I was wandering around East Cambridge for the very first time, or at least the first time I can recall. But my wandering was cut short because I was running late in meeting up in Boston with my friend D who always takes it as a personal insult if I am late because she often feel that people are taking advantage of her. Even me.
So there was urgency in making my way back. Around the station, there were 3 or 4 intersecting tracks and I wasn’t quite sure which one would lead me to my train. And since all the of the trains were parked, I did not think twice about crossing the tracks. Actually I didn’t think about it at all. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention. I guess I was thinking about D.
The conductor starting shouting something and I realized she was shouting at me. And I shouted back, “What?” But she just kept shouting and shouting. And I yelled again, “I can’t hear you!” And she said “Get off the tracks!” And I said “Sorry!” as I crossed. Then she said “You can’t walk on the tracks. Get off the tracks!” And I said I was even sorrier. “I’m telling you this for your own good,” she said. And I knew she meant it. And I said, “I really appreciate that, but it makes me really uncomfortable when you yell at me, especially in front of all of these people.” To which she replied, “You know, you shouldn’t spend so time much worrying about what other people will think of you, unless they happen to be transit workers.”
I sheepishly climbed into one of the cars. The conductor was having a conversation with this guy in an orange safety vest who I assumed was a transit worker. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I noticed the conductor kept pointing at me. They went on talking in hushed tones for several minutes before the transit worker approached me.
Transit worker: Do you work for the transit service?
Me: um…. No, I don’t think so.
Transit worker: Then why were you walking on the tracks?
Me: It was a mistake. I’m sorry. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.
Transit worker: I understand people make mistakes, but you know, you can get yourself killed. I’m telling you this for your own good.
Me: Thank you. That’s what I assumed. And I really do appreciate it.
Transit worker: But…
Me: But, if I die, I die, I guess. It’s really not that big a deal. People die all of the time, but they don’t get yelled at for it.
Transit worker: Well, you can’t walk on the tracks unless you work here.
Me: I know. I wish there was a way I could convince you it wasn’t intentional. For I am but a stranger here. I’ve never been in this neighborhood and you can see I don’t have a very good sense of direction. I will never cross the tracks ever again unless I find employment with the transit service. I hear that the benefits are really good if you join the union.
Transit worker: They’re OK. They could be better. They used to be better. But why were you walking on the tracks?
Me: Wait, didn’t I just tell you? Weren’t you paying attention?
Transit worker: You know, I don’t appreciate that. Your tone. I don’t appreciate your condescending tone. I don’t appreciate that at all.
Me: Sorry, that’s not how I meant it. It’s like the complete opposite.
Transit worker: People like you who walk on railroad tracks without paying attention… you people think you’re all so entitled. You expect everything should just come to you naturally and when it doesn’t, it’s like some sort of shock and you have no idea how to respond. It’s really kind of sad. Sometimes I feel sorry for you.
Me: You know, I think you’re being really unfair. There are a lot of things in my life that aren’t so easy. It’s just that I’m not the kind of person who calls attention to them. But I wouldn’t expect you to know that. (pause) Actually, maybe this really isn’t about me, is it? Maybe this has nothing to do with me at all. There’s something else going on, isn’t there?
(Transit worker looks down).
Transit worker: Why would you think that?
Me: I don’t know. It’s just something I’m picking up on, but I could be wrong. Most of the time I am wrong.
Transit worker: No, you’re absolutely right. I’m just having a really horrible day in an awful week. I tried to compensate for it and I didn’t think anyone would notice.
Me: I think you did a pretty good job covering it up, but I kind of thought I was picking up on something. And I didn’t want to ask because what if you didn’t feel like talking about it? Then what would happen?
Transit worker: No, I would really love to talk about it. But I’m not really sure what there is to say.
Me: Well, you don’t really have to say anything. We can be silent for a moment. Maybe silence would be good for both of us. There’s too much chatter in the world, don’t you think?
Transit worker: I don’t know. I try not to make generalizations like that. But you know I’ve never been very comfortable with silence.
Me: Why do you think that is?
Transit worker: That’s a good question. I’m not really sure. I think when I was growing up, if I didn’t speak, people assumed I wasn’t paying attention.
Me: Did you have trouble paying attention? Was that an issue for you?
Transit worker: I never really thought of it as an issue. I guess I was daydreamer. I daydreamed a lot. I probably spent more time daydreaming than dreaming about being awake. But I always paid attention to my daydreams.
Me: That’s pretty common among transit workers.
Transit worker: Really? I’ve never heard that before.
Me: Yes, it’s really really common. I see it all the time.
Transit worker: Do you think this a generational thing?
Me: No, I think it has more to do with genetics. There’s a lot of studies out there.
Transit worker: Really? I’d love to read one.
Me: Well, OK. Maybe the next time I’m walking on the tracks, I’ll be sure to bring you a copy.
Transit worker: Could you? That would be great. Thanks so much!
Me: My pleasure.