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January 05, 2017

A personal essay outlining my scruples with commuter trains.

Trains aren’t the worst form of transportation. Some would rank human trafficking trucks a bit higher. They are bad though. For instance, it’d be hard to travel the world only by train. It’s not that you wouldn’t get anywhere - but where you do get you’ll have lost the will to continue.

People often assume they’ll experience new things, like finding an amorous fling or getting involved in a murder mystery. Before I regularly commuted, I thought riding the train would be an adventure similar to street viewing North Korea with Google maps. The feeling was closer to having your skull driven against a bench grinder.

It starts in the many cold mornings. Unlike societal mega hubs that employ 3K lights and heating rocks for commuters to lay down on like molting lizard, most commuter trains stations are neither indoors nor heated. In the winter, officials suggest you dress in just about enough layers to stop a bullet as, by the end of the day, you’ll have ended up shuddering your way through four or five outfits anyways.

Suffer in the cold though you will, other commuters hardly ever mind. They resemble more background filler than people - and with visibly less detail from their respective animators - often wearing only a hat and T-shirt, blinking in synchronicity with the others. I like to imagine an asylum was having a two for one sale and the patients rose up against the staff, overpowered their sales counters and took their garbs to fit into society. That’s who you’ll find on train platforms. They come to life only when the train pulls in. Then they scramble for their own cabins or aisles; seats so empty they write poetry to fill the void - those same seats that are upholstered with used bandages and seamed by a frantic war doctor with twelve other pieces of furniture crying out to be attended or to be shot because of ‘oh God the pain.’ Those particularly selfish will purposefully bring on backpacks the size of circus trunks to lay beside them to claim it all for themselves.

Hoarding doesn’t make much sense to me. There is hardly anything to be had. The seat cushioning isn’t even comfortable. It’s like sitting in a bed of shifting rocks or of disjoined knuckles. Many seats are made from those self same materials they use to grade concrete and you’d have more back support from wearing a slightly stiff shirt

When you do find a seat, you’ll probably be sat either next to a whooping howler monkey giving escape instructions through his phone to a pair of caved in miners or a gray haired crone suspiciously eying you through her wax skin the entire way before letting out a dry hollow sound, like a poltergeist stubbing its toe. If your isles are all forward facing, consider yourself lucky. It gets worse when you have someone to share eye contact and dovetail thighs with - who will go the entire ride quite fine right before it’s their stop and they get up to go, spitting in your lap as they pull their bags off the overhead.

Forget about getting work done too. The tables they have are often the smallest of ironing boards and you’d be hard pressed to balance a gyroscope given a couple of screws and a drill. Besides, you’d only find that, taking into account everything around you, you’d do better to drive the bit through your eye.

Or at least through your ears to silence the intercoms. It’s not that they’re unintelligible like most describe. It’s that they’re all automated. They’re three or four second sentences that have, for some reason only known to the IBM A.I. death machine running all the trains, all been run through an automated voice generator.

I guess they assume if they use a person’s voice, it will be awkward after half a decade when the voice actor has passed on yet their recording is still repeated. It’d be comparable to when they tell you that half the people in a laugh track are dead. But that’s nonsense. I’d prefer they were dead than replaced by machine generated laughter - used to stimulate ‘haha’ lactation from our vestigial face holes.

I wouldn’t mind the coms if I didn’t have to stand right next to one each day as I waited for the restroom. It’s bad sharing one bathroom amongst three roommates. It’s legal, circumnavigated torture to have only one for over a hundred people. It’s not like we’re showering in there, but it’d be nice to be able to pee in a toilet rather than giving up and instead poking it through a floor opening in one of the vestibules. Don’t infer the restrooms are ill kept. The time I did get to see the inside of one, it was of a lovely polished metal variety; I assume kept pristine by the rhythmic cloth scruffing of couples having sex in there.

Having said all that, there is still good in this world. It’s great to just sit back and read a couple pages of Glamour - maybe have a bite to eat with your feet up. I think both the train conductor that crashed and killed fifteen in Beijing and I are of the same mind when it comes to that.

Like I said, trains aren’t the worst form of transport. I’ve always been mesmerized by the train horn. There are some days I think the conductor has either been signaling a particularly dangerous crossing or has caught sight of a bus full of rowdy underwear models and is impressing them by blasting away at his horn like an invading gaelic force.

It’s also nice every once and awhile to let someone else take the wheel. I’ve frankly been doing it for years and still the school board that hired me hasn’t noticed.