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If you know me in person or follow me on Twitter you will already know that I commute to and from work via Trimet, which is the Portland, Oregon greater metro area’s public transit system as well as a smaller rural system called SCTD.
I commute a lot.
With wait time between buses I am commuting to and from work almost 5 hours a day.
Not surprisingly, I live by my smartphone and the accompanying headphones. I listen to podcasts, to music, etc. but sometimes I just listen.
I will let you in on a little public transit secret.
Headphones are magical.
They give people the impression that you are busy and shouldn’t be disturbed but they also cast a spell on everyone who sees you wearing them that makes them think that you, somehow, cannot hear a word they say. I like to wear them because of their power to make people decide that they shouldn’t bother you with mindless chatter.
Needless to say this leads to some interesting observations about the other people who share my daily commute with me.
Take today, for instance. Today, I was simply wearing my headphones and wasn’t listening to anything and this allowed me to overhear an interesting conversation between two other commuters that took place right next to me while we all waited at the bus stop for my first bus of the morning. Both fellow commuters were within 10 – 15 feet of me just talking away.
Here’s a rough transcript of the conversation:
Fellow Commuter #1: “I wonder what that guy (meaning me) does for work. I see him here every morning waiting for the bus.”
Fellow Commuter #2: “Yeah me too, I’ve caught this bus with him for about a year but he’s never said a word to me.”
Fellow Commuter #1: “Me either. He must be a real asshole because he never talks to anyone.”
This type of discussion went on for another 15 minutes or so. Both people theorizing about what I did for a living, about whether I even spoke English, if I had an accent, whether I was anti-social, etc., etc.
All within 10 to 15 feet from me as I was standing there. Talking away like they were discussing a piece of furniture or a character on a TV show.
All because I was wearing headphones.
I find human psychology interesting so this conversation was fascinating.
Mind you, some of it is true. I’m not a very social person ‘in the real world’ with people I don’t already know. Online is an entirely different story but in person I am uncomfortable talking to ‘strangers’.
I’ll let you in on why I’m like this with a theoretical example of how conversations with other commuters has gone for me in the past when I have had them:
Fellow Commuter: (generic introductions and usual opening small talk) “So, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m a Network Administrator for a contract circuit board manufacturer.”
Fellow Commuter: (confused expression) “Oh, so uh, what’s that mean?”
Me: “I take care of all the computers, printers, user accounts, software installations, troubleshooting, PC repairs, system builds, etc., etc. for the company.”
Fellow Commuter: (eyes light up with realization) “Oh! You’re a Computer Geek!”
Fellow Commuter: “So, uh, hey……… Since we’re on that subject. My home computer is having problems with (insert any number of hundreds of possibilities). Do you know what’s wrong with it?”
That is the general way nearly every conversation I’ve ever had with my fellow Trimet commuters has gone. Then, the worst part is once that conversation has been initiated I’ve now, somehow, automatically become the life long tech support for this random stranger on the bus.
THAT is why I don’t talk to fellow commuters if I have a choice.