There’s a mariachi band with a giant guitar following me. I can’t resist their big, bright sound – I’m bouncing along with a smile on my face and I look around to see if anyone else is loving this song like I am. But the train is almost silent. We are separately absorbed in our playlists; ear buds in, white cords trailing.
A cloud forms over my head filled with musical notes and festive costumes. It nudges all of the other clouds in the train car: last night’s talk show, a mystery novel, an interview, a sit-com. At stops, the door opens, clouds whoosh out, and others whoosh in. I’m standing close to other commuters and curious about what they’re listening to. Could we trade earbuds for a moment, just to sample the other entertainment options? Here, listen to Adele’s new song, or Jim Dale’s wonderful voice reading Harry Potter, the Tonight Show monologue, Terry Gross’ latest interview. Maybe reintroduce conversation to the ride and finally learn the name of the lady who rides with me every day. I’m getting carried away. No one returns my gaze.
Regional trains designate quiet cars where phone use is prohibited. At least, phone conversations. I guess if you’ve got another hour to sleep on the way to work, it’s nice to have a quiet place. City trains have no such designation, so if there’s a strong enough signal, some people are talking in that odd way to a distant friend: staring into space, seeming to talk to themselves. But mostly, people in the cars don’t interact. It would be fun to have a “sharing” car where people take turns playing their music, book, or podcast out loud. Telling others why they like it or find it thought-provoking. Maybe that’s too much to ask at 7am, or in a space where eye contact can be a suspect invitation.
In fiction, zombies continue to go to the places they knew before they died, following long-forgotten routines in a haze. A train car in an underground tunnel is a terrible place to discover you’re surrounded by zombies. Could I reach the emergency exit before the shuffling crowd? The train reaches my stop. I climb the stairs to the street. Pulling my earbuds out, sound fills my ears: traffic, people talking, birds, wind whistling between the buildings. Faintly, I think I hear the moan of “…brains…” behind me and I walk faster.