If you are in need of a new friend, I would suggest looking for one at the train station.
I say this because everyone is overly friendly while they wait for their train. In a world where we can barely hold the door open for each other anymore, I am always surprised by the talkative demeanor everyone has in the dingy station environment. When I went home for Easter I definitely encountered some characters on my trek leaving and returning to the Q.
I have come to the conclusion that my forehead reads, “Please walk me through this whole process because I have never been on a train before.” Although this label came in handy the first time I took the train, now that I am a few trips in, I would like to know how to wash it off. I think the fact that I carry a backpack half my weight might have something to do with it (thanks to my professors who gave me plenty of work to keep me busy over the weekend). I also have this tendency to look paranoid when I am looking at the track board; there is something about the noise it makes when the trains shift columns that makes me jump.
I wish it would not make such a scary noise, because it distracts me from my people watching. I have no problem admitting that people watching is one of my favorite past times, and there is no better place to do it than in the train station – well, besides maybe a zoo or an amusement park, but that’s another story. You see people from all walks of life in the train station; from college kids to little kids to random men in red pleather pants and matching shoes. And the best part is, they are all willing to talk to you. And when you find someone who is on your train, it does not matter how you differ in demographic or lifestyle, your one thing in common leads to a conversation.
However, if I can give you one piece of advice for taking the train, it would be to try and make more than one friend. Take my buddy Kyle that was on his way to Vermont; we quickly discovered that we would be on the same train and he could not wait to tell me that he had playing cards for us just in case the train ride took 19 hours like when he got stuck in a snow storm one time. I quickly made a mental note to make sure my parents picked me up next Christmas break. As our arrival time approached, we went to get on our track.
In Newark, N.J., Penn Station has two staircases to the tracks, one on each side. This was cause for major confusion for Kyle. Now, I always thought it was bizarre too, but I recall someone telling me that it does not matter which side you go up because it leads to the same place. Kyle would not take my word for it, and I guess my lack of assertion in confidence was good enough reasoning. So back and forth Kyle went, asking everyone which track two we were supposed to be on. As Kyle and a tall companion he found sprinted to the other side to catch the train that was going to “the other track two,” I stood having a mini panic attack. Thankfully, I made conversation with a woman who uses the train daily, and she reassured me that I was in the right spot. And sure enough, Kyle and the tall man made their way back to us after walking in a circle, because the “second track two” actually just leads out further down the same track.
So the moral of my tale is if you plan on bringing work for the train ride home, make sure it is just busy work. Because it is guaranteed your concentration will be interrupted by the new friends you will make. But enjoy the conversation and maybe even learn something from the people you meet, because once you get off the train, strangers will not be as willing to talk or play cards with you.