One odd thing, a very very odd thing really, thinking about it, is how silent the commute into The Big City is.
Not silent-silent, of course; the train makes lots (and lots) of noise, the big commuter train and the subway trains. The loudspeakers also speak loudly about standing clear of the closing doors and all.
But the people…
There is an official Quiet Car on the big commuter train; the first car or the last one, generally, depending on phase of the moon or something. (On the even bigger Amtrak trains, the Quiet Car has signboards suspended from the ceiling, saying “this is the Quiet Car” and all; on the commuter train you’re just supposed to hear the announcement and know which car you are in.)
But really, they needn’t bother.
On every car, everyone is silent. There may be two or four people traveling together, who speak in low whispers. There may be someone talking quietly into a cellphone, but even if they aren’t talking about their recent surgery or divorce or whatever (which I can sort of understand being disturbed by), but just saying “yes” and “aha” and “that’s nice”, they can still be tapped on the shoulder and asked to “keep it down” (I have seen this happen, with my eyes!).
I suppose maybe everyone is either trying to sleep, or being considerate of people who are trying to sleep.
Or they are just being boring. :)
Who does dare to make sounds? It’s kind of an interesting list:
- People will talk, a little, if there is a reason; they will ask each other to make sure this is the right train when the loudspeaker says something confusing; a nice lady will ask me if I am all right when I make the mistake of sitting down on the subway and therefore crack my head sharply on the overhead handrail when I stand up again, and therefore sit down again quite abruptly; someone will ask me if this train stops at Penn Station, and I will proudly know the answer and tell them it does. But that is all very brief.
- The subway musicians make sounds of course. Good sounds! Both the licensed ones with their assigned spots and their nice-looking cases put out for tips, and maybe their CDs for sale, and the I-suspect-less-licensed ones who just set up at a random place in the long hallway between Times Square and Port Authority. (I always carry spare dollar bills in a cargo pocket for these.)
- Some people asking for things are mostly silent also, just sitting with a cup and maybe a sign, hoping for coins (or dollars). They are pretty rare; I suspect they are silent because if they are too noticed they get moved along by Authorities. But sometimes they will talk softly, or slightly jiggle their cups.
- More mobile people asking for things can break the quiet of the subway to give their stories and rattle their cups; those tend to get dollars, too, even if (like the quite able-bodied guy on the 8th Avenue Local yesterday evening) their stories don’t really sound all that convincing. But I am in the “better a dozen grifters scam a bit than a hungry person get nothing” camp, so there we are. (The other morning on the train platform there was a guy offering resumés and asking if anyone needed a Graphic Designer; unusual!)
- In between are the occasional musicians on the subway itself; playing the guitar or the sax (both or which I’ve seen recently) or whatever else. Do they also need licenses, I wonder, or are they technically just subway riders who happen to be playing an instrument, or something else?
- The people giving away (trying to give away) the dueling Free Newspapers (AM New York and something Metro something) are to variable degrees talkative and cheerful or forceful or loud.
- There are always people shouting about their God; pretty much invariably that Jesus fellow. Sometimes they are reading aloud from their Bible, holding up signs with chapter and verse, and sometimes just expressing themselves, apparently ad lib, about sin and salvation and all.
- And then there was this rather down-at-the-heel looking fellow with a full beard who was singing (in quite a respectable voice) John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” while walking down that same long underground tunnel yesterday. If I wouldn’t have been completely and insultingly off-key I would have joined in out loud (I did in my head, of course).
I’m told that in more Southern climes public transportation is much talkier, more raucous, full of conversation and argument and shouting. I don’t know if that’s true even on Monday mornings. :)
There was that one time, some holiday night or something maybe?, when I was on a train for some reason and there were some tipsy young women talking and laughing and singing, and there was a not quite as young (but also I suspect slightly inebriated) man who kept yelling at them to shut up, and that was exciting. I think they all eventually got more or less thrown off the train by the conductor(s), for being unwilling to calm down.
More interesting than the stifled stifling silence, anyway…
how the hell can a person
go on to work in the morning
to come home in the evening
and have nothing to say?
Make me an angel
that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
that I can hold on to
To believe in this livin’
is just a hard way to go.