Overheard on Transit: 30 Days of Eavesdropping

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab, published on December 4, 2013]

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Above, Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Alfred Hitchcock on the set of the 1954 film Rear Window (photographer unknown)

Riding the bus, train, or metro isn’t exactly a communal experience but, unlike driving, isn’t a solitary one either. Even if you’re commuting alone, you’re never really alone.

Overheard conversations by one’s fellow passengers can be one of the mildly voyeuristic satisfactions of public transit. A snippet of conversation is a brief glimpse into another person’s life and a chance, like Alfred Hitchcock’s protagonist in Rear Window, to invent a backstory for that random fellow passenger based on a momentary exposure to him.

Here is a selection of dialogue fragments overheard during my last 30 days of mass-transit ridership. Some strange, some humorous, and some timely. In no particular order. Which is your favorite?

  • Do you enjoy ambient music?
  • I hate building codes. Most of them are obnoxious!
  • I do not like the feeling of ice touching my lips.
  • We’re rebels without a car, man.
  • That’s so “meta” I don’t even know how to respond.
  • Is it intellectually stimulating or is it just a bunch of liberal fluff?
  • You have to be in a certain mood to watch a documentary.
  • No one reads The Economist all the way through. No one!
  • I usually enjoy statistical probability distributions.
  • I wasn’t a bully, I was the anti-bully. I’d beat you up if you didn’t stop picking on people.
  • Ugh, I can’t stand “escalefters.” Stand on the right, please!
  • Hi! No, really, I mean that. Hi!
  • Oh look, it’s a rarely-seen-in-the-wild 10-car train.
  • I don’t want him, I just want his Chipotle.
  • We are ALL Trayvon.
  • Quit reading meaning into my words. They have no meaning.
  • I don’t date white chicks after seeing that movie, what was it? The one where she boiled the bunny.

What have you heard on public transit that tickled you?

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