You Only Think We Want to Know

I missed a spot on the quiet car on the train ride home tonight, which I hoped wouldn’t matter too much because I have earphones and expected to watch a movie. It was an up-at-0430 morning, after all, to catch the train north and come back the same day. I figure that when I leave the office more than 12 hours after I left for it, and am still five hours from home, I should be able to build in a little R&R. Alas, the quiet car didn’t offer any solo seats, so I shuffled up into one of the volume cars. My neighbor is convincing me not to make that mistake again.

He’s across the aisle, and he started out the trip expressing plaintive laptop envy toward someone else at his table. Not impressive yet, but it turned out that he was just getting started. He got on his phone.

I do understand that some people think that the solution to boredom is to talk on their phones. Which is to say, I don’t understand those people at all, but I am aware of it as a weird phenomenon. I knew a woman who complained bitterly when she took a job with a longer commute, because she didn’t have enough minutes on her phone plan and can’t bear to drive anywhere without the stupid box glued to her head. Some people like to sound important to other people; some people don’t understand that everyone has phones these days and they’re not waving some kind of magical technology that makes us jealous. This guy bucked the trend, though, in that he’s made no effort to sound or seem impressive.

After a while in an apparently increasingly-acrimonious conversation: “I’d love to take care of that,” he insisted. “But my credit is so bad that there’s no way they’d let me have that on contract.”

I cocked my head a little at that, curious. After all, it’s not just anyone that announces to a train full of people that he has horrible credit. The funny part was that he caught the glance I shot him and returned it with a grin like he was about to show Jennifer Aniston his “O” face. Nodding at me, making circles in the air with his finger. Whoo-oop, whoo-oop.

“I mean,” he continued, “that’s like $30 a month. It’s too much, I’d have to pay it up front.” The unknown on the other end of the line apparently accepted this (oor dropped the argument), because my neighbor then finally lowered his volume … slightly … and started telling his phone-a-friend what he’s going to do to him/her when he gets home. Oh my God, is this what awaits me every time if I don’t get on the quiet car? Because I’m not above throwing elbows to cut the line. I produced the headphones pretty fast at that point.

These should be standard issue on public transportation.

Okay, so I can understand if you’re not buying a home because you made some bad decisions, but I’m mystified that you would announce to a crowd of strangers that you can’t open an account for something that costs less per month than the amount of beer you just dragged back from the cafe car. Or maybe it’s the presence of strangers that make some people feel confident enough to talk about things, like those odd people that don’t mind picking their nose while stopped at the traffic light next to you. Maybe their anonymity is their blanket. Based on the second half of his conversation, though, I don’t want to know what’s on his blankets.

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