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Perils of a Sold-Out Train


The train is sold out. I’m hoping for a seatmate who will sleep. I know there are people who have found their soulmates on public transportation, but I’m convinced I’m not one of them.

“Is this seat taken?” He’s about my age, nice looking and smells good.

During my years of work travel, I discovered a universal truth. There are two types of seatmates: Ignorers and Chatters.

“What are you reading?” He hasn’t finished putting his bag on the overhead rack.

I recognize this as a pivotal point in this relationship, which — unless magic happens — will be over in two hours. What if I make it clear that I just don’t want to talk, to anyone? What if I ignore him? The best I can do is to hold up the book so he can see the title. Then I give him lukewarm body language. Bette Davis I’m not.

I grew up in New York, so you might think it would be easy for me to find one terse sentence that would let me travel in quiet. But it’s more chronology than geography. It’s growing up in the 50s, I think, that keeps me unable to say “Please be quiet!” to the loud talker in a restaurant or the smarmy salesperson on speakerphone in the airport. I’ve just never been good at it. It came with the territory of my WASPY polite family. Golden rule, schmolden rule.

First hour down, and this is what I’ve learned: He is divorced, bad break up. He dates a lot, at least once a week. His son goes to Dartmouth. He has a Cocker Spaniel, and it has a name. Did I say he was a Chatter? He is King of the Chatters.

He does punctuate most of his sentences with, “Don’t you think?,” but I realize 25 miles in that his “question” is just a placeholder until he can catch his breath. It wouldn’t matter if I said, “Let’s get naked and see if anyone notices.” He is on an amazing one-way frequency in this conversation.

For the last 15 minutes of the trip, I retreat to nodding or shaking my head in response to what I guess he’s been saying. I take my cues from his facial expressions. Smile = nod. Frown = shake.

The doors are about to open at the station. I have just spent two hours of my life that I’ll never get back again. I have regrets about that.

“So, are you on Facebook?” he asks, as we gather our belongings.

I want to say, “Everyone’s on Facebook.” I want it to be worthy of a Maggie Smith exit line as she harrumphs out of a room in “Downton Abbey.”

In my head I can hear my parents, my grandparents, and all my aunts and uncles in some heavenly choir. If you can’t say anything nice . . .

I pretend I don’t hear his question. And then I smile. Of course I do.

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6 thoughts on “Perils of a Sold-Out Train”

  1. Love this, very funny and very relatable. I have had this happen on 6 hour plane rides from Newark to LAX, yikes. Sometimes the book thing works, I pull it up and immerse my nose deep into it, but some people just don’t get it, or just prefer to ignore it. I think he had a crush on you 🙂

  2. Linda, this made me smile, I can relate all too well! And I love how you turn our everyday experiences into such wonderful stories (I’ve been reading your brilliant blog) – very inspiring. I was on a work trip flying back from Hong Kong once, a man sat next to me in business class and proceeded to tell me all about his life as a doctor, I was highly suspicious and managed to brush him off. Imagine how mortified I was several hours later when there was an announcement asking if there was a doctor on board – he saved a woman’s life!

    • Thanks, Esther! I’ve always learned while traveling. It hasn’t always been pleasurable, but most of the time enlightening! –Linda

  3. The chatter! At least he wasn’t a toucher to make a point. I used to travel weekly on planes 40+ weeks a year and I wore earplugs. When a chatter started I pointed to the ear plugs and lied and said I was just getting over a respiratory infection and can’t hear well and the plugs were saving me. It took me 4 chatterful years to come up with this foolproof solution to the chattering seat mate.

    • I sat next to a woman on a Southwest flight who started fake sneezing and blowing her nose as our near-full plane was boarding.

      When we were ready for take off and no one had chosen the middle seat between us, she turned to me and smiled and said, “Works every time!” –Linda

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