The Fitchburg 406 Inbound to Boston – PART 1

Instead of just painting two pictures of my train riding experience I have decided to serve this up in several parts. This is because explaining the experience to someone who has never ridden a commuter train can be difficult because there are so many facets involved. It is impossible to just get on, ride and get off without experiencing a million things during that time.

Every Monday through Friday morning I get up at the crack of dawn’s ass and get ready for work. I get up earlier than most normal people because I have to catch the Fitchburg 406 train inbound to Boston. The 406 rolls into Concord Station at 6:55 and stops just long enough to let about 40 of us board. Then we leave our parked vehicles behind for the day, stopping at Lincoln, Hastings, Kendall Green, Brandeis University/Roberts, Waltham, Waverly, Belmont, Porter Square in Cambridge, and finally North Station in downtown Boston all in about 42 minutes. The people I ride the train with every day are just as different as the stations they board the train from.

I always try to find an empty seat when I first board and that’s usually not a problem. By the time we make a few stops most of the cars are filled to capacity, but deciding on finding an empty seat or immediately sharing a seat with someone else is determined by what my ride plan is for the morning which is, of course, dictated by my mood. I may be the only moron on the train who develops a daily ride plan. I develop my strategy in my vehicle each morning while driving to the train station. If I plan on cranking up my iPod and gazing out the window, I grab my own seat anywhere in the car to start off. These types of days usually happen when I had a lot to drink the night before or I am anticipating a not-so-great day at work and I just want to space out and not think about things. I’ll also go this route when I don’t feel like having to pay attention to anything and I’m not fully awake yet. The latter is in play most of the time.

If I’m going to read a book, I get as far to the front of the car as I can and share a seat with someone. In general I don’t read a lot, but I always have a book in my backpack that I can pull out and look at. I always get on the car that is second from the last in the train. Sometimes when I want to mix things up and be around different people I’ll walk forward a car or two before finding a seat. But for the most part, it’s the second car from the end that I call my morning comfort zone.

I stand in the same spot every day while waiting for the train and I stand right at the edge of the station platform to make sure I’m the first person to board. That gives me more seating options! I love the rush you get when the train pulls in and blows by you, standing as close to the edge of the platform as you can before having your arms ripped off. The feel of the wind the train creates and the way the ground shakes as it goes by are pretty cool. The thing about riding the train every day is that everything is the same from day to day. Everything is based on a schedule whether you’re inbound or outbound. What time you get up in the morning, what time you HAVE to be in the shower by, what time you go to bed at night and a lot of stuff in between is all predetermined by the train schedule.

I board the train at Concord Station with about 40 other people. Of all those people, only two of them converse while waiting for the train. I think they may work together, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is this seemingly ridiculous unspoken New England rule that says you are not allowed to speak to other people while you’re in a group of people. Of course, you can always pull out your cell phone and make or fake a call to satisfy that urge, but this rule is something I’ll never get used to. You can have 200 people packed into a train car and you won’t hear a word spoken. To have two people actually talking to each other at a train station that has 40 people waiting is an anomaly for sure!

Last week while I was standing on the platform sipping my coffee and waiting for the train I noticed a woman walk up and stand near me. I hadn’t seen her at the station before. At that time we were in the midst of several days in a row of rainy weather. For some strange reason I didn’t have my iPod turned on, and I turned to the woman and sarcastically said, “I can’t remember what the sun looks like.” It was just a simple statement, having no weight or importance. It was me making small talk although I knew such an attempt at doing so would break that sacred, unspoken Northeastern rule. Her immediate response was, “You must be from the Midwest!” I asked her how she could tell and she said, “Because you spoke to me! People that are from here don’t talk to each other.”

She had a perfectly valid point (and she just happened to be from my beloved home state of Michigan!). I’ve said it before – just getting a “good morning” or a “have a good night” out of people in the Boston area is like getting the government to balance a budget – it ain’t gonna happen, friends. This bothers the hell out of me because I like to talk with people. I like to hear about their experiences and what makes them tick. The simple exchange of ideas or experiences between people is something that brings us all together as a race. Kind of makes me a bit leery of the race of people that resides in the Boston area sometimes.

Another case in point, and I have to jump ahead to the train that takes me home every day for this one. Each day, as usual, I sit in the same train car, sharing it with the same people on the way home. A long time ago I noticed a girl who looks amazingly like Kirsty Ally. She always sits either just in front of me or just behind me, always across the aisle. I’ve never seen her smile, never heard her voice, and never seen her talk on her cell phone. She’s always reading a book and always has a serious look on her face. One day I decided to just say hi to her and introduce myself. I decided to do this just to see if it would start a rapport, possibly something that would open things up and allow us to at least exchange pleasantries now and then. I was willing to make an outlandish attempt at tearing down that wall, breaking that rule, and communicate with another human on the train. That was my one and only intention.

I said hello to her as I was taking my seat one afternoon and introduced myself. She told me her name was Michelle. I said, “Hi, Michelle, it’s nice to meet you.” Wow. Nothing huge, no earth-shattering crap there at all. She smiled, so it was the first time I had ever seen any emotion on her face. She didn’t have the world’s greatest teeth but I was willing to cut her some slack on that, seeing that we had just broken through the barriers and boundaries established by so many before us. It was the first time I had ever heard her voice. When she got to her Brandeis University stop, I looked up and wished her a good weekend as she put her backpack on and walked passed me to get off the train. She said the same to me, wished me a nice weekend. That was weeks ago and I haven’t seen her in my car on the way home since. She sat across from me in the same car on the same train on the way home every day for three months and now all of a sudden, I see her get off at her stop out of a different car.

In the morning she rides the same train into Boston that I do, and every now and then I see her get off the train and walk with the rest of us into North Station. The other day I caught up to her and asked her if I scared her by introducing myself to her. I asked if she thought I was some sort of kook or stalker or something. She only said, “I saw the wedding ring on your finger and I thought it was really strange for anyone married to introduce himself to me on a train. I decided not to take any chances so I’m just staying away from you. You know, you never know if someone’s out to hurt you these days, people are crazy!”

WHAT? ARE YOU FOR REAL?

I previously said that even though we don’t talk to each other, we – those of us riding the train – seem to share some sort of common bond and some level of caring for one another since we share so much time together every day. Maybe that’s just me being romantic or me having a senseless form of hope for the human species. Maybe I’m naive or maybe, just maybe, people are getting hard and jaded. They’re turning themselves off to their basic need of interaction with others of their kind. Maybe we’re all so busy these days or simply consumed by the ever-constant need of being self-centered that we just can’t find it within ourselves to lean on each other anymore. Whatever it is, whatever the reason, it seems to stick out like a sore thumb on the train.

Don’t get me wrong – riding the train every day doesn’t suck. There are so many facets to this experience that I can’t cover them all in one, two, or even ten blog posts. I’ve got a lot more to say and you’ll see it coming soon right here. The next post will focus on some of the people that make the train experience unique and interesting.

And to you, Michelle, if you ever happen to read this post, I’ll say again that I certainly never intended to flip you out and make you think that I am some sort of crazed, stalking lunatic that eats raw meat and howls at the full moon and pulls the wings off butterflies and drowns innocent little cats in gasoline.

I just wanted to say hi.

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