Friday, August 29, 2014

The public is the worst part of public transportation

Imagine running into this dude at 6:30 in the morning. Not fun, citizens. Not fun at all.

I hate people. Just flat-out hate 'em. Oh, sure, I can make exceptions for individuals. The person reading this article right now might be a great guy or gal. But a generalized, all-encompassing love for humanity? No way. People are just the worst. Why do I feel that way? Because I've gotten to know them through the miracle of public transportation.

For the last decade, it has been my privilege to work in the great city of Chicago, but I don't actually live there. Instead, like the clueless schmuck I am, I make my home in the 'burbs, specifically a community called Arlington Heights, IL about 25 miles to the north and west of the bustling metropolis. The town (technically a "village") has a reputation for being slightly upscale, and there is indeed a cluster of pretentious restaurants, theaters, boutiques, and bars downtown to cater to the upper-middle-class professionals who call Arlington Heights home. But I live in a decidedly working-class, ethnically-diverse neighborhood on the outskirts of town, far from anywhere overpriced tapas are served. My nearest neighbor is a half-deserted strip mall, and the local landscape is decorated with discarded condoms and empty Mountain Dew bottles. Because I refuse to drive into and out of the city every day, I get to my job by means of a commuter train which leaves from a station in the center of downtown Arlington Heights. I'm far enough away from that station that I have to actually drive to get there, so in addition to the thousands I shell out each year for train fare, I also pay the Village of Arlington Heights about $400 annually to park in one of its awkwardly-designed, overcrowded public lots. My total commute is about an hour each way. Hey, it's not all bad. I've gotten way more reading done in the last decade than I would have otherwise.

Every weekday morning at 6:30, you'll find me and dozens of other commuters standing patiently (or not so patiently if the weather is bad) on the asphalt-and-concrete platform which runs parallel to the train tracks. People gather at the places where they think the doors will be when the train finally comes to a stop, so there are clusters of commuters all along the side of the track with big gaps between them. But this is an inexact science at best. Depending on who's driving, the train may stop way to the left or way to the right of where it's "supposed" to be. You can never really tell. It's like a roulette wheel. Where she stops, nobody knows. Consequently, the first people to arrive at the train station are not necessarily the first people to board. The early birds tend to be in the middle of the clusters (since the clusters actually form around them), and the people who happen to be closest to the doors will likely enter the train before they do. When the train pulls into the station, I try to gauge how quickly or slowly it's moving as it approaches us, and then I reposition myself on the platform in the hopes of being closer to the doors. I don't push. I don't shove. I don't step on people's toes. But, yes, I do try to strategize a little. After all, seats on the train are at a premium that hour of the day, and it's very possible to wind up standing in the aisles or the vestibules for the entire ride. Not comfortable. A "first come, first seated" policy would be nice, but it's just not possible or practical under the circumstances. Most veteran commuters understand this and work within the system as it exists. Obviously, though, some folks still aren't clear on the concept.

This is what Jon Favreau looks like.
I was honestly not expecting any drama this morning. After all, it was the Friday before a holiday weekend, so ridership would be low. In fact, I was able to park in spot #12 rather than, say, #67 or #72 which would be more typical. That was very nice. By parking closer to the station, I was able to mosey to the platform at a relaxed pace and pick out a spot to stand and wait for the next train. Standing right next to me was a fellow I did not recognize: a well-dressed Caucasian male in his 40s. He was about half a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than I was. He wasn't fat, necessarily, but he was round and puffy-looking, like he'd been overinflated with hot air. He kind of reminded me of the actor Jon Favreau and had that same air of bland neutrality to him. At least, he did at first. I didn't think this guy was anything to worry about. Here, though, is where my story takes a dark turn. I mentioned earlier that Arlington Heights has a contingency of upper-middle class WASP types. These people are, I can safely say, among the most obnoxious human beings I have ever met in my life. Conspicuous in their consumption of pricey consumer goods, they are whiny, demanding, and inconsiderate and seem to relish confrontations with strangers. Back in the 1980s, we called such people "Yuppie scum." I don't know what they're called now. Their sense of entitlement is so thick you could butter a scone with it. The train I ride takes me directly to Chicago's financial district, so I have to put up with these loathsome individuals all the time. That's the worst part of the commute: being in close quarters with stockbrokers and investment bankers and other subhuman creatures of that ilk. People like that make me root for the fall of capitalism as we know it. God help you if you park next to one of these trolls. If the door of your car so much as grazes one of their shiny black BMWs or Escalades, they throw temper tantrums and may threaten to call the police. (I wish I were kidding.) And sometimes, just to be dicks, they'll stand in the middle of empty parking spaces as they collect and organize their belongings. They do not care if you're waiting for that spot. They'll just glare at you until you move along. Remember my Jon Favreau lookalike? Well, he turned out to be one of these pushy, confrontational, pseudo-Yuppie gargoyles. When the train came to a stop, neither of us were near the door. So I started walking briskly in that direction -- not pushing and shoving, not tripping anybody, just walking quickly down the platform toward the train door. Fake Favreau realized to his horror that I might actually reach the door before he did, and he proceeded to throw a profane public tantrum right there on the platform. It was like I had challenged his masculinity or something. I really didn't care about this guy; I just wanted to get on the goddamned train before it left the station. But he proceeded to lecture me -- using crude language you'd expect from Joe Pesci in Goodfellas -- about how he had gotten there first and how I was "always" cutting in front of people. He said I did this "every morning." Again, I'd never seen this idiot before in my life. He just went on and on, and my first instinct (I'm sorry to report) was to punch him right in that big fat mouth of his. This guy really had it coming. But instead what I did was stand there silently and listen to him cuss me out in public. Didn't say anything. Didn't do anything. After he was done, he got on the train, and -- after letting one woman board ahead of me -- I got on the train, too. And that was it. The train moved on as scheduled.

Folks, it's days like this which make me lose my faith in humanity and in society. You know why? Because I could see something in this guy's eyes that let me know he did this all the time. I could just see him chewing out waitresses, cashiers, parking valets, customer service reps, and anyone else he considered "beneath" him. There was definitely an element of class warfare in this little scene of ours. His arrogance was really galling. But you know what else? I bet this strategy has worked for him in the past. He looked pretty well-off, and I'm certain he got where he is by being a bully and a tyrant. His hyper-aggression has been the key to his success, and he's been making other people miserable his whole life. And he probably works with a lot of other self-important douche bags just like himself. These guys are running the world. They're in charge. They're winning. I hate to say that, but it's true. And here it is a beautiful day, and I'm writing a rant about this human hemorrhoid instead of enjoying the late-summer weather. I had to do it, because this incident has been on my mind all day. This skidmark of a man has taken up valuable real estate in my brain since 6:30 this morning. At least I should be charging him rent!

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