Friday, 23 September 2011

Up against it in peak commuter time.

This morning I caught a train in peak hour.  I used to do this all the time.  These days, if I'm travelling in the morning, it will be before the crush.  Having relived the experience this morning I don't know how I did it everyday.

Today I was travelling at 8am.  By the time my train arrived at the station, it was already quite crowded.  When the train stopped at my station, about fifteen people were waiting at the same door as I was to board.  The rules are to wedge yourself in and try to find a little spot where you can keep yourself to yourself.  I spotted a seat!  In a bank of six seats, five of which were occupied, the spare seat had been left  by the window.  If no one else wanted it, I'd take it!  I excused myself and asked the two people to move over.  Instead, in a futile gesture, they moved their knees a little to the side, avoided eye contact and looked sullen.  As the train was moving I was required to climb over their legs while hauling a handbag and a briefcase.  It's a wonder I didn't end up in someone's lap.  I could feel their silent fury radiating towards me.

Then my stop came.  Naturally, they were staying on, so I had to climb over them again to get out.  My aim was to make them wish they had just moved up!

Switching to another train at the particular city fringe station I was at is hard work during the quieter times; during peak time, it's madness.  Everyone is clutching a mobile phone or ipod as if their life depended on it.  Heads are down and if you're not careful you'll be knocked off your feet into the path of an incoming train before you have time to evade the ticket inspector. You travel up a level to cross the concourse to another platform only to be greeted by a train that was twice as packed as the first one I had already caught.

There was no chance of getting a seat on this train.  There was barely a chance of having enough space to plant two feet and a briefcase.  People were pressed together very intimately.  My hand found a rail to hold onto.  It was in the armpit of a man I have never met.  Even after having my hand in his armpit, I haven't met him.  He glared at me.  Then I noticed that the aisle down the carriage had hardly any people in it.  I called out for people to move down, but their reaction was as though I smelt bad and had just said something incredibly embarrassing.

As the announcement came over to warn us to "stand clear, doors closing", I noticed the sign on the door urging us to keep the doorway clear.  What a redundant instruction.  It was clear of protruding finger, toes, arms and legs, but that was the best I could achieve and then only by breathing in and not upsetting Armpit Man.  As this train pulled into the next station, I knew that I would need to step off to allow people to disembark.  The train had not yet stopped when a person behind me informed me that I'd need to move out of the way as they would be needing to get off the train.  I'm not sure where I was expected to go.  We were like one of those squares puzzles where there's one space and you need to move the squares around to make a picture or get the numbers in order - except that we didn't have the spare space.  This person was pressing into me.  I don't understand.

I travelled two more stops and then fell out of the train , pushed by the human tide surge behind me.  The surge carried me up the platform and onto the escalators.  Again, people weren't looking up and out at the world.  They had their heads down and were buried in their hand held technology.  How ironic!  That people can be so disconnected from the world as they move through it because they are busy staying connected.  I don't know what that's called, but there should be a name for it. Perhaps I'll come up with one - just as soon as I have enough time to stop and smell a strange man's armpit.

It was warm in there.

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