A train is a curious place. It brings together people that would not be together otherwise. For a determined length of time, these people are trapped in one place; they are forced to come together and enjoy, endure, or simply ignore each other.
My first commuting trip in England was uneventful and quiet. It was a Saturday morning at 6 am and there were only a few other people on the train. It was a quiet journey of watching the countryside and sometimes dozing off.
A later train trip was another story. This trip wasn’t to London, but it could have been. The journey was about the same length, just in a different direction. The train was full of people of all ages. A grandmother with her two young children sat a few seats behind me. Three teenage girls with foul language and obnoxious habits sat at the table diagonal from mine. Two young women sat near the front of the train car and conversed in raspy voices, only one of which I could hear from my seat.
As I was sitting there, I found myself comparing this scenario to my life in the United States. Where I am from, these people would be driving in cars, secluded from one another. In their own contained world of a vehicle, would they act differently? Does the way you travel change when you are suddenly thrown into contact with a train car full of people?
As I sit there, with nothing to do but look out the window, I imagine a possible story for the two young children and older woman behind me. With small tidbits of conversation as my only help, I imagine that this grandmother has offered to take the children for an outing today. As their mother enjoys some peace and quiet, Grandma steps in to offer an adventure. The kids can’t complain because their day has been filled with new toys and treats.
As I observe, I realize that no one interacts with anyone else on the train that they didn’t come with, unless it is as a courtesy. So even though these people all travel in the same vehicle, they aren’t really any more social than Americans on their highways. This is a different mode of transportation, but it isn’t all that different. People still just use a train, like a car, to get from one place to another.