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if sardines could talk
the pros and cons of commuting
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

If sardines could talk, their Monday-morning coffee banter might sound something like this:

"Hey Lenny - glub-glub."

"Hey, Bob -glub- how ya doin?"

"Well, if you really wanna hear about it -glub- this fuckin tin can is killing me."

"I hear that -glub- say, Bob...your eyes are looking a little glazed...you might wanna get that looked at..."

Most cities don't have public transportation like we have in Boston. We've got buses, an extensive subway system (otherwise known as "The T"), and the Commuter Rail trains, which make commuting from the 'burbs more bearable for folks who either don't have cars, or whose survival instincts warn them that it might be a good idea to avoid the swarming traffic on I-95 and I-93.

As for me, I live and work in the city, and I ride the T every day. I'm not putting crazy miles on the car, and my road rage is under control. Mostly. I've got an affordable way to get around - and I guess I'm grateful for that.

That doesn't mean I'm grateful for the people I have to share it with. Today, for example, there was this genius with a backpack the size of a small grizzly bear. He barrelled through the crowd, swinging his oversized man-purse around like a weapon, heedless of the coffee cups and newspapers he was knocking out of the other passengers' hands. He was moving fast.

Now, I have a tendency to invent conflict and odd scenarios, some of them more believeable than others. But I know what was going through this guy's head. In his mind, he was setting an example.

I call it Morning Rage, and the internal dialog goes someting like this:

These fuckers. Lookit em. There's plenty of room in that car. Why don't they move in. WHY? I'll show em. I'll show them all THE PROPER WAY TO MAXIMIZE A SHARED COMMUTING SPACE!!!

The actions that follow are typically violent and embarrassing:

Glare smokingly at anyone stupid enough to already have a spot on your train. Lunge and lurch toward a distant pocket of "wasted space", grumbling incoherently. Once settled into your claim, glower menacingly toward both sides of the car to see if anyone noticed your self-righteous behavior. If anyone makes eye contact, you discover a sudden interest in the shoes of the people standing next to you.

At this point, if you're a reasonable person who has temporarily snapped, your heart rate slows and your breathing becomes more normal. You contemplate your mental health, thinking, "I really need a vacation".

If you're not a reasonable person, you gloat defensively in your sticky, rattling kingdom, casting occasional smouldering glances at "The Fuckers".

Morning Ragers aren't the only menace I face on a daily basis. Aside from the obvious and omnipresent Oblivious Horde, whose inability to pick a single direction or lane to walk in is a ceaseless, agonizing source of frustration, I have to deal with the Morning Yappers.

These people have never seen a Folgers commercial. The best part of waking up for them is bumping into their neighbor, or their co-worker, or just some poor victim of a fellow commuter, and yammering away about any damn thing that pops into their heads until the very bitter stinking end of your ride.

Here's a question: Let's say you and your pal Myrtle from up the street step into a car filled with several people. Some are sitting, some are standing. Some are even sleeping. It just so happens that the space you and Myrtle choose to occupy is right next to a stranger who is somehow managing to cling to the handrail, read a hardcover book, and not spill his coffee.

What do you do?

A) Chat quietly with Myrtle, making a special effort not to disturb the guy who's reading.
B) Make polite small talk with Myrtle, and wrap it up quickly. It's morning-time and that means quiet reflection and daydreaming about that nice Ryan Seacrest.
C) Talk loudly, laugh at your own stupid jokes, carry on and on about this and that until that uptight bookworm know-it-all behind you gets tired of reading the same sentence over and over and slams his copy of The DaVinci Code shut.

The proper course of action is obvious to me, but for the Morning Yappers it's not even a consideration. Consideration, having exactly four too many syllables, is considerably too complex for the Morning Yapper to consider.

This is my life.

But it's not all bad - sometimes you can just tune it all out by slipping into a pair of headphones and grooving to a favorite album. Just the other day I listened to all of Pink Floyd's Animals before I even hit downtown - and let me tell you the scenery takes on a whole new aura when viewed through the lens of Roger Waters. In fact, if you make just about any Pink Floyd album your morning soundtrack, you'll start your day with, for better or worse, an outstandingly altered perspective toward your fellow man.

"Hey Lenny -glub-glub."

"Yeah, Bob -glub?"

"I been thinkin -glub- are we really just pawns controlled by tyranical political forces -glub- who are so out of touch with our emotions that we can't commit to a single enjoyable moment in life -glub- let alone a relationship?


"Yeah Lenny?"

"You really oughta -glub- get your eyes checked. They're freakin me out."


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


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topic: pop culture
published: 10.11.00


tracey kelley
4.14.04 @ 11:51a

GADS, I just don't know if I could handle that. I've sprawled through bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic the majority of my adult life, except when I was working drive time or evenings on air. While it's no picnic, at least I'm in my own private steel box, listening to an audio book or tunes, and smelling no one but me.

Your description of the Oblivious Hoard is spot on. I was shopping the other day, and became so aggitated with the people who are walking 2 abreast, but manage to take up an entire aisle. Moving slllllllowly, just sort of ambling, like cows through a pasture. It's like what Jonas said in his World is not Your Oyster column. A little common courtesy would make all our lives better.

juli mccarthy
4.14.04 @ 1:12p

I used to be a big city girl, but just reading this made my perimeter sensors go haywire. I go mildly goofy in situations like Tracey described above. People! Learn where your edges are and try not to stick them into other people's edges!

matt morin
4.14.04 @ 2:35p

I love the two kinds of bus people.

1) the kind that never move to the back. People can be log jammed at the front, but that one person won't move to let anyone go to the free space in the back.

2) The kind that, no matter how uncrowded the bus is, will insist on jamming themselves in the back. There could be 10 seats up front, but they'll still push everyone all together at the back.

jeff miller
4.14.04 @ 3:23p

It ain't easy - living here has crushed my spirit on several occasions. But yet I stay...15 years now. I used to drive the I95 belt every morning, and THAT was no picnic either. It's one thing when people invade your space...and another thing entirely when they're doing it at 75 mph.

jeff miller
4.14.04 @ 3:24p

BTW...I don't know where Joe got that picture, but GOOD GOD do I look silly.

tracey kelley
4.14.04 @ 4:06p

Matt* loved it. He said it looked like you had been mauled by a bear and liked it.

Learn where your edges are and try not to stick them into other people's edges! Ew and ew.

Aside from a ghastly fear of snakes, I do think that I've developed a phobia of crowds, mainly because everyone is rude. They push and shove, talk on the cell phone an inch from my head, burp, fart, spill over into my 18-inches of personal space. It's disgusting. I'll leave ball games and concerts early to avoid crowds - I've actually stood at the doors of the auditorium for an encore, only to zip out as soon as it's done. Eep.

tracey kelley
4.14.04 @ 6:09p

Oh - and people who stand in front of elevator doors annoy me to no end. You know someone is probably going to get off that blasted thing: why do you stand in the way???

lisa r
4.14.04 @ 6:31p

That bugs me, too. And not just elevator doors--any doors, and also just blocking hallways in general.

Halls and doors are for MOVEMENT, not playing "Statue".

heather millen
4.15.04 @ 9:04a

The 405 commute in LA was hell, but one advantage was being in the car ALL BY YOURSELF. I tried carpooling a few times, but realized that if I were going to be delayed by having to stop the car and KILL my Yappy Co-Worker, that really, what was the point?

jael mchenry
4.15.04 @ 9:35a

Oh, I have SO many days when I want to shout IF YOU WANT TO STAND STILL, DON'T DO IT RIGHT THERE. But I'm like this on the metro, the sidewalk, the street. I feel like people who aren't walking briskly are doing it just to piss me off. So thank goodness I can walk to work on nice days... here's hoping we actually have some soon. Another rainy spring.

russ carr
4.15.04 @ 10:31a

I love my Jetta, but for commuting, my dream car would be a 1980 Caprice Classic with a short I-beam welded in place of each of the bumpers and Gatling guns mounted where the headlights ought to be.

I don't need caffeine to jumpstart my mornings. I run on rage.


tracey kelley
4.15.04 @ 11:54a


I used to carpool some when I lived in New Orleans. My boss had one of those cool old Honda Preludes, with two joysticks mounted on the dashboard, completely with sound effects. He was a hyper man anyway, a chain-smoking, staccato-laughing, rapid-speaking man, so when he got behind the wheel and started ramming on those joysticks firing "bombs" at other cars and "HA-HA-HA!!!!"-ing, I realized very quickly I had just placed my life into his hands, and that was not a good thing.

jeff miller
4.15.04 @ 1:20p

BTW - I got slammed by another giant backpack today. Also had to endure a loud conversation in which two middle-aged men acted out various scenes from some Woody Allen film. I think I was able to read about three paragraphs before finally closing my book.

matt morin
4.15.04 @ 2:03p

My mother has commuted 100 miles (hour and 45 minutes each way) to work for the last 25 years.

80,000 miles a year on her car.

I have no idea how she does it. But she listens to a lot of books on tape.

russ carr
4.16.04 @ 1:14p

Here's a guy who's had enough (from Yomiuri Shimbun):

A 44-year-old research assistant at a prefectural college was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of punching a woman in the head after she refused to stop talking on her mobile phone, police said.

Yoshihisa Sawada of Kita Ward, Kobe, an assistant at Hyogo University and a researcher at the Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Hyogo, allegedly punched the 24-year-old company employee from Miki.

The incident occurred on a platform at Kobe Kosoku Railway's Shinkaichi Station in Hyogo Ward, Kobe, after Sawada asked the woman to stop chatting on her cell phone while riding on a train from Kosoku Kobe. The woman refused, causing Sawada to become angry with her. He then allegedly hit her after getting off at Shinkaichi Station.

Sawada admitted the allegations, police said.

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