18 Nov

A man enters the train, talking loudly on his cellphone.  He is bespeckled, rolling a suitcase and obviously oblivious to the fact that on his left pocket, on a sticker in bold capital letters, the name Brian is scrawled.

“Hi Brian,” is screeched from the back of the train, as he continues his conversation, immersed in the words of the person on the other line.  “Yo, Brian” in deep baritone follows.  Brian glances around a bit—confused as to how these certain strangers know his name.  Then a chorus of “Brians” erupt in the car, no doubt the riders’ sole chance at amusement on the ride home.

Now Brian is truly puzzled.  As he scans the crowd for either a camera or someone identifiable, his eyes meet mine.  I point to my chest and mouth, “Your nametag is still on.”  Looking down, Brian reddens, removes the tag, undoubtedly hoping that the absence of the sticker will quell the unwanted attention.  No luck.  The damage is already done, and as Brian exits the train, he is saluted by a car-full of riders serenading him with exaggerated renderings of his name.

The experience made me realize how though packed into one train, seated next to a stranger or squished next to another in standing room only, we somehow maintain anonymity.  How we navigate through such intimate surroundings in separate, very individualized experiences puzzles me.  I know how we do it.  We use everything from books to Ipods, cellphones to slumber to create barriers amidst the crowded, very communal transportation.

Brian was a glaring break in this barrier—lone vulnerable passenger for whom the seal of anonymity was unknowingly broken.  Suddenly a sea of unrecognizable faces turned into a train-full of people that knew him, if only by his sticker, glasses and rolling suitcase.


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