The People on the Train

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale

As you may have guessed if you follow this blog regularly, I barely got started talking about the 1998 Rail Pass trip in the post of 2/20/16. As I was reading through my journal while writing it, I came upon many of my encounters with the other people on the train, some of whom I can still recall without prompting.

Day 1 on the train, in coach seat:  This is my first taste of freedom and anonymity – I remember this feeling from when I began living in San Francisco – my first time in a large city.  I’m resisting the temptation to pipe up and join in ongoing conversations that I can overhear.  I want to stay single, independent, anonymous.

Day 2:  There are people from all over – speaking German, Polish (?), an Oriental language. It’s very beautiful to hear… And it’s fun to watch the various couples, being not part of a couple, for a change. The similarities (playing cribbage) and differences… The sweet things they sometimes do for each other, the bossiness, the assumed closeness, the laughter, and the frowning. It’s quite a phenomenon.

Day 5:  It really is different being a single traveler. Ate in the dining car at same table with three Japanese young adults who cared not a whit about me, made no effort to engage a conversation. (Only one spoke much English.) I finally asked them at meal’s end where they’re from, etc. – a minute or two – then left it alone.

Other non-USA riders (a Londoner in Canada, a couple from Luxemburg) have been equally un-curious.  Is it that I look uninteresting? Or is it just an American trait to be curious and nosey? I guess I was hoping to tell a lot of people about this adventure I’m on.

Day 18: There’s a little girl sitting somewhere behind me – probably 3 years old or so – who sings delightfully … would  love to have her voice on tape!

Day 19: Have had some delightful conversations with various women in the last few days; just breakfasted with three generations from Beaumont, Mississippi – artist types – and asked them about how to learn perspective (in drawing).

In Observation Car: Two little girls have met here on the train, found each other (no doubt to their parents’ delight).

Day 20: Had a lot of fun drawing with a little boy named Kris. He has a cat at his grandma’s place called Shockamo-doo-da-day.   I gave some drawing paper to the family with an almost-two-year-old, across and behind me – little boy who gave his momma such a sweet hug.

One southern woman knows how to have fun with that 3-year-old grandson. He’s in her custody, she tells me… and she’s also going to adopt a baby – she’s 52 and rides a motorcycle!

Day 23: Worked a crossword puzzle with a very nice kid (11-ish) en route to church camp.

Day 28: Ate in the dining car with another vital grandma traveling with her daughter and grandson – a widow full of life and actively seeking a good time – on a trip to Canada to study genealogy with her cousin.

What’s your modus operandi when traveling? Anonymous, or “out there”?

 

 

 

52 thoughts on “The People on the Train”

  1. Anonymous. I know this isn’t very Rick Stevish of me but I don’t go out of my way to meet people as I travel. If it happens, fine. If not, that’s okay too.

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  2. when i travel it is usually in a car. i go into my womb and listen to my choice of library or the radio and get inside myself to be prepared for where ever it is i am off to.
    when traveling on an airplane or in a train the circumstances of the moment determine which hat i put on. silent studious guy or chatty neighbor. headphones make the world a place to intrude. people are into their own little thing and it is easier to leave them to their own choice of participation. smart phones have messed up interaction. sitting on a bench today is going to be an experience of sitting in the midst of a world of people watching their own version of the world. a choice of a book a website a conversation with a distant place they carry with them and to share the moment of being there with someone else who is not necessarily there is a new challenge.
    i love meeting people and getting to know them and i am great at having a conversation for 20 minutes that is meaningful fun and beneficial.
    i have great conversations with people for 20 minutes or two hours or two years in small chunks. i also have good conversations with people for two weeks when we are locked into a situation together. this is how you find special friendships. people who you bond with happen in an extended set of circumstances.
    i feel like as i grow older i am the old man in the corner being an observer of the goings on and will on occasion stick my head in t comment but am often quite happy to be the outside observer. i have a number of choices that i carry with me which will suck all the time out of my excess time situation but i do get interested in a non list item that often takes over and jumps to the front of the line.
    the answer to your question is i am both the involved interactive traveler and the silent observer.
    thats a shorter answer but i do enjoy both.

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  3. I like to visit with people I meet when traveling if I have an opening. Some people seem to be tying to ignore people around them and I take that as an indication they don’t want to visit. I am inclined to take any opportunity I get to strike up a conversation and might even try to start one when I shouldn’t.

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  4. Husband is “out there” and will talk with all and sundry. I am more anonymous but like to observe and listen and sometimes participate.

    When daughter and I were in London a couple of years ago, we were waiting for a bus when a very nice woman came up to daughter and started asking her questions in German. Daughter was much surprised, as was the woman,who was certain that daughter was German because of her height and coloring and would be able to help her with directions. The woman also spoke fluent English and we had a lovely conversation and also helped her figure out which bus she needed. There were several instances of people asking daughter for directions or other information in London.

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      1. always makes me feel bad for people of off languages. i imagine how hard it would be if i spoke russian or albanian and had no way of communicating. i was in spain in the 70’s and found lots of english but lots of non english too. i had one trip where i piced up a hitchhiker and we stopped for lunch the guy at the lunch didnt speak english and the person i was with didnt spak spanish but they could communicate in german or french it was eye opening.
        todya i run into the same thing in computer languages. c+++ and python are different languages but the geeks can speak together a bit but ruby on raails is too far removed and a specialty language like swahili.

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        1. it’s interesting how and where there are crossovers in software development languages and where there are not (the equivalent of French/Spanish/Italian vs. Korean – which may look like it should be similar to Chinese or Japanese, but it is not).

          When I was in Norway I was not surprised by how many people there spoke English – most Norwegians learn English as a second language in school (it is, or was, mandatory). What struck me was the large number of Japanese speakers in Oslo – which makes more sense when you learn, after talking to someone in one of the tourist shops, that Oslo is a huge destination for Japanese travelers.

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  5. Two of the exchanges I had with with two people sitting beside me on plane trips stick in my mind. One was with a Romanian woman who was leaving her family in Romania to get married in Texas. She was very sad about leaving all her close friends and family in Romania. She also told me that she had been involved in efforts to make improvements in one of the Romanian orphanages where there was a history of child neglect. The poor treatment of infants in Romanian orphanages had recently been in the news.

    The other story I though was remarkable that I heard from a fellow passenger was about a pilot who was able to land a plane that had completely lost power. This guy said that the pilot told everyone to remain very still so he could slowly bank the plane as it glided without power and bring it in line to land. Apparently too much movement by passengers would have prevented him from gently turning the plane which he was able bring in line and land without power.

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      1. I try to be close to your travel persona. That is, I want to be open to relationships with strangers in spite of what we might call “shyness.” But that is not my natural stance. I’ve learned that my habitual and natural role is to be a witness to life: to watch and notice and reflect.

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  6. Morning all. I never thought about it but I guess my traveling is split into two different camps. Airports, airplanes – just leave me alone – I just want to get to where I’m going. Once I’m at my destination however, I love meeting and talking with folks.

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      1. There might be other factors. People often use flights to do important work or nap, so if you chat up your neighbor you might be interrupting. People on trains are probably less concerned about efficient use of time (or they wouldn’t have chosen to travel by train).

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        1. Actually, in Europe and Asia, trains are a very reliable means of transportation. You’ll know exactly when you’re going to depart and when you’ll be arriving at your destination. American trains are a disgrace as a means of public transportation.

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  7. The first time I traveled to Europe I was alone…took a student boat over, met a woman from my home town, another who had been a boarding house mate in college. The latter and I traveled a bit around England before she went off to school, I went off to Switzerland. I often talked/engaged people when I was alone, got myself in a couple sticky situations which I lucked out was with honorable men. When I traveled alone to Norway and Sweden in my sixties, I was more on the sidelines observing between visits with newly found family.

    I often traveled alone in my car in my twenties…oh, and a train trip back to college I spent a lot of time with a guy just getting out of the Sandstone federal prison (non-violent crime) listening to his story. He got off in Des Moines, for which as I recall, I was relieved.

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    1. my son and a buddy took the bus to orlando years ago and found out when federal prisioners get released they get a plane ticket to a station near thier home. he had too many experiences with guys just getting out who were on thier way home tow or three different guys going down same coming back. you have to listen and try to be open but there is no where to go and a long time between point a and point b

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      1. Yes, the first time I was mid twenties…stayed in Europe nine months, mostly with a couple Swiss families. In England, Scotland, Wales and Paris I traveled with my college buddy when she was on break. Felt much safer as a 60 year old, indeed.

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  8. Morning–
    There’s a fine line between ‘making conversation’ with someone and having them talk my ear off…
    I don’t travel much alone, but when I do attend theater conferences I’m usually on my own. Most years I ‘make a friend’ in the classes and we end up having dinner together. (as a lot of us are there alone even though we know a lot of people at the events)
    But the last time, nope, it was just me. Just never connected with anyone.

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    1. Conferences are one place I am far more likely to strike up conversations with others. Sometimes I’m there by myself, sometimes with a buddy or group from work. I figure some of the best learning at a conference comes from the conversations I have in the hallways or over a meal with relative strangers.

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  9. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling alone, but I don’t think of myself as either anonymous or “out there.” I tend to listen a lot more than I talk. I’ve had people tell me their life stories – or latest troubles – on a bus ride from St. Paul to Minneapolis. I must exude some sort of vibe that attracts troubled people; they spot me instantly and make a beeline for the empty seat next to me. This isn’t always fun or good thing, there are some seriously disturbed people out there.

    I’ve sat also next to people on trans-Atlantic flights were we didn’t speak to each other the entire flight, but more often than not, there are a few pleasantries exchanged. On a flight from Tuscon to Minneapolis, once, I sat next to an older architect. We started chatting, and discovered that the husband of a friend of mine worked for him. By the time we arrived in Minneapolis I knew more personal information about this man than I do about a lot of people I’ve known for years.

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  10. I’ve often wondered what subtle signals we send out to strangers. I had a friend in grad school who was extremely intelligent. But in many social situations that isn’t the vibe she put out. She was also quite unsure of herself, and that’s what people sensed first, although I can’t tell you what she did that told other people she was insecure. If you put her in a room filled with people of all sorts, some people would instantly identify her as someone who was receptive and maybe even vulnerable. She was a magnet for certain kinds of men. After some messy experiences, she taught herself to look aloof when she was alone among strangers.

    I have another friend who is pretty, friendly and highly social. I remember her telling me about striking up a friendship with a guy sitting next to her on a plane. “Me, I’d talk to a stump,” she explained. But she was also socially polished and secure in a way my other friend was not. This woman could be friendly without attracting guys who were troubled or likely to cause trouble. This woman can afford to be “out there” because she doesn’t attract people whose attention later becomes unwelcome.

    A trained observer could explain what subtle (but unintended) ways these two people sent such different kinds of cues to others. I can’t.

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    1. I must send of the “safe, middle-aged mom” vibe… I get asked for directions and information a lot, have been sought out by young women more than once in a “I need someone not freaky in this big group of strangers and you seem not dangerous” way… I have chalked it up to “she looks friendly, not homicidal, and not like she will talk my ear off, I’ll sidle up to her…”

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  11. My response will come as no surprise. If I’m flying and my seat mate has on headphones, is reading, or otherwise sending off signals that he/she isn’t in a mood to communicate, I spend the whole flight feeling agoraphobic and miserable. Not engaging in a conversation on a flight makes the time quadruple for me. I have the need to interact any time I’m not home alone.

    This is also why I don’t go to movies or eat by myself in restaurants. Both activities represent socializing, so not having another person with whom to be social is unappealing to me. It’s the “I’m the only one not with someone” club. So, the simplest solution to avoid such situations is to not go out alone.

    At the Portland airport, awaiting my flight for an hour, I scanned the crowd looking for anyone who wasn’t using some form of technology or another and zeroed in on a sad-looking young man. Bingo! No devise. I got up and seated myself next to him, saying, “You are literally the only person waiting for a flight who isn’t using an iPhone, iPad, or iPod!”

    From there, a lively and stimulating dialogue ensued. It turns out that his girlfriend of 8 years had just broken off their relationship and his father had died unexpectedly two weeks earlier. He was questioning why he should still go on. When we de boarded in Mpls, he threw his arms around me, thanking me for being there and comforting him in his grief. For that precious one hour in the airport, he didn’t feel alone.

    This, and other similar situations where I seek out people when I’m not here, make me wonder just how many conversations are missed, how many life stories go unread, and how many opportunities to touch other human beings never materialize because we’re preoccupied with our new tech devices.

    I

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  12. I was lucky on the train trip to get conductors who almost seemed to look out for me. I always had a “double seat” to myself at bedtime, meaning they had seated new passengers elsewhere late in the day. I could put down both seat backs, put up both foot rests, and curl up on my side in a space almost big enough to sleep on. (I noticed when traveling again at age 60 that this wasn’t as successful – a little arthritis in hips…)

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  13. In 1982, after a short business trip to Portland and visiting some friends in Seattle, I took the train from Seattle to Portland before flying back to the Cities. Not a major ride, but long enough to meet a delightful older woman from L.A. She had been visiting an adult son in Seattle, and was now on her way home – via Las Vegas. She had some sort of senior rail pass that allowed her to get off at places that piqued her interest, stay a day or two, and continue on her journey. She was well dressed, wore a rather large and elaborate hat, and tended to be loud (possibly because of hearing loss?), but she was fun and funny. My new friend told me that she didn’t travel by plane if she could avoid it. “People can sit next to each other on a plane for hours and never say anything to each other. Can you imagine? Why would you do that.” She couldn’t and didn’t.

    She asked if I’d like to have lunch with her, and I said why not.

    As we entered the dining car together, the elderly, black dining-car attendant threw his arms in the air and exclaimed in mock horror; “Oh no, Bella Abzug is back!” She didn’t miss a beat: “and you’re happy to see me, boy, because I tip well.” I remember being taken aback by her calling him boy, but it was said in a playful manner, and he ignored it. I didn’t take long for me to realize that these two had had fun teasing and ribbing each other on her trip north, and were going to continue their good-natured banter for as long as they could. They both had that playful spirit that makes life’s journey, whatever your conveyance, a joyful experience.

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      1. They were both memorable characters, BiR, and such a joie de vivre that it was almost palpable. But yes, I cherish the memory.

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  14. In a shell, which I learned as a business traveler. I will respond to people who speak to me, excep seatmates in planes. I do not like being a captive audience. I only had two who did not get the hint on planes, which is a small percentage.
    A funny moment with one of the two. A flight to Pittsburgh. I had aisle seat. Woman who took window seat glared at me an sat down. She had been an arbiter on a contract issue in which I spoke the union case. She bombed us; you could see she was grinding an ax. That does not happen often. So we, and the supt gave her bad ratings, which I am sure took her off the circuit. There is a winnowing process to select an arbiter. Supt gets reviews an we got reviews. Bad from both was bad. So along comes middle seat, a sweet chatty older lady who tried to make us all a happy talkative family. She never did feel the vibe.
    For the record, sim months after her decision, a judge elsewhere ruled I favor of my argument an it became the established rule for such cases.

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  15. Riding the express boat from Bergen to the small village where my great grandparents were born, I enjoyed watching a woman engaged in an animated Norwegian monologue with a couple sitting next to her. I didn’t understand a word she said, but she was a bit disturbing to me and I wondered what the people she was talking to thought.

    In Askvoll I stayed in the only hotel in town, and it seemed like I was the only one there. In the morning, however, as I ate breakfast, the very same woman sat down with me and (I think) continued her tale in English for an hour or so. Something about claiming her grandmother’s property in fast forward….

    But I never saw her again.

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