ornate line
Commuting Suicide: Volume XX


I’ve never been one to advocate theft. But out of my eye’s corner, I can see an item I desperately want. Easily within reach is my seatmate’s cell phone. It’s on her lap. She’s making angry snoring noises. Now’s my chance.

Greetings from Amtrak. We’re coming to you live (on tape delay) from the New York to D.C. leg of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Service. I have no business in our nation’s capital, but my wife did, and I rarely pass up complimentary lodging.

This represents a significant upgrade from my standard commuting vessel. My legs have room. I was given an in-ride magazine featuring pieces on Jerome Bettis and the best undiscovered restaurants in Montpelier, Vermont. An entire car is dedicated to the sale of snacks, an entity prohibited on my daily bus.

My fellow passengers are more attractive and less angry; they’re from everywhere and could be going anywhere. I helped an elderly Australian couple with their bags, flexing both my diplomatic muscles and my delts. The husband told me they were en route to Newport News, Virginia. The way he said it, Newport News was followed by four question marks. Naming a town must be such a rush.

The absence of a cell phone ban is one of my few complaints. I probably wouldn’t mind if not for the football-shaped woman beside me (”more attractive” was not universal). Her body’s resemblance to an oblong leather ball has little to do with my desire to kick her through uprights.

On paper, her story warrants sympathy. Before even leaving Penn Station, I’d learned her husband had just called it a marriage, trading her in for a younger model. He’d also taken sole possession of their New York apartment. Shipping home her belongings was the purpose of the trip she was in the process of completing.

She was a sympathetic figure until she started bossing around the help. “My reading lights aren’t working,” she told the ticket-taker, despite showing no evidence of reading material. “This isn’t the first time, either. What’s the matter with you people?”

She turned to me for solidarity. “These guys are space cadets, huh?” The space cadet was taking my ticket at the time.

The lack of lighting didn’t slow her relentless phone activity, which grew louder and more manipulative. “I won’t be able to get down to the city as much,” she shouted into her device. “At least I have friends like you, who will probably let me stay over.” I felt compelled to introduce the concept of hotels.

“Maybe I can leave a few outfits in your closet.” Luggage, too.

She made hissing noises at the Virginia-bound Aussies talking amongst themselves. “I’m on a call.” More offended I’ve never been.

Her campaign for free lodging and storage space continued, targeting every New York homeowner she knew. Between New York and Philadelphia, she made seven calls and received none. All this canvassing was exhausting; she soon passed out, slouched back, cell phone precariously resting on lap. Her nagging calls were rivaled in lunacy by her bitter snoring. These were the sounds of a woman who’d drive into her ex-husband’s new family room, then maniacally rationalize the decision.

While I debated hiding her phone in the snack car, she received her first and only call. Even her ring tone was loud and obnoxious. She frantically came back to life, reminding me of a house regaining power. “Well, I’d feel a lot better if I knew what I was doing for Christmas.” Like a blender resuming its duties after a blackout, she didn’t miss a beat.

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