Prior to hopping on the train this morning, I purchased an iced coffee at a local café, thinking it would wake me up for work. Instead, the chilled liquid immediately started roiling like acid sludge in my belly, threatening to come up in waves. And the jerky movements of the train weren’t helping any. It was dreadful. More dreadful still, there was no place to dispose of my beverage, so I had to hold the sweating plastic vessel for the entire ride watching it’s contents slosh around in a gross imitation of what was happening in my stomach.
Now I’m an able-bodied person still in the bloom of youth, so most days I’m happy to stand up and let others take what seats are available. But today it was my greatest wish to sit calmly, set the coffee cup down between my knees and let the acid tides recede. Imagine my delight, then, when the train started to slow at Atlantic/Pacific, and the person right in front of me (a middle-aged man rocking Men’s Warehouse) lifted his backpack as if preparing to get up. Oh frabjous day! The doors slid open, and… and... he just sat there. False alarm. I sighed in resignation while the acid sludge tossed more angrily than before.
The man picked up a book that had been sitting off to the side, but it was nothing interesting, some workbook-y paperback textbook like “Microeconomics for Manchildren” or what have you. In cases like this where the reader matches the book too closely I often lose interest. It would have been more intriguing if he’d been reading that revamped Bella and Edward edition of Wuthering Heights, for example. Anyway, the train once more started to slow, and this time, the man not only picked up his backpack, he closed the book with what I perceived to be an air of finality and slipped it inside, zippering the pocket behind it. Was ever there a surer sign of getting off? He held the pack on his lap and looked purposefully at the door, while I looked purposefully at him. The train stopped in a series of shuddering jolts, each one heightening my anticipation of the upcoming seat vacancy. But when the full stop came, the man remained firmly rooted to the bench. Wtf? I think Lewis Carroll would agree that this was not frabjous at all! He went through this same routine at every single stop as the train rumbled and jerked its way over the Manhattan Bridge and up towards Midtown. By the time the he got up to leave, I was two stops from work and thoroughly nauseated.
Now at first glance it might seem like this is a rambling string of complaints about nausea and public transportation etiquette—but it’s not. This is a rambling string of complaints about motion sickness: the feeling you get on a moving train when no one is reading. Because the very worst part of this morning’s commute—worse than the coffee and the standing and the hopes dashed to smithereens over and over again—was the fact that aside from Mr. Backpack, the train was scarily devoid of books and readers.
I would have been reading, if only I had a seat.