Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Small revenges

Tonight's journey has been palgued by assholes. For once, I decided against a working journey and all I wanted to do was read the paper. For the first hour, I had approximately 1/3 of my seat, thanks to the extra-large, pistachio cruncher who smelled vaguely of cat box.

Then, I got a tall guy opposite me and a space hog next to me. I pity the tall guy because his legs don't fit; I don't mind stuffing my legs under my seat so that he can sit. But the space hog annoyed me. So, I made a point of lowering my armrest and spreading my stuff to take up exactly my quarter of the table. She was then replaced by a sighing grumpy old biddy.

There's a perpetually cheery Russian trolley guy who often services this line when he can get a cart on the train. He looks like the stock giant KGB guy from cold war comedies, and is a profuse sweater. I never buy off the trolley, but the old biddy irately chewed him out for running over her foot, which shouldn't have been in the aisle. He didn't hear her spidery biddy admonition, but I did. I rewarded her rudeness by ordering a cup of tea so he had to come back and run it over again. Small victories.

Train hell

Train Buddy must have done something bad.

He's being punished by the train gods.

Nothing will turn your day to excrement like morning train problems. Our line services 3 of the North's largest cities, and all of the commuter towns in between. Yet, for some reason, the gods often send only enough carriages for approximately half of the passengers. Train Buddy's morning journey was described something like this: unmitigated disaster. Signal failures, cancellations, delays, heaving platform and then 2 carriages rock up. Folks standing from start.

As if it wasn't bad enough being an hour late for work and rammed like sardines with people's asses in his face, he got a booper nearby. A booper is someone that leaves the sounds on their phone keypad turned on [boop, boop, beep, bleep, boop] (see ettiquette post). He probably should have just gone home then, but in his words "aint no-one getting off this train without serious injury, and possibly a crowbar". So, instead he had to content himself with creative ideas for punishing the booper.

This morning, it was more of the same. He's scouting for sacrificial offerings to appease the train gods, so watch out.

I worked from home yesterday and took a later train this morning, thus escaping his fate. So obviously, it's his fault.

Work nirvana

So, Thursday I had the perfect working day. I came home in a fantabulous mood because everything went perfectly. The morning bus and train were on time. I had time to stop for a decent coffee on the way in, and I got to make idle chat with Train Buddy and the Comedy Expat (AKA Manstruator) from the comfort of decommissioned first class.
When I arrived at work, I had meetings that I enjoyed. Don't blink. You read that correctly. I enjoyed 2 meetings. I'm not sure that has ever happened before or that it will happen again. Everything I touched that day was golden. Except for the train bathroom, but we won't speak of that.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Train etiquette

There is an unwritten code of polite behaviour when travelling on the train. It is a complicated code, the nuances of which are generally only understood by the most seasoned travelller. If you do not wish to stand out as an obnoxious interloper, the following may help:

Train Etiquette for the Uninitiated
Music- nobody wants to hear yours, no matter how kicking your tracks are. Take the earbuds out of your ears. If you can still hear the music, or if anyone is looking at you, it's too loud.
Telephones- for the love of everything good and pure, shut of your keypad sounds. While you're texting, every beep boop boop puts you one second closer to an elbow in the face from anyone within range.

Just because your voice is transmitted to space and back doesn't mean you have to shout into your phone. Try to speak quietly if you must take a call. Better yet, don't take it at all. It will inevitably go something like this: "Arright mate? Yeah, like, where we meeting like? Gazza was so pissed last night. Hello? Hello?" Ring ring. "Yeah mate, on the train. So, like, I was saying...hello? Hello? Damn". Just give up and send a text. With the sound off.

Personal space- you get one armrest, and it's on the outer side. The one in the middle is not for arms. It's a divider between you and the other person.

Hygeine- showers, deodorant, and toothpaste are daily essentials. Wash your coat and jumpers, preferrably more than annually. No perfume. You may think it smells nice, but it only smells like rose scented cigarette ash and dog to everyone else.

Table seats- these seats are meant for four. Therefore, unless otherwise mutually agreed, you get one quarter of the table and floor space. With eye contact, you may initiate the complicated game of footsie with strangers that will allow you to negotiate an interlocking foot arrangement that will allow you to stretch your legs.

Personal items- Translation: "May I put your bag on the rack for you?" means: "Your stuff is in everyone's way, you selfish pain in the arse". If your bag did not pay for its own seat, move it. Put it on a rack, not on the floor under your seat. That area is not large enough to accomodate legs, let alone legs and your handbag/luggage/shopping/duffel bag full of body parts.

Seating- regular travellers have their "spot". Please try to respect this when choosing a seat. However, if it makes logistical sense for you to have an aisle because you will be getting up soon (for a station, toilet break, etc) you may wish to mention this so as not to be awkward.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


I dived out a bit early today because I've got an extra day of travel this week, and I was eager to escape the busy office to get some work done before anyone asked me to do any more favours.

Apparently, the early train has also been chosen by approximately 30 seemingly unsupervised, shrieking 8-year-old girls. From the sounds they are making, they must be travelling to GiggleFest 2009 or something equally annoying. Even the headphones won't cover it up. My best teacher voice was effective for about 5 minutes before it descended into madness again. Where oh where are the chaperones?
And the woman across from me at the table just pushed away her half-eaten mayo-drenched pasta salad to carry on to her next course. It was a full packet of precooked bacon. She ate it straight. I am not kidding.
Anyway, although there were butts and bags in my face for an hour, I had a seat and arrived on time. It's still a good day.

It's going to be a good day

Despite the frost, this morning's train was on time and not overly crowded. Train Buddy and I got to sit in the big seats (decommissioned first class). Apparently he didn't fare so well yesterday when two consecutive trains were cancelled due to "train failure". However, the morning's biggest success was my trip to the loo. That probably sounds like I have a medical problem, which is not what I meant.

Usually, I would prefer to do the squirm of desperation for an hour over going into one of the stink closets on the train. The dirt in the crevices of the toilets are often the only gIue holding the train together. It's nothing that some industrial-strength bleach and a power washer wouldn't sort, but I'm guessing the fare hikes just won't cover that level of service.

Sometimes, though, it is a necessity. This morning, the loo trip left me feeling like I only needed a shower after leaving. This is a huge improvement, because normally one leaves wanting a full ET style decontamination tent full of men in HazMat suits. It's gonna be a good day.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Gee whiz

Week beginning nov 16th- 6 total journeys. 1 on time. 4 of 6 journeys were standing room only.
Woman's breath ponging from across the table. Good god, lady. Have a mint.

The Microculture

The commuter train is its own weird little microculture. There are rules and customs by which transient visitors are expected to abide.

There are also relationships that, much like a workplace, exist only within the confines of the train. People that have little in common are thrown together in less-than-pleasant circumstances for hours at a time. We each have our own little rituals to comfort us, like a favourite place to sit or a complex assortment of items to occupy us on the journey. Assuming, of course, that we have the luxury of a place to sit.

The "regulars" have plenty of opportunity to scope each other out and choose alliances. Sometimes, this is as simple as a friendly nod of acknowledgement or shared eye-roll at a late train or loud ipodipshit*, or it can evolve into a fully-fledged commuter team.

In this post, I'll introduce some of the cast of characters that are likely to reappear in future posts:

*IpoDipshit- name given to any one of the identical people listening to rubbish music out of headphones so loudly that the earbuds must be facing the wrong way in their ears. Also represented in gesture by a motion depicting strangulation by cord from white earbuds.

Train Buddy- the only other person on this route that goes the full distance. Cool geek that is my default choice (probably to his chagrin) for seatmate and conversation in the mornings.

Comedy Expat- after a conversation this morning, he suggested that he could be called the Manstruator, but that is a post for another day.

Ciderguy- always cracks a can of cider on the train and is an unlucky omen regarding successful journeys.

The cyclist - interesting council worker who apparently runs or cycles to the station each morning but somehow never appears sweaty or smelly. I think he just likes the feel of lycra in the morning.

Nescafe - never says a word, except for when he phones home to check in at exactly the same place on the route every day. In the evenings makes himself a hazelnut nescafe that fragrances the whole carriage.

The Verbose Professors- Profs A and B- often found in a pair- interesting chaps discussing abstract, irrelevant, and sometimes entertaining topics.

Shirt and Tie- quiet and fairly attractive guy that never speaks, but gives off a slight vibe of underlying jerkdom. Good choice of seatmate when I want to get my head down and work.

The Gaggle- loud group of giggly and completely inane uni students that assume that all aboard are supremely interested in their business.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Travel elation

My evening train arrived home on time last night, though it was standing-room only. The fact that this makes me happy enough to skip across the platform is another testament to the power of low expectations. The one this morning was inexplicably late, so the punctual one causes elation. It's as though the rail people know this. Crafty.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Caffeine is a powerful drug

It's 6:10 in the morning, pitch black. Raining, gusting wind and all I want is a freaking coffee. I've been standing outside the coffee shop on the platform next to the sign reading "We open at 6" while the 25 year old guy manning the shop potters about behind the counter. He is refusing to acknowledge my presence until he saunters slowly over to unlock the door. He looks pointedly in my direction and unlocks the OTHER door.

In a former, pre-commuting life, I probably would have launched into a tirade about the fact that I'm frozen and soggy, now have 4 minutes to catch my train and if I can get myself to the station at this hour after being up all night with a deadline, he can damn well open the door on time. However, I've learned something from my travels. Three-quarters of the people coming through here are travel-weary, confused and enraged, so that tactic won't work. Besides, I'm pretty sure that this guy lives with his mother and spends his money on pirated DVDs. Shouting won't faze this guy. So, instead I opt for confusing him by being cheerful. When I finally get in the shop, I ask him if they no longer open at 6.

The extra from Clerks slowly looks me up and down, before deciding that I'm cool and and on his side, so explains that his bosses have decided to stop paying for staff to take a taxi to work because of the recession. So, he's showing his protest by opening the shop when he feels like it. I get the impression that I'm supposed to join him in outrage and congratulate him for sticking it to the man. Instead I just order a large americano and a bacon sandwich while checking my watch and wondering if I'll have time. The customer service poster boy throws me a bone. He won't be bothering to put out any sandwiches for another hour or two, so I'll have time to make the train after all.