A train story, part II

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Welcome to part II of our 88-part series related to train stories. Part 1 was ten months ago, which means we should conclude the series sometime in 2085.

I witnessed a pretty amazing scene on the train yesterday, something that seemed like it was out of a movie. It was a conversation between two people sitting to the left of me – I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it was so unbelievable that I had to keep listening.

A man, maybe in his late twenties or early thirties, was working on his laptop, typing away furiously while juggling calls on his cell phone. It didn’t really bother me, and he wasn’t being loud, but it was certainly noticeable.

After one of his phone calls ended, a middle-aged woman to his left looked at him. Might I ask what you do?

The man looked to his left – he was caught off-guard. Oh, I work on the mayoral campaign for Christine Quinn (editor’s note: she’s a Democrat).

Interesting, the woman said. Let me preface by saying that I am not a Democrat, ok? Do you know who I am?

The man didn’t know what to say. The woman repeated herself, a little louder. Do you know who I am??

Again, silence. I work for Blah Blah (editor’s note: I didn’t hear the name, but it was very clearly a Republican that is also running for mayor). And for the past twenty minutes, I’ve been overhearing your phone calls and reading your emails that you have displayed on your laptop. I’ll be sure to let my office know tomorrow morning.

The man was clearly flustered. Y-y-you’ve been reading my emails?

Yes, you’ve been very loud and you’ve had your work displayed publicly, and I am within my rights to read anything in public.

The man closed his laptop. I thought he was going to get up and leave, but he didn’t.

Let me ask you a question, the woman said. Why do you feel the need to be loud and do work on the train? That is such a Democrat thing to do. Everyone in this generation feels the need to plugged in and connected 24/7 – everyone is always in a rush.* Clearly, this woman was going too far.

*This comment made me smile, because yesterday XKCD posted a comic related to this very phenomenon. The gist is that people have been saying this for centuries – something along the lines of “Back in my day, things moved slower, people were nicer, etc. etc.”

But the fact is that people have remained remarkably similar. Sure, technology has evolved. The way we consume information is very different. There have been many cultural shifts. But human nature is about the same. I think back to the old French saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This was written in 1886, but sounds like it could be written today:

“With the advent of cheap newspapers and superior means of locomotion… the dreamy quiet old days are over… for men now live think and work at express speed. They have their Mercury or Post laid on their breakfast table in the early morning, and if they are too hurried to snatch from it the news during that meal, they carry it off, to be sulkily read as they travel… leaving them no time to talk with the friend who may share the compartment with them… the hurry and bustle of modern life… lacks the quiet and repose of the period when our forefathers, the day’s work done, took their ease…”

I have found that older people tend to say these things – things like “People are in such a rush these days. Back in my day, we could leave our doors unlocked. Crime is so much worse today.” When I hear this, I usually just sit there and smile – I have a hard time disagreeing with anyone over 70. But you know what? In 2013, crime is at its lowest point in all of human history. Here are just a few examples.  And people have always been in a hurry. I think these remarks are not necessarily bound in truth, but more in a longing for something that is no longer here. People tend to remember the past as being better than it actually was. 

This might be my longest tangent yet. Back to the story.

The man was really flustered, almost cowering in fear. I-I-I’ve got to pay the bills. And my job requires me to be connected at all times. I don’t appreciate you reading my emails. I have a lot of work to do. Have I offended you?

The woman responded – No, you haven’t offended me, but it feels like today everyone is always working, working, working, and I don’t like when others are being loud on the train. It’s disrespectful.

The man didn’t say much after that. I was left with a bunch of questions. What did the emails say? Whose campaign did this woman work for? And, above all, what are the odds that two people on two opposing mayoral campaigns happen to sit right next to each other?

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