Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Happy Commuter Rides Again

Yes it's true. After my career break, the Happy Commuter is back on the railways, travelling daily into the very heart of the great metropolis in pursuit of my dreams. And what a way to start. My first week in the new job just happened to coincide with the worst snowfall we've had for three thousand years (or whatever), meaning that I only actually made it in for three days out of five. Now I'm a big fan of working from home as a rule, but in the first week?

Still, the bad weather, and accompanying transport difficulties, have at least prompted me to once again ponder the paradox that these situations bring out the best (or worst, depending on your standpoint) in commuters - in that they start acting quite out of character and being thoroughly nice to each other.

On Thursday I was heading home after work on a rather crowded train which had been rerouted to stop at all stations along the line. Halfway through our very slow journey, we stopped in some out-of-the-way place and a single passenger got off, thus freeing up a single seat. Now normally this would cause a sudden outbreak of what I call "Feed The Ducks Syndrome" amongst the standing commuters. You know when you chuck a bit of bread inot a pond or lake or whatever (if it's not prohibited for Health and Safety reasons) and all the ducks go for it at once. The one that gets there first gobbles it up, of course, and all the others immediately go back to what they were doing, pretending that they were never interested in the first place? That's what happens when commuters are competing for a lone seat. The victor contrives to look smug and apathetic at the same time, and the vanquished, however many there are of them, feign indifference.

On Thursday evening, however, we were more like shrinking violets and hungry ducks. "Would you like a seat?" "Oh, I couldn't possibly" etc etc. There were three of us clustered around this seat and we were all determined not to sit in it. Eventually it became clear that someone was going to have to sit down (you can't leave a seat empty, you know), so we had to resort to gesturing to people at the other end of the carriage that there was a free seat and would they be so kind as to come and sit in it. We were halfway to the next stop before we finally managed to coax a young lady out of the vestibule to take the seat, and evenb then she did so with the most profound reluctance. Fortunately the snow has thawed somewhat (having said that, it's snowing now) and normal service has been resumed, both in the case of the trains and the hordes who travel on them.