Guest Blog: Ed Cook: Commuting on the Train

For the last several months I have been commuting into Boston on the train three days a week.  I drive the days I teach but the train has become a standard part of my life.   It could be more convenient and it could be more comfortable but it is the train, not a limo.  But that allows me to observe the myriad of characters on the way into or out of Boston.

The first one that made an impression was the conductor.  He is a loud funny guy probably in his early 60’s.  He’ll throw barbs at you if you a first time rider or a 20 year regular.  Since I get on at the first stop, the train is pretty empty so I got my share of his humor.  He is an acquired taste but means no harm. He told me one time it is his way of waking up.  One day as I got off the train I noticed him holding hands with an attractive blonde who is at most in her mid-40’s.  Same thing the next day.  Then I noticed the blonde is a passenger on our train.  She must work in Boston I reasoned.

A couple of months of this go by and all of a sudden he disappears.  She is on the train but not him.  A week or so later, I see them canoodling in the station in Boston.  He was in civilian clothes, not his conductor uniform.  A week or so later, I noticed him getting on the train at a station mid-way on the trip in, and there they were in the station when I walked in.  Turns out he retired, but gets up and takes the train in so he can see his sweetie for a while every morning.  “It makes my day”, he told me with a big grin.

The conductors come and go both morning and evening.  I think the management wants to keep them from getting too friendly with the passengers, else they might not punch a ticket of a friend.  One thing that is the same nearly every day is a group of three women that everyone refers to simply as “the girls”.  They get on at the third stop and sit in the same seats…every day.  They are all late 40’s or early 50’s.  Sometimes they talk all the way into Boston, other times they hardly say a word.  Two of them are very pleasant and I have become friendly with them.  The other one is kind of scary looking and never speaks outside the little group.  The other ultra-regulars I notice are twin girls who are about 8 or 9 and their mother.  They get on mid-way in the trip and get off a few stops later.  The girls are in school uniforms so they must go to some private school in Boston. The youngsters are very well behaved and you’d hardly know they were there if you were not paying attention.

Once I get to Boston, I walk from the South Station to my office building which is about ¾ mile.  There is a Starbucks on nearly every corner.  Luckily there is a Dunkin Donuts on the “other” corner where you can get a good cup of coffee.  Further, I am amazed how many of the same people I see every day.  People walking in the opposite direction, the same people opening stores or push-cart peddlers, the street people and more.  One of the last things I get to on my walk is the Day-care center right near my office.  Seeing the little ones with big smiles going in with mum or dad puts a smile on my face too as I think back to when my children were in day-care.

On the way home there have been other sights.  I have run into a number of people I know at the station waiting for the afternoon train.  It really is a small world.  On the other side though, one day I noticed a guy in his 50’s running through the station.  I noticed first because he was running then because he had a scary look on his face then because he looked like the Penn State coach accused of child molestation.  Back and forth he went, looking for someone or something.  Then he ran smack into a guy in his 20’s just innocently walking through the station.  The older runner-guy yelled at the young guy for getting in his was and he was very mad and animated about this, even though anyone else could see that runner-guy had caused it. They moved apart and the younger guy started on his way and runner-guy started running again.  Then all of a sudden runner-guy turned and headed for the younger guy.  He went right up to him face to face and yelled something at him and shoved him. Younger-guy is trying to retreat but the older guy persists.  A number of us move towards them to break things up.  Just then security started toward them and runner-guy took off running right out of the station.  Strange!

There have been a couple of days when some ladies-of-the-evening were just getting started on their shift and would stop by the station to see if there were any takers.

On the trip home there are fewer regulars and fewer regular sights.  But almost every day there is something pretty neat that is best appreciated by a parent.  At one station part way home I see two little girls maybe 2 and 4.  They have bright red hair and wait with their mommy for their daddy to get home.  When he gets off the train they run to him and give him a big hug.  Sometimes they dance around so excited you’d think they’d burst. He then takes their hand and walks over and gives his wife a kiss.  It is very 1950’s-sit-com.  But it is a nice moment to end my work-day.