Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cell Phones and "L" Trains

The curly brown Garfunkel haired white bread twenty-something entered the red line train at Belmont. To his left walked a veteran commuter. The pleasant voice from the new northbound ingĂ©nue asked, “Do you mind if I sit down next to you?” The veteran replied, “no” with restrained politeness. Unfortunately, the neophyte had an agenda.

After a half a dozen lines of small talk, the newcomer’s intentions erupted. At what appeared to be an appropriate moment for poor social skills followed the inappropriate appeal to the Samaritan, “Can I borrow your cell phone, again? “No,” said the veteran with the same graceful tone.

The conversation ended, but they remained together. Nine stops later, the respectful thirty-ish veteran disembarked at Granville. The neophyte was now ‘almost’ isolated in the northbound red line train with about four other passengers, who were pre-disposed with their books, newspapers, or other diversions. One of them was me.

I sat in the double seat directly to his north. Hooked up to MobiTV, I struggled to listen to a newscast with a pair of hard plastic ear buds inserted into my ear canals and PDA/cell phone. My three day free introductory subscription had yet to run out. However, the news cast periodically lost its 3G connection and the ear buds failed to find a welcome spot in front of the passages to hearing if not comprehension. When the buds eventually held, I had to remove them. Why?

Well, as we reached Granville and the veteran passenger was history, The stress of driving down LSD is no longer a threat to my piece of mind. However, the conversation or music of another life could easily take hold on the Red line north.

With what I hoped was the last charitable cell phone owner gone, the question breached the silence like digital interference or cell phone tones blasting during your favorite film, lips moved, but I could not hear, so my ear buds were removed. “Do you mind if I use your cell phone?” I looked in disappointment. The rookie was undeterred. Upon answering with my matter of fact reply, he changed seats.

A cute Asian looking woman was now accosted, but she felt obligated. She had not heard all of ‘Garfunkel’s’ previous greatest hits. With that, her cell was exposed and his cell call began. The candid one-sided conversation now began to emit into the atmosphere and pierced the silence with its sounds. He had to leave a message just to let us know that the call was not a lost cause. Perhaps, he had just left voicemail on the Belmont platform, but that message apparently was not recent enough.

What is it about cell phones that make people behave so badly? Why do commuters want other restricted passengers to hear their most personal moments? With the calm that often pervades a CTA “L” ride, why do people persist with communication that can wait until arrival? What is it about “L” etiquette that these cell phone users just don’t get? I understand meeting the friend that you have not seen in a month, but cell phones calls are another story.

These are not the words of prophets. “Fools” said I, you do not know, cell phone use like a cancer grows. Read my words that I might reach you. Pay attention to other commuters so that they may teach you. There is an excellent article in the Red Eye on cell phone etiquette in CTA trains.

Okay, I admit that if my cell goes off, I may answer. However, the first thing out of my mouth is usually, “I am on the train, can I call you back?” Or “Can you call me back in forty-five minutes, I’m on the train?” The phone is next promptly turned off or put on vibrate. I have likened use of cell phones to smoking a cigarette; it is unnecessary noise pollution and being held captive is no “ode to joy!”

It is so simple. Who wants to be bombarded by clients, customers or confidential moments in front of others also restrained in the same public place? Do you think that commuters appreciate being held hostage to a personal soap opera? Yet, it happens too often. Sometimes, the conversations are beyond bizarre and don’t belong in a public place in front of children!

Often, it is clear that those who are calling even instigate the call. They can’t wait until a private moment that can occur by departing to an oncoming platform. How many of us have lip sync-ed the “L” conversations of an unrestrained passenger? Perhaps, we have given that stare of infamy, only to receive less than graceful insensitivity and another ten minute ‘yelping’ of a new episode of ‘Desperate cell phone flies?’

Does anyone recall some of the best or worst experiences? Perhaps we can be amused by or simply discourage use by posting memoires of other subway commuters’ tender, yet public moments. Are there any other abused and/or amused commuters? Okay, I admit that it can be simultaneously hilarious, yet pathetic.

1 comment:

Fargo said...

My worst: being on the red line after it's just gone into the subway between Fullerton and North/Clybourn when a rude young thing dials and starts a new conversation. It quickly turns into an argument, and she's calling the person on the other end "bitch," "ho," "stupid" ....

Of course she's yelling the whole time, as the noise level inside the train is quite high while the train is screeching around the curves in the subway. I had to wonder why it was so urgent for her to make this call while she was on the train, much less in the subway.

I curse U.S. Cellular for providing service in the subway. They are NOT doing us any favors. I have never witnessed a call in the subway that served any good purpose. Only the idiots make calls while they're down there.

I wondered even more why the person on the other end didn't hang up on her and refuse to answer any attempts to restart the conversation if she called again.

Unfortunately, I was riding all the way to 95th, and the idiot was on the train as far as 79th. At least I was able to switch cars so I didn't have to listen to her loud foul mouth the entire time.