Friday, February 25, 2011

The 12 Days of Caltrain

This week, I’ve been commuting from Mountain View to my office in San Francisco via the Caltrain. These high-speed trains are decently comfortable and can zip me between the two points in about an hour. Today, however, something about my train compartment struck me as odd. The general painting of evening Calrain commuters is a box of people buried in their gadgets or snoozing; and although no one is saying it out loud, their faces all clearly convey, “I’m tired, busy, and yes, very, very important -- just look at the scholarly article I’m skimming through on my new smartphone!” I usually squeeze into a seat and settle into politely ignoring everyone. Today, perhaps due to the 3 cups of coffee I consumed at work– oops, I had the urge to say a quick “hi” when I sat down by my neighbor. I apparently startled the poor guy with the sound of human speech, but he managed to mumble a reply and resume “reading” on his phone (::cough:: Angry Birds ::cough::).

This train is unnecessarily connected. Twenty people packed like sardines in my car: 6 on their smartphones, 5 with music on their iPods , 4 laptops, 2 E-Readers, 2 people sleeping, and just 1 real book. And since I know you’re wondering: zero partridges in a pear tree. It makes me want to call my grandma and see if people ever talked to each other on trains when she was a little girl?

Goal for Caltrain commute next week: no electronic entertainment. When my sister and I were growing-up, my family would play Count the Cows on long, multi-hour car trips (yes, admittedly, only after our Game Boy batteries had died). I wonder what variation I can find for my Caltrain rides. Count the lights on the shore across the bay? Count the billboards targeted at hipsters? Count the native Californians wearing winter jackets in 50-degree weather? How about count the minutes that my eyes enjoy focusing on objects farther away than a computer screen? Now that sounds like a game worth playing.

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