Thursday, July 06, 2006

On Tuesday night I caught a taxi home with two total strangers

I had left work a bit early in order to do some grocery shopping and get home to cook myself something nice for dinner.

I arrived at the station thinking how good it would be to get the early express train, for which I was right on time.

There were many people on the platform, as is usual for peak hour. The screens that normally tell commuters details of the next train simpe said "Listen For Announcement". There was a group of Connex public transport "Customer Service" people standing on the platform, but this was also quite common. As usual, these people didn't seem to be doing anything. After a few minutes, people began to look round, wondering if something was going on. There were no announcemnts, and the cutomer service people seemed more concerned with each other than the commuters.

Eventually, I approached a Customer Service person who was having a personal discussion on a mobile phone. I waited for the call to end, then asked what the situation was. He replied that the trains were not running on this train line, and that buses had been arranged to take commuters part way down the line to where the train service resumed.

I was quite annoyed, as were others who began trying to find out what had happened. There had been an electrical fault. No trains, and no estimate of how long it would take to fix. Something like this happened a little while ago when a cement mixer rolled over and landed on the tracks. That time I got home fter 9pm. There was no way I wanted that again.

I made my way to the taxi rank, which was already quite crowded. There were no taxis waiting, and none approaching in the bumper to bumper traffic. I began to think the worst.

After a while, a couple of taxis came along, and only one of them decided not to pick up passengers (!?!). I had just one person in front of me, and when his taxi arrived, he cried ou "anyone want to share to Eltham?" What a guy. Two of us jumped forward and got into the cab, and proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 20 minutes.

I couldn't bare it. I broke the silence. It was like a dam bursting. We just didn't shut up for the whole hour it took to get to Eltham. We discussed big brother, Taxis, Trains, the merits of living so far from the city centre.

It wasn't the most stimulating conversation in the world, but it was quite a contrast to the silence in trains. You can sit in a completely crowded train for the one hour and fifteen minute journey home, and have nobody make eye contact or utter a word. The silence is appalling.

In my opinion, people are losing the ability to simply make interesting small talk. Put on an iPod, play with your mobile phone, work or play on your laptop, or even, shock-horror, read a book. But heaven forbid you try to talk to a stranger.

One lady one cold winters night asked the people around her to help with her crossword. I watched fascinated as they all began cheerfully answering the questions she shot at them.

When the Taxi arrived at the final destination, which was my car at my local train station, the taxi driver stopped the car and turned to me and said "I am so glad that you people spoke to one another". I asked what he meant, and he said that he often had groups of people sharing cabs, but that they never spoke to each other. He said he enjoyed our conversation, and hoped that others would be like us in future.

It oesn't take much.
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