August 6, 2019 Commuting Community – Westport Train Station

Every day, for many years, she would rush to the Westport Train Station to catch the early morning train. Once on the platform, she would walk towards the end of the platform where the train’s front car would stop. It was a well-studied move. She reckoned she would be of the first ones to exit the train once it pulled into Grand Central and rush through the streets. That first car on the 6:30-something train, was in a sense a commuters’ community. Yet throughout those many years, she never spoke with her fellow commuters.

The ride had the same regulars every day. There was, for instance, a group of 4 or 5 people who every single morning would take down the ads/posters hanging by the exit doors and adroitly placed them on their laps to convert them into instant games tables. Their well-established routine was never interrupted. After so many years of such ritual, they did not chat too much among themselves; perhaps a bit more on Mondays, maybe to talk about their weekends. Their conversations revolved mostly around the game at hand. The conductor was the familiar fixture on the morning shift. There was a gentleman who every day, throughout the whole commute, chewed gum. His jaw, like a seesaw, up and down, up and down, incessantly. Then there was the window-looker, who in distracted gaze stared outside, lost in the passing landscape and awakening towns. Others simply closed their eyes or slept. Still others, like her, working or reading.

She occasionally looked up to contemplate the passing trees, houses, life along the tracks. She loved witnessing the change of seasons from the window, but her contemplations generally lasted a second, just like her furtive glimpses that scanned the scenes of her fellow commuters. Her pensive observations led her to wonder about the lives of these accidental riders who shared the constrained environment, who only revealed slivers of their humanness through their commuter personas. They were in a community despite themselves. It was a disjoint community, but a community still. On the evening commute back to town, she frequently saw some of the same people from the morning train.

She wondered how people would react if something were to happen on the train. What kind of community it would turn out to be.

She found out that Doomful September Day. The morning commute dynamic was just like any day of those-so-many years. On that forlorn Day’s return commute, she was among the first wave of outbound trains to depart Grand Central, after the Station’s doors were reopened to allow commuters to return to their families. Packed trains, people as close as they could physically be. She was squeezed by towering bodies; all turned into a compact One. Almost nobody talked, some whispered, nobody read, eyes down. Somber. Some with ashes on their clothes… The train, slowly, returned commuters to their respective towns.

As she/I got off and walked on the platform, into the broader community of the town, the sky seemed hazy, strange. A few days later, routine reclaimed its place. Back to the first car: the card players and their poster-table, the chewing gum man, the gazers, the sleepers, the suits…and me.