Thursday, June 26, 2008

"I'm actually very gregarious by nature," he said just as we pulled into the station. "New York City is where I was raised, and it's a lot colder than Chicago in terms of strangers walking near each other."

Gregarious. At 7:30 in the morning. Kudos to the SAT word.

The train was late this morning. The conductor kept saying, nay, pleading with the passengers, "Please come sit in the back of the train. I have 300 seats open. 300 empty seats!" The person next to me turned to me and said, "Do you think he's lonely? Someone should go give him a hug."

Side note: If you are more than 200 lbs, please do not dress like Matthew McConaughey. White linen collared shirts halfway unbuttoned with a pair of tan linen shorts is not okay at 7 in the morning, especially if you have more hair on your chest than on your head. Really. Please take note for everyone's best interest.

Again, it rings over the intercom, "I've got some good news for those of you who want a seat. There are three hundred empty seats in the back."

The man next to me had cuff links on. With coffee cups engraved on them. He was my new hero for the morning.

I've talked a lot about Commuterology being it's own cultural study. Commuters have their own food and beverage staples, their own migratory patterns, their own habitual customs and unspoken rules. They also have their own values, specific to the commuter culture. The key one being impatience. Impatience is the virtue amongst commuters. If you can't fix it, complain about it a little bit more, because that's going to cause the Union Pacific Rail Road management to hear your outcry of horror at being 7 minutes late to the station and completely reroute the train to meet your need.

A large majority of people on that train take it every morning. In the past month and a half, it has only been slightly late twice. By slightly I mean three minutes late to the station. That's consistency people, and we should just sit back. Our complaints on board do nothing more than annoy the conductors.

Impatience is the unifying virtue among commuters.

And yes, please, ma'am in the back of the car, I would LOVE to hear about how horrible your job is. In fact, please talk about it SO loud that everyone is captivated by anecdotes of your horrible boss, terrible management and unbearable coworkers. We'll be so enthralled that we'll board the same car tomorrow morning to hear the next installment. (Okay, so that was a little more scathing than I meant it to be, but you'll forgive me someday when you feel the same way. )

Friends, let's remember, the front seats on the bottom deck of the train are always the most awkward. You have no choice but to face someone else and usually feel ridiculous because there's no leg room that isn't intruding upon someone else's.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Good Morning...

Well, Stache man said "Good morning" to me today. I can't decide if it brings his stalker vibe down or up a notch. I'll have to give it some time.

The man who sat next to me also said "Good morning." He was the first very polite person I've found on the train. He let me go before him. This was a polite morning. Someone else held the door for me out of the station--that hardly ever happens, and the person who held the door was my age, which is even rarer. My generation seems to have lost the idea of general manners. But today was the rare occasion I ran into someone whose mother taught them well.

The man that sits outside of the Starbucks I pass every day said "Good morning" to me. He says good morning to me every morning. He's nice.

Then a couple of random weirdies said "Good morning" as I walked past them on the last block before work.

I did not say "Good morning" back. I wasn't "good morning-ed" out, it's just that the greeting was completely unwarranted.

Say "Good Morning" to someone on your commute. It might make their day, or at least give them something to blog about.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday. It’s Monday again. Another morning avoiding the gaze of Tom Selleck’s mustache (it has a personality of it’s own, I’m sure.) Now, I’m prone to exaggeration (NO! Really?) but my brother caught the same train as I did this morning, and he even agreed, Stache man stares. Weird. I’m not exaggerating this one.

I wrote a couple of things down this morning that I wanted to discuss. Well, more than a couple. There were several things that occurred today that I thought, “I should probably write a commentary on these.”

First, smoking at 6am seems to not bother the stomachs of really anyone. Which surprises me. I know that you develop a tolerance to it and a dependence on it, but for some reason, it still always shocks me when I see cigarettes so early. I’m sure some feel the same way about my habitual coffee cup.

Alongside the tracks between stops, there was a railroad tie sticking straight up and down in the dirt. On top of the tie was a mannequin head, like those from cosmetology school. Anyone remember Sid, the creepster kid from Toy Story? He buzzed all the Barbie heads and stuff? Well this head had hair that had been cut too short. Vlad the Cosmetic Impaler? Probably not. But you get the picture.

The train smelled like shaving cream. I figured out why when a gentleman stepped off the train and had a little shaving cream still on his face. It was kind of adorable.

A lady got on the train and, since this was about 4 stops from Chicago, the train was reaching seating capacity. She said to the man in front of me, “May I sit here?” To which he replied, “No problem.” She continued on, as if to justify her situation (like no one understands the need to fill up every seating space) “It’s just that there are no more seats.” To which the man replied, “No problem.” She followed his “No problem” with “Yep.”

Huh? I was so confused. No where in any corner of my mind did that conversation make any sense to me. She felt bad for sitting next to a stranger—but we all sit next to strangers.

That’s really part of the beauty of commuting. Everyone is a stranger, and yet, there’s some twisted phenomenon of familiarity. You recognize people’s faces, habits, tendencies, patterns. Everyone has them. You begin to notice who leads and who follows, who walks quickly and who takes there time. You begin to notice who is okay to sit by and who should be avoided. It’s fascinating to me.

Anyway. Moving on down the list. The lady who did not want to sit next to the man in front of me may have had good reason. When he left, he picked up a red and white cooler. I decided (without due cause or reason) that it was a cooler with kidneys on ice. Don’t ask me why I thought of that, but it makes for a better story than the fact it was the bologna sandwich and corn chips his wife packed for him the night before. Kidneys and bologna are kind of close…

My last rant for the morning is this: I have an iPod mini. Kind of old school, I know, but it serves its purpose. Its purpose is to play music, and it does. I’ve only had minor trouble with the battery and for $8.00 it can be replaced and work good as new. One day I’ll get around to that. Anyhow. It really frustrates me, not that people have nicer iPods than I do, that’s not the case at all. What bothers me is when people try to show off their new fancy million dollar (slight exaggeration) gadgets when they see my trusty flaming pink mini. Someone sat by me last week on the way home and while he pulled out his nice new iPod touch, eyed my pink mini with a look of superiority. For about twenty minutes. That’s a little excessive. I don’t care that you can watch movies on your new iPod, I’m stuck in the year 2004 and I’m okay with that. I get motion sick when I watch movies on the train anyway. So there, Mr. Apple Fancypants.

Last, I looked to my right as I turned to face the window, and saw a squashed fly. This was at 6:48 am. I continued to stare at it the rest of the ride. Yay for dead insects.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

This one is pretty short.

The last few days, I've noticed a particular pattern in my train exit.
I get up a minute or two before my stop and head to the exit doors. There I stand in the vestibule waiting for my stop to come and swirling around me are a bunch of cotton wood buds.

The funniest part? Grown men try to catch the cotton wood floating in the air like they would if they were five and chasing fireflies.

Yep. There's a cotton wood tree of entertainment on my train. A cotton wood tree of entertainment for all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I ordered coffee with cream, no sugar. What I wound up drinking on the train was coffee with sugar, no cream. Oh well. Such is life.

The man who sat next to me today has been reading the same book for a while (he often sits next to me.) I have to give him a lot of credit because, well, that book has to be about 600 pages long and he's just trucking through it. I don't have the patience for things that take that much time. I can't commit to something that is 600 pages. I draw the line at 3 or 400. Sad but true.

Stache man was MIA today. I'm okay with that. I didn't have to be on guard for sly winking. (Really, subtle much?)

There was this ADORABLE elderly couple in front of me reading the newspaper and drinking their coffee. I watched them, and they communicated like they had spent their whole lives communicating with one another. Then the gentleman kindly answered all the lady's questions about the railroad as we pulled into the station. They pointed out architecture that was interesting and looked at maps and schedules like little kids in candy shops. It was so refreshing to see someone who was a visitor, not a commuter.

Now, I'll save my rant about public restrooms for another day but let me just say...if you absolutely MUST find a restroom for whatever reason (some people drink lots of coffee) might I suggest finding the one "less traveled by?" You'll thank me someday. Moving on.

I've come to believe that if a train station and the crosswalk are the commuter's natural habitat, Starbucks must be the main staple in the diet. Starbucks or anything caffeinated. Before I remembered that I can actually grab coffee BEFORE my train (causing a ten minute addition to my morning routine, but we sacrifice for the things we love) I found myself loathing any businessman who marched on the train with coffee in hand. "Youuuuu jjjjjjjeeeeeeeerk. You didn't bring me any?" (I wonder if I could convince Stache man to have an extra coffee for me on board? This could maybe work to my benefit. I mean, it goes against my moral standards...but hey. Free coffee is free coffee.)

My train passes a Starbucks every day. I want it to have a longer pause at the station so I can run across the street and get my iced Americano and get back on, but I don't think that would fly.

The commuter's coffee habit is fascinating to me. I see them board the train (95% have coffee or some coffee like beverage) and they look half dead. I see them exit the train, sans coffee cup looking alert and chipper. Just add coffee. And I have to wonder, which ones like it because they love coffee and have found a way of preparing it that they look forward to every morning like a child looks forward to their security blanket, and which ones drink it simply because they go through withdrawal without the caffeine.

Caffeine withdrawal is serious my friends. I've read up on it. It can cause headaches that can last for days and even depression and sluggishness. Don't give up your coffee. America needs you to function. And I need you to write about.

On second thought, I wonder what the commute would be like if everyone gave up their coffee. For that initial week to week and a half it would take for the caffeine dependency to work it's way out of our systems, it would be a mad zoo. At least now the lemmings have a sense of order, but without the staple of their breakfast routine (besides banana and juice man, who, by the way, must be getting up earlier or trying to skip breakfast because he's been one juice box and one piece of fruit short every morning...) they might become slightly disoriented.

I counted some things this morning.
1. Volleyball near the tracks
2. Ladies knitting in the same seat. Not Fruit Stand Lady. But two ladies I see every morning. One eats a dish of yogurt that I always mistake for cream cheese. I think every morning, "Ew. Who can stomach cream cheese with a spoon like that? Oh. It's yogurt."
3. Abandoned, homeless tennis balls by the tracks.
4. Starbucks and one Caribou Coffee on my two mile walk to work. Four within two miles.

True signs of where our priorities lie. They're always packed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Two days ago, my brother joined me on my commute home. Now, the train ride home is quite different than the one TO work, mainly because it's the exact opposite (of course!) It starts out like lemmings and sardines, and ends like a...well...I don't have an illustration. It's empty. I'm the third to last stop. You can imagine.

Anyway. I invite you to listen in on a conversation my brother and I had, involving the character I am introducing, affectionately known as "Fruit Stand Lady."

As the brother and I were waiting for the train to pull into our station. As we were talking about something (I'm not entirely sure what, as it is unimportant) I saw a lady I see every day making a beeline (who even knows why we say "beeline?") for the waiting area by the doors on the train. I look at my brother and say quietly, "Dude, this lady is a CRAZY," and he brushes it off.

All of a sudden, after her entrance to the area we are in, my brother is mid sentence, we hear Fruit Stand Lady very loudly saying, "Um. NO. There's a FRUIT stand right there. No houses. A fruit stand." (She was interjecting into a conversation that was not her own.) She goes on to discuss recent flooding in the area (it's been horrible and devastating for some) proclaiming "anyone who builds their house on a floodplain deserves to be flooded out."

Mmmkay. Except most of the area North and West of Chicago is a floodplain, all the way to Iowa and up through Wisconsin, especially this time of year, especially with the extra snow from last winter.

It took everything in me not to say "You're a flooded Fruit Stand, Lady, and you deserve every inch of it!" But I refrained, as it doesn't make any sense, and people don't seem to react well to unintelligible insults.

The next day she told another complete stranger, "I've made baby blankets, sweaters, and afghans on the train! I mean, where else do you get an hour and a half of uninterrupted crochet time?" I then vowed never to look at yarn ever again.

It's interesting, the Commuterology of it all. I've drawn a parallel to lemmings as being a theme (side note--I heard elephants on the other end of the line of a call just now. hmm. Zoo anyone?). Anyway. Lemmings seem to be the theme. I find myself guilty of being one. Lemmings, contrary to myth, do not commit mass suicide as we usually assume, but they do migrate in very large groups, stay with their groups, even to the point of exhaustion or death (man I love wikipedia.) Commuters are the lemmings of the city. We travel in large masses, and stay in those large masses. Ever think, "I can cross on the yellow light as long as I'm not the last one!"? Yep. That's what I thought. That my friend, means you are a commuter lemming. We cross the street in the same pattern, dodging cars, walking as quickly as our sneaker clad, well dressed selves can go, hoping the Chicago heat doesn't melt us before we get to the station. Lemmings. We follow. We follow the path of least resistance (least amount of taxis cutting of pedestrians) or the "walk" and "don't walk" signs.

I wonder if banana/juice man is a lemming. I'll have to watch for that.

Commuter patterns are so fascinating. Here are some unspoken rules which I have observed. When you commute, you learn them quickly.
1. Unless all available solo seating is taken, do not sit next to someone you do not know. Seriously people. Don't do it unless there are NO options.
2. First come first serve to the exit. People line up a stop in advance to get off at the end of the line. They're not polite or courteous either. The men aren't even gentlemen. It's every man (woman) for themselves.
3. There's always more than one exit. It's true. I shaved five minutes off my commute by finding another exit.
4. All exits are bottlenecked, and make you feel like a herd of cattle.
5. No shoes on the seats. (The conductors are serious about this one.)
6. No skirts on the upper deck. (For your own sake ladies.)
7. Don't eat smelly food, or drink too much beer.
8. No one wants to hear your life story. Well. At least I don't.
9. If you stole Tom Selleck's mustache, he would probably like it back.
10. If you walk slower than someone who is, say, 5'9" with ridiculously long legs (ahem...self description...) keep to the right. Do not meander. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars. (if you do, tell me where you found it?)

And I almost forgot to add this:
On my ride in this morning, the 'Stache man decided to not only stare, but wink at me. First of all, I get on the train to find ANOTHER classmate from high school. And came to the unfortunate realization that I was wearing a t-shirt I've had since high school (one of those Anti-drug, anti-underage drinking clubs that was part of). No dodging that one, other than getting into a separate car, where 'Stache man conductor was chilling out. He winked at me. Everything in me wanted to say "Do you find that subtle? Hmmmmmmmmm?" in a really condescending way, but I remembered my coffee in hand and decided to stick with sipping that instead.

Then he sat down across from me and tried to talk to me.

I'm sorry, but we don't talk to strangers at 6:03 in the morning.
He even talks to me when I'm all uggo-no makeup and mismatched in my "commuter clothes."
So strange.
If only you could see it.

And so Commuterology Begins. Start reading Here.

I catch my train at precisely 6:03 AM, CST. It’s always on time to my stop. The stops after it may vary, but it’s always 6:03 on the dot when I catch the train.

Forgive me for my laziness, I think as I board the early train. I got up twenty minutes before I had to leave and barely made it out of the shower in time to finish getting ready for work. Half of my routine is done on the train, where I find ample time to apply my makeup and make myself somewhat presentable for my job in downtown Chicago. Gotta look the part, you know.

When I first began this commute I remember thinking, “This will be great. I can sleep for an hour and a half before I walk from the train station to work, so it won’t even be like I get up at 5:00 am every morning. I get that extra hour and a half!” WRONG. Not only is the train horribly cold (and I, a pansy who can’t stand to be freezing) but by three stops into my trip, we’re packed like sardines waiting to exit the train like lemmings. Pay attention, lemmings are a theme.

There are a few more reasons I don’t sleep on the train. Have you ever seen someone who is sleeping on public transportation? We’re all guilty of judging someone who unabashedly snores, drools, twitches, or mumbles in their sleep, oblivious to the world watching them. Ew. I don’t want to be that girl.

The most significant reason I don’t sleep on the train? Commuterology. Studying those around me. My fellow commuters, in their natural habitat. It seems only natural for me to write about it and share my observations with the world, not because of some profound breakthrough I hope to have regarding the behavior of Chicago land commuters, and not because of some special knowledge I wish to impart, but simply because every day I find I have another story worth telling. It may make you chuckle at its absurdity, or laugh so hard you almost lose control of your bladder. Either way, these stories need to be told.

I have found one runs into the same characters (and trust me, they most certainly are characters) on a daily commute. My list of characters is based on personalities I observe. Don’t worry, I don’t use their real names because a) I don’t know them, b) it’s rude to announce this these stories to the world and identify who these people are, c) I intend to keep everyone anonymous, and d) nicknames are just a lot more fun and add to the story. I’ll keep a list and a brief character description, don’t worry. This is my journal. I do not intend to exploit or embarrass, only to observe and report. Take from it what you will.


It’s the first day of my commute. I’m not really sure what to think. As I board the train from the platform at exactly 6:03, I notice how many familiar faces I see already. Trying to place the memories from the faces I recognize I count them one by one. Five. There are five people I went to high school with on this train. Yay. It’s high school reunion Tuesday. At 6 in the morning.

I decided to sit on the top deck of the train. No one will bother me there. Unfortunately, my view of everyone is obstructed by the deck. The man across from me has a banana and juice…I wonder if he’ll have that every day? There’s a lady who is crocheting like a speed demon. Seriously. Aaaannnnd the conductor looks like he stole Tom Selleck’s mustache. (Shudder).


Maybe today will be a bit better. I need to route a way on my walk to stop for starbucks. That would be FABULOUS. Man, everyone is really SLOW today. I can’t believe how many people just wander, wander, lolly gag, whatever you want to call it. Don’t they know how many people are in a hurry?

In line at Starbucks to order my iced tall Americano in a grande cup (extra room, you know) the same girl winds up in front of me every morning. Venti decaf Americano (seriously?) with a non-fat foam topper. What the heck is a non-fat foam topper? I don’t know. I give a LOT of credit to the baristas who can repeat that order back without laughing. Why doesn’t she just order a latte. Or not order coffee at all? Oh! I forgot to mention she asks for two splendas. Yesssss. She makes me smile. As do the baristas who are starting to recognize my because of my need for constant caffeination.


Tom Selleck seems to stare at me a lot. It's so weird. I'm usually in a nasty high school tshirt, sneakers, and my dress pants for work. No makeup. So weird. Actually, now that I think of it, and a friend mentioned to me this was his mental picture of said train conductor, he really looks more like the guy from the Wedding Planner—you know, Adam Sandler’s best friend? It’s pretty humorous. I pop in my headphones—this morning it was Imogen Heap—and look out the window whenever he comes to check train passes. He stares, trying to get me to smile at him or acknowledge him. I supposed I’m pretty cold and rude, but honestly, the mustache creeps me out. He can’t be more than 30 years old. Did I mention his soul patch? That’s right. Creepster 80’s stache + soul patch = interesting Tuesday morning, that’s for sure. P.S. Banana and juice guy? He does, in fact, have a banana and juice every morning. Kind of interesting.