductor passes quickly by each seat. Tickets. Tickets. Tickets, please. Quick and efficient, he flies down the aisles stopping briefly to smile at the regulars and tilting his head slightly to extend a warm greeting to the new faces. Each day is the same. A man lumbers on two stops after mine, sitting next to a poor, unassuming young girl and proceeding to talk loudly and intensely into his bluetooth. Spit flies everywhere, getting stuck in his mustache as his hands animate the conversation with his invisible partner. The whole car rolls its eyes simultaneously, used to his antics. Two seats over, a schoolgirl sits behind a veil of black hair; her headphones in, floral skirt pleated, legs crossed and eyes glued to a “non-fiction” book titled Every Good Endeavor: connecting your work to God’s work. Her guard is up, avoiding the sin of the crazy commuters; one could argue, however, that she’s at least as lost and misguided as the rest of us. The suits sit in a corner nearest the door. Backs straight, heads forward, coffee in hand, they may not know each other but they all seem to move together like gears in a machine. Crossing legs, fixing hair, rearranging papers, typing reports- all individual actions yet somehow in sync. In their shades of black, gray, and navy, the crew resembles a brain washed army from a dystopian fiction novel. I smile to myself at this curious phenomenon and explore more with my eyes. The beat of a popular rap song plays softly and I trace the source back to a pair of red headphones on the head of a middle aged man. His nervous, mousy demeanor contrasts starkly with the laid back, cool-kid music he has chosen to tune into this morning and I am yet again perplexed by the surprises that lurk behind human’s exteriors. Two regulars sit next to one another and exchange small talk. Not friends, not even acquaintances, I can’t be sure that they even know each other’s names, but each morning without fail they discuss the inconsequential topics of weather, sports teams and city events. In all my time I have yet to hear them converse on a topic that does anything but skim the surface of their thoughts. Since there is obviously an air of familiarity between the two, I have no choice but to assume that they each are truly lacking any personality whatsoever, which is a shame as it makes for poor entertainment for observers. There are always visitors, using the train for leisure or travel instead of as a daily mode of transportation, a second home. Today a young girl walks on wide eyed and in awe of the professional travelers. Her bright pink suitcase and patchwork purse are a burst of life against the sea of dark neutrals. Her hair is a rainbow of colors fading from chocolate to caramel to honey, ambrosial in the filtered sun rays. Bright green eyes peer at the foreign world around her, framed by a sea of freckles. She takes on the world in a way which none of us can understand, seeing mustache man as amiable and approachable rather than a constant annoyance. Her eyes wander to the suits, picking apart each person. She notices that the blonde woman in the third row has the most wonderful purple shirt under her gray suit and that the man on his laptop has a smile that dimples his cheeks and crinkles his eyes. Her nose wrinkles at the man with slicked back hair and a palpable holier-than-thou demeanor. As rap music fades, she smiles at the man and they begin to discuss the merits of modern music and strong lyrics. Her voice is musical in itself, carrying a sweet tune throughout the car and lifting the veil of routine that has settled over each of us. Passengers stir, restless with the realization that while we are all familiar faces, we couldn’t be more foreign. The impenetrable unknowing settled in and unease filled the car. Uncomfortable murmurs were shared as strangers began to entertain the idea of opening up to one another. The air was suddenly cut with the scent of smoke and lavender and the conductor appeared. Unaware of the recent transformation, he went about in his usual jovial, productive manner. Tickets. Tickets. Tickets please. With the return of the habitual behavior, a sigh of relief was heard echoing from all corners of the car. We all become drifters again and what almost was, now was not. Comfortable again, the mustache in the front row starts spitting unnecessarily large words while a pair of acquainted businessmen examine the oncoming storm clouds and discuss the latest devastation within the city’s baseball league. As a modest girl buries her nose in her holy book once again, green eyes scan the car in disappointment and confusion. Her eyes meet mine and smile but I look away quickly, terrified of breaking the invisible barrier once again. She sighs as the veil fully lowers once again. For the rest of the ride, she is silent.
June 16, 2017