I never expected to be commuting daily by train. After having spent so many years sitting in stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 64, I was amused — and a bit terrified — about this new option in this place where I’ve moved. Since I live near the station and my job is just three stops away, rather than fight Atlanta traffic, it makes more sense to hop on the train.
I was such a tourist about it at first, trying to chat with those around me before realizing there’s a certain removed sort of etiquette among daily riders. It wasn’t long before I’d adopted that alone-in-a-crowd way of behaving.
I’d originally assumed that, with so many riding the train every day, I’d seldom see the same people twice, but soon began to recognize some familiars. I suppose it makes sense — they get on at the same time every day, just like me. Sit in their same favorite seats.
Most seem to read or play on their phones as they ride, but those things trigger motion sickness in me, so I entertain myself by quietly watching people and trying to guess what they’re like, what they do.
With some, I can’t even venture a guess. One of my favorites is a lady who must own 45 hats — all the same style, just in different colors. Her clothes are completely on trend and what I’ve heard referred to as “business elite,” yet her style of hats are commonly accessorized with fishing lures and spare hooks. It’s the most baffling thing. I watched her take off and adjust the hat once and was surprised to see a glorious, full head of hair, quashing the one theory I had.
I also regularly see a man in his mid-20s who must spend every spare minute at the gym. I say this because his muscles are developing so fast his shirts call to mind Bruce Banner changing into the Incredible Hulk, only a little bit slower and without any shift in pigmentation. Either that or he just likes wearing his kid brother’s clothes.
Most interesting, now more than before, is the regular who sits in the same spot every day, a man in his 60s who keeps his arms crossed sternly over his chest. He wears a neatly wrapped turban and has a thick and still mostly-black beard, but with extra graying at the corners of his mouth that make his perpetual frown seem all the more severe. The man’s expression — furrowed brow, severe gaze — never, ever changes. He appears to thoroughly disapprove of everything around him. Occasionally some boisterous kids or a loud-talking person will sit near him and he will snarl and shake his head just a bit. He’s a genuinely frightening man.
Well, he was anyway.
Yesterday morning, I watched a somewhat disheveled middle-aged woman plop down next to him. She bumped him with her purse and bags, apologized loudly, and then immediately started messing with her phone. I could hear the tinny clatter of a video playing from my spot across the aisle. I was certain the noise would annoy him, so watched to see his reaction.
His brow was pinched. His scowl deepened. He seemed to be bunching himself up, trying to put space between him and her.
She was oblivious, and soon began laughing loudly at whatever was playing on her phone’s screen.
And then she smacked his leg. And shoved her phone in front of him. And pressed play.
I was surprised when he didn’t shove it away. Instead, he watched.
A few seconds into it, he let out the biggest and most wonderful laugh I believe I’ve ever heard. I have no idea what the video was, but once it ended, they backed it up and watched it again. He was laughing so hard he was slapping his leg while she was wiping back tears.
His reaction was so unexpected I thought about it all day.
I’d been judging that book by its cover for weeks, and then was proven so wonderfully wrong.