Last week, as I was taking the train home with dozens of other crammed in and awkwardly positioned bodies, a fellow rider did something so small yet so surprising it made most of the people in the train car turn their heads. He was standing closest to the doors, wearing a bright yellow winter coat with a ketchup red backpack strapped to his back, but that’s not what made him bold.
At one of the stops, he hopped out of the way and asked if anyone else was going to be getting off the train before he stepped back into the car. Those closest to him looked up from their phones for a brief second, shifted their eyes quickly to the left, then right, back left again, and went back to their screens. This is pretty typical to a standard commute. Unphased, he jumped back in, looked at those closest to him and said, “Are we really going to do this for the whole ride?” He took out his own phone and mimicked them as he said this. They kind of laughed and he asked again, “Is this what you guys normally do every day?”
A brave soul closest to him engaged in the conversation, and slowly, he had a group of five individuals all chatting with each other. They were sharing public transportation horror stories and talked about which cities seemed to have the nicest people. Not surprisingly, the yellow coated man was not from Chicago. He talked about how people were chattier on public transportation where he was from, and how he had learned that the hard way after trying to strike up a conversation with someone on the red line at 2am. Yes, not the wisest of choices, and he knows that now.
This was interesting to me since most people shut down on the train, or tune in to only their phones, Kindles, or some other type of screen. Within about thirty seconds, this stranger had five people chatting with each other who wouldn’t have chatted otherwise. In fact, other people by the group were doing what they could to be a part of it. They’d smile and nod or try to join in with a quick “me too” or a laugh. It was refreshing and shocking all at the same time.
Isn’t that sad? That this passenger’s desire to strike up small talk was viewed as strange? I’m not going to say that I will be marching up to a stranger and striking up a conversation, but if someone near me asks a question or cracks a joke, I’ll acknowledge it. I know, I know. Stranger danger.
As addicted as I am to my own phone (guilty here), I’m aware of the problem it may cause. But, I’m happy to report that this chatty passenger was what I needed to shove my phone deep into my pocket and watch their conversation unfold. A small point for humanity was gained!