Travelling to work on a commuter train the other morning, I couldn’t help overhearing four ladies discussing their plans for Christmas, and what they would organise for their last commuting day before the holidays.
They were contemplating the idea of dressing up as fairies or elves for their journey to work on their last morning together before Christmas, and each was even designated to play Chris Kindle for one of the others. They were toying with the idea of bringing a tree and some decorations for their carriage – perhaps some fairy lights that they could plug in under the seat. (Mental note to self: Better drive to work that day — it might be a bit hectic on the train…)
The seasoned commuters then started to discuss where they were going to have their Christmas party: Yes, a Christmas party for a group of people who normally only see each other on the train. Maybe because I don’t always get the same train to work — and I sometimes drive or cycle, skipping the train altogether — I thought this deeper connection with fellow commuters somewhat strange, as they quite likely worked in different locations in Dublin.
When I do go by rail, I’m not necessarily loyal to a particular train, or to a carriage on a particular train. Because I carriage hop, I often notice certain groups of commuter buddies. At least on the earlier trains, they tend to be either groups of just women, just men, or mixed groups of students. Most groups seem to have an alpha animal that tends to lead each conversation. If the conversation then veers off onto a topic they are not that familiar with, it’s quickly cut short with a “You’ll never guess what happened to me yesterday.” The lads groups are less subtle: It’s usually “That’s a load of garbage…did you see the match last night — we were robbed!”
I mentioned the existence of commuter groups to a friend, who said it’s a completely natural phenomenon. She told me that she and a group of about nine people used to commute from Drogheda to Dublin every day on the same train, in the same carriage, and in practically the same seats each day for almost a decade.
Ten years on and some have retired, while others now work in locations that aren’t serviced by that train. However, they all still meet up once a year for a commuter-group Christmas party.
I wonder if such close relationships can still be built up today. So many commuters seem to just get on the train with their headphones, laptop, iPad, etc. and never interact with their fellow travellers. Mind you, you’ll still see a nodded smile, or a slight raising of the head to signal ‘hello’.
It reminds me of a story my cousin told me, about when he worked in The Netherlands. The country is almost completely flat, and so many people choose to cycle to work. He commuted along the same cycle track for 7 years, and there was one fellow commuter that he would pass every day. The Dutch lad had better time-keeping, so my cousin could gauge how early or late he was depending on where he passed the other cyclist. Every day they would say “hello”, with perhaps a brief exchange of “Cold one this morning!”
My cousin would, of course, try to make whatever he said sound as ‘Irish’ as possible.
When the day came of his final commute, he decided to stop his fellow cyclist to introduce himself, and to explain that he was returning to Ireland. They shook hands and wished each other good luck for the future. He told me he was glad afterwards to have stopped, and just once to have said ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ at the same time.