longest elevator ride ever

I took the local transit train into work the last 2 days.  This will be my daily routine in the coming weeks and months, but I’m still a transit newbie.  The last 2 days have felt like riding an elevator for 27 minutes twice per day.  The people are packed on tight but nobody looks at each other.  Instead of peering at the illuminated numbers as the elevator moves up and down, the people peer through you rather than at you.  They look out the window.  Above your head.  And they look at their feet.  Your feet. The ground.  And the awkwardness is compounded by the fact that you sit facing one another while you ignore the presence of the person in scrubs and the man in the hard hat right across from you and the woman sitting right up next to you reading pulp smut.  

If you offer a good morning or a hello or any other polite consideration, they look at you like you’re crazy, like the man panhandling in the free-zone.  They wonder what you want.  Its sad really that we are this disconnected from each other.

I considered giving the panhandler my lunch but then reconsidered.  I haven’t really made peace with myself over this particular issue.  Riley wants to give every homeless person he meets whatever money he has, not to mention an invite to be roommates.  I myself typically have boundaries.  Several years ago I was in a community session with the local homeless shelter and they handed out stacks of cards to give out to panhandlers.  The card read something like – “I have chosen to donate to the shelter rather than to people individually so that you might be able to have food, shelter, counseling, medical attention, and other services.  Please join us at the shelter.”  I handed them out for a time until I met a homeless person who told me about her treatment and the treatment of her husband and children at the shelter.  She told me how she could never see her busband because he was required to stay on the men’s side.  Anyway, she endured a lot of dehumanizing behavior sometimes by staff members.  I handed out a lot of dollars in the months after I met this woman.  But then I hear the other side.  Ugh.  I’m totally rambling, but what I am trying to say is that I still just don’t know how to react in this situation.  I had no money, but I’m not saying I’d give it if I did.  Anyway, the one stop after the free zone, the transit robo-cops jumped on board to check passes and the homeless man darted out the door at the same time avoiding a confrontation. 

Now this train has only one destination -the university –  and 90% of the people on the train have free transit cards because they are either students, faculty or staff at the university.  The train uses the same gas whether the man pays his share or not.  There were empty seats.  It was 17 degrees this morning and the man was simply warming up.  But our look THROUGH each other elevator etiquette is interrupted by the asking of the dollar – by the breaking of the silence – by the reminder that we aren’t as disconnected as we like to think. 

And I suppose the robo police know that if they let one man warm up outside of the free zone, there will be more.  And nobody wants – ticket-paying – (but not really ticket-paying riders, remember I said that most of us get a free pass to ride) riders to have to feel uncomfortable, actually have to consider whether to give a dollar or share a lunch.

I would say that I have never felt so disconnected from humanity as riding that train, but then I’d be forgetting the lunch I took today from 1 – 2, sitting alone in the cafeteria, looking through people pretending to read a book, wondering why I can’t just skip my lunch and leave work an hour early, but refusing to simply give my lunch up and eat at my desk no matter how uncomfortable the isolation of not knowing folks yet at the job, of eating alone, and riding the train alone makes me feel.

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9 Responses to “longest elevator ride ever”

  1. Doug Says:

    every time i see a panhandler i wonder . i have heard the storys of some that make 60 to 70,000 a year drive new car i still wonder may be he realy needed it . if i left a little i wonder if i was scamed one time i was on a job w/ a camp and we needed help bad the driller told me find me a hand any hand i was in grand juction co. saw a man w/ a sign will work for food i stopped offerd him full time job place to stay food to get by till pay day not a change work was not his cup of tee

  2. Carrie Says:

    Not that it helps you “make peace with yourself over this particular issue” but I would imagine the University pays TRAX for students, faculty, and staff to ride…..remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    (Yes, I know I’m missing the point but I get cranky when I read your blog and don’t laugh.)

  3. the other Says:

    Be careful and sit upright when you’re on the train or you could get lice.

  4. Kelly Says:

    this reminds me of the most random song about the person that wears their underwear on the outside…

    as for the looking through you on the train… i totally try to catch peoples eye… and when alone on the train i sometimes strike up random conversations with people… its interesting who you meet. 🙂

  5. Will Says:

    I know how you feel Ruth. I myself consider it to be valuable time for reading and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.

  6. Evan Says:

    Maybe it’s my penchant for anonymity, but I enjoy being lost in a sea of people.

  7. breathingmoss Says:

    This post resonated with me strongly. It reminds me of my changing relationship with homelessness and those asking for money on nearly every stoplight on my (driving) commute to work. I also haven’t reconciled my feelings and actions and have different responses when I wait at a red light, sometimes engaging in conversation or sometimes sipping my coffee and staring straight ahead, feeling like an asshole.

    I’ve posted about this a few times on my own blog:

    http://breathingmoss.wordpress.com/2008/01/16/i-dont-know-his-name/

    and then I felt embarrassed by that first post and wrote this:
    http://breathingmoss.wordpress.com/2008/01/19/blessed-intention/

    and then when I finally knew more I wrote this one:
    http://breathingmoss.wordpress.com/2008/05/23/now-i-know-his-name/

    Some days it seems to me that disconnection has become so normalized that we don’t even know how to handle being connected.

  8. Kelly Says:

    disconnect would leave me jobless….

  9. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Hey, cool tips. I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that chat who told me to go to your site 🙂

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