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Moving Right Along

Eavesdropping on life in transit.

I wrote a post for the website Realcity today. It’s up the alley of the topic of this blog, so I’m posting here. It’s my response to the recent op-ed in the New York Times, “The Go-Nowhere Generation”. Hope you all enjoy! 

The Merits of the Metric System

G Train - Brooklyn, NY

“I’m gonna go back to the first place and see if they have it again tomorrow.” The little boy with the curly hair sat on the seat to the right of me, he looked to be about eight or nine. His sister, a sullen pre-teen, sat to my left, his father stood between them in front of me. As the boy talked he looked up at his dad, his big front teeth protruded from his lips even when his mouth was closed.

“You’re gonna try again?” His father held the bar above my head for balance, he seemed old to have such young children, his graying hair tucked under a crumpled black baseball cap, his posture a little hunched and his voice sounded tired.

“Yeah. I’m gonna go back to the first place. But, I always feel a little like, a little guilty when I go into a store or somethin and ask for somethin and they don’t have it and then I just leave.” The boy’s energy pushed into his words, so each popped like a bubble as he discussed this uncomfortable experience.

“Don’t feel guilty son. That’s business. That’s just business.” The father senses his discomfort and attempts to impart a lesson.

“I’ve got math tonight.”


“Yeah, but it’s really easy stuff. Like Kilometers and centimeters and stuff… well actually now that I say it out loud, that doesn’t sound so easy,” the little boy laughed nervously, and continued, “but easi-ER, because today we studied it.”

“That’s good.”

“Like I learned that a kilometer is reeeaaallly big, like a mile,” his arms stretched out into the aisle of the train to show how big.

“Even bigger than a mile. It’s not the same, though. We don’t use that system anyway,” his father dismissed the study of this system. His voice still low as if trying to balance the loudness of his son.

“No, you know we’re the only ones that use feet and inches in the whole world!? We’re the only ones.” The boy served his father’s disbelief right back.

“You gonna move to Europe then?” His father countered.


“You’ll be ready to move to Europe then.”

“No, I’m not movin to Europe!”

“Well, you never know. What if Newt Gingrich gets elected? Then we’ll be outta here.”

“Haha. We’ll move to Europe for the four years if he’s president, then come back?” I was surprised that such a young boy would be concerned with something like presidential politics, but maybe I just forget what it’s like to be his age.

“Maybe, maybe not.”

The little boy paused to think about this proposition.

“I dunno. I think I’d rather stay here,” another pause, “with my frieeends.” His lips spread over his large teeth as he said the word, stretching it in his mouth, so that he sat there smiling sheepishly at his father, considering this life of parental freedom.

“‘With yer frieeeeends?’” the father mocked gently, “You sound like a hillbillie.”


“Nothin,” he ate his unkind words.

“I could stay with..hmm..” he considered his options, “I could stay with Colton … or Ross. No, not Ross. Me and Ross and two babies! No way.” Ross was out.

“Chaos.” The father agreed.

“But I could live with Colton for four years while you live in Europe. Colton doesn’t have a brother or a sister,” he thought of what this could be like, “Or a father.”

“Well, he has a father.”

“No, they got divorced. They’re divorced now.” Again the boy shocked me with his easy ability to bring up such adult subjects.

“Well that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a father still.”

Though I guess no subject can ever be strictly adult.

“Next stop Myrtle-Willoughby,” the crackly subway PA announced.

“One more stop! Our stop is the next one.” The little boy jumped from his seat and grabbed his father’s hand, staring to his silent older sister, plugged into headphones still on the seat next to me and motioned for her to join them.

“Yup, everyday.”

They exited the train together, the little boy running ahead on the platform, while the other two moved slowly behind.

Stephen was a good man, but he was just too effeminate for me. You know? I’m a strong, dominant personality and I need someone who can match that.

—S4 Bus Washington, DC

We just need to get on an airplane and go. See where it takes us.

S2 bus - Silver Spring, MD. The woman sat at the front of the bus, talking to the driver. 

Finally had time to update my @InTransitEssays blog! Read my new post: “Understanding” here: http://t.co/pkzMle2K #blogs #cnf #subwaystory


The A Train - Downtown - New York City

The man got onto the train, two cameras strapped to his body and holding a small black Bible in his hands. He sat quietly. His feet stuck out into the aisle as he unscrewed the lens covers on each camera, turning them backwards and screwing them tight before loading each one preciously into his backpack. Throughout the process he kept glancing at the Bible. Flipping it open, then closing it in his lap after a moment.

As soon as he put the second camera safely in the bag he stood, he moved suddenly from his seat next to a young woman into a seat across the aisle next to another man. The two open seats behind him were also hedged in by a man sitting between them. 

A woman fell into the seat the photographer had just left empty. She turned toward him, moving her lips around the words “thank you,” though little could be heard above the rumble of the train. She kept her eyes slightly down, looking out over her glasses which rested on the tip of her nose, and beneath a blue and white headscarf covering her hair and chin completely. She clutched a cloth grocery bag on her lap and caught her breath.

The man who gave up his seat opened his Bible toward the back, nodding a silent, “No problem,” at the woman while he started to read.

You can flirt with whoever you want — just don’t tell me about it.

—The two girls discussed their teenage love lives, lounging across a bench of the G train in Brooklyn as if it were a couch in one of their bedrooms. 

"He was hungry for the information, for a connection, to see what everyone else could." — Seen (Scene) From the Bus http://bit.ly/oJNKlt

Scene (Seen) From the Bus

S2 Bus, Washington DC, Toward Silver Spring

Distracted from my book for a moment, I looked up, and realized we had been sitting in traffic for several minutes. The road was gridlocked as far as I could see.

“Are we stopped? Where are we?” A man sitting near the front of the bus asked out loud to no one in particular. Sunglasses shaded his eyes and a service dog was curled at his feet.

A man sitting to his left looked around the silent bus, then answered, “Yup, traffic.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.” The man paused before inquiring further. “Can you see why?”

“It always gets this way, during the tennis tournament,” the other man went on. He spoke hesitantly as if feeling out the interest of his audience.

He was bald in an awkward way, his head wasn’t very attractive and his eyes bulged unnaturally.  He was actually almost frightening to look at straight on. But the other man listened intently.

“Tennis tournament? Here?” The blind man asked. He sat facing the window that looked out on the tournament grounds, unseen to him.

“Oh, yes, a qualifier for the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi played here last year. Didn’t you hear?”

“You don’t say? Well isn’t that something. And it’s happening now?” He was hungry for the information, for a connection, to see what everyone else could.

The other man took the hint and happily became his eyes. “Yes, now. The parking lot is so full, and it just kills the traffic on this road about this time, when everyone is trying to leave. Yup, there they are, huge parking lots, all full here,” he paused, gathering more material through the window. “And big white tents, several of them. That’s where the matches are played, under these tents. And people have to park way out and then walk all the way here.”

“They play tennis under tents? Huh, isn’t that something.” The blind man seemed to recap to himself, filing away the scene he heard about somewhere in his brain.

The bald man moved over so he was sitting beside the blind man. “Well, now it looks like we’re moving finally. What’s your stop?”

“Rittenhouse Street.”

“Oh yeah? You live on Rittenhouse? Me too!”

“Well, no, I live a few blocks down, on Somerset.”

“Oh, Somerset, so you live near Stewart House?”
“Stewart house? No? I don’t know. What is it?”

“Oh, it’s a safehouse, a halfway house for addicts. You didn’t know it was there? It’s just on the corner of Somerset. You sure you don’t know it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t hear anything from it.”

“Well, I’ll point it out to you, I have to walk that way anyway. Here, our stop’s coming up.” The bald man pulled the bus cord. The digital sign at the front of the bus read Rittenhouse Street.

The blind man smiled and stood up when the bus stopped and lowered to the ground, urging his dog to lead the way. The bald man rushed off before him and stood waiting on the sidewalk.

I watched through the window as he stooped down to pet the blind man’s dog before waving goodbye to the driver. 

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