I Ride the Train Backward


The other night a friend playfully chastised me for not doing train updates on Facebook. Apparently, I used to give updates on the characters on my commute. I say apparently, because I don’t remember this ever being a regular thing.

When I first moved to Chicago, I kept a journal of all the people I met and all the strange things that happened on public transportation: the woman who told me how she used to be in fashion design until someone broke into her studio and stole everything (she gave up but had seen people wearing her clothing), the conductor who sat down next to me on his last day before retirement and told me all about the daughter he had just adopted from Russia, or the foggy day when I saw a woman harvesting some plants from the side of the tracks. Those stories were all before social media (did a time before social media actually exist?), so I know I didn’t update Facebook with them.

I ride a commuter train out to the ‘burbs…about as vanilla a passenger load as you can get. People get on, pass out or keep working. When there’s a baseball game the ride home can be a bit drunker, but usually not to the point of being post worthy.

On my train ride home today, I looked around, but didn’t see anything of note…except for the fact that I was sitting facing everyone. The seats on this train flip, so that they can face the direction of travel. Of course, the seats at either end don’t because they are against the walls. I always choose to sit in those seats. Yes, you usually get more room, but when I sit backwards, I have an easy view of everyone’s face. I can see what they’re doing.

I’m usually caught up in a book or doing work myself, but every once in a while I look up at my fellow commuters and soak up their details. Who’s eating. Who’s drinking. Who’s working. Who’s got that goofy smile on their face while they play with their phones.

I enjoy the people watching. I haven’t gotten a direct story out of this, but I like to think that the observations have helped me describe characters better.

Do you have any detail-gathering habits or tips?


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