I’m sure you’ve all heard by now about that horrible commuter train wreck near Los Angeles that left 25 dead and another 135 a wide range of injuries. They think the accident happened because the engineer was text messaging at the time and ran a stop signal. What interested me about this story were the reports from the survivors who talked about the relationships that had developed over the years between the passengers on this train.
We all have groups of people on the periphery of our lives that aren’t strangers, yet aren’t friends, yet are more than acquaintances. People you ride on public transit to and from work with every day is a prime example. People in your workplace perhaps that you don’t work with directly, but see every day in the hallways or elevators or cleaning the washrooms or manning the security desk. People who own or work at your regular shopping places. People at your gym. The parents at your kids’ school. Even the people in your blogworld.
We get to know these people in odd ways. We don’t know most of their names; or maybe just their first names. We get to know a few things about them through brief conversations or conversations overheard or through gossip with others. We don’t socialize with them; we rarely know anything but the most superficial details of their lives and yet we care about them. We miss them when they’re not where they normally are; we are moved to help them when there’s a crisis in their lives; and, we’re ever so curious about them, aren’t we? Some more than others.
Here are some people from my daily commute that set my brain awhirl with speculation, theory and conjecture:
- Cane Lady: A seemingly nice, cheerful woman who walks with a cane and a limp; struggling on and off the bus ever day. Her seat at the front of the bus is sacred. The other commuters ensure that this spot is always available for her. One day I saw her at the market, arms loaded with bags, walking as normally as anyone; no cane in sight.
- Smelly Christmas Tree Lady: She makes a point to include every colour known to man in her daily wardrobe and make-up application. She is bedecked with many kilos of dangling, jingling, jangling arm, neck and ear costume jewellery (emphasis on the “costume”… really, I think she shops at Ringling Brothers). She seemingly can never decide which of her collection of Avon perfumes she should wear each day, so she settles for a spritz or two or three of each. Then, just before boarding the bus she has a cigarette. She’s still exhaling smoke on her way to her seat which everyone is praying is not next to them.
- Tubby Grouch Guy: He’s round all over. He’s at my bus stop so I see him amble to the corner store every morning for a large coffee and several bags of sweets which he stuffs into his trouser pockets as he makes his way to the bus stop. His pockets bulge and crinkle as he walks. He never speaks. I say good-morning. He ignores me. Some of us chat about inane bus stop stuff. He never joins in. He never talks with anyone on the bus. He never says good-morning to the bus driver like everyone else does. He just sits and stares into space. I know he can hear because he has an iPod plugged into one ear, and I know he can speak because he once said, “yu” in response to a direct question.
- The Cute Little French Lesbians: They get on at the stop before mine so I can see them leave their house each morning, hand in hand. They’re small and trim and have identical haircuts. They often share each others’ clothes. They sometimes dress the same. One is much, much cuter than the other. They talk to each other non-stop, and are always, but always smiling at each other, which I think is odd for a couple. They find a lot of imaginary lint, threads, eyelashes and stuff to brush off each other throughout the ride. They adjust each others’ collars. They look at each others’ watches to check the time. They’re so adorable, I always feel like giving them a big group hug and pinching their cheeks before I get off the bus.
- Noisy Foreign Girl: She looks Slavic or something. I’ve never heard her speak, so I can’t be sure that she really is foreign. She always wears the same too-long black pants and black t-shirt. I’ve checked for identifying smudges or flaws to see if they’re really the exact same or if she has a whole collection of identical pants and t-shirts. I’m pretty sure she just wears the same ones every day. She has well-muscled arms and walks with a peculiar fast, firm strut. She always carries 3 or 4 different bags (a couple of purse-like items, a sports bag, a book bag). She chews a big wad of gum every freakin’ morning, very, very noisily. Her iPod is so loud everyone on the bus can hear an actual tune from it (not just that annoying squawking). She looks very pleased with herself.