I grew up in a town with anywhere from 6,524 to 7,202 people in it, depending on which census numbers you look at. The best thing was that everyone knew everyone. The worst thing was that everyone knew everyone. And between the town grapevine and the scanners, of the radio frequency variety not the copier variety, everyone heard everyone else's business. But I didn't mind; I enjoyed hearing people's stories.
After I graduated from college and officially moved away from my small hometown to a larger city, I thought I'd never have that same Cheers-like experience where everybody knows your name. Thankfully, I was wrong.
In 2003, I took a temporary job that required me to commute to Dallas every day. And because I don't drive there, I took the commuter train.
During the first week, I quickly realized that there was a Cheers-like community on every train, especially the morning trains. I can't remember all the passengers' names, but I still remember some of their stories.
There was the librarian who had gotten a friend to fix him up with a lady in China. He planned to visit his new girlfriend and decided to learn Chinese. So as his walkman fed Chinese sounds into his ears, he attempted to mimic them, often louder than he meant to.
There was the veteran who volunteered several times a week at the VA Hospital. Despite being married, he claimed that every woman on the train was his girlfriend and regaled us with his stories of competing in the wheelchair Olympics.
There was the psychology professor with the gravelly voice who desperately wanted to serve on a jury. She surveyed fellow passengers about how she should answer questions from lawyers so that she could be picked the next time she received a juror summons.
There was the methadone addict who brought his bike onto the train and often had to detrain prior to his destination because he had forgotten to bring some required medicine with him. He warned that without it, he would be unpleasant to be around. We took his word for it.
There was the janitor who fell asleep within seconds of taking his seat and had to be awakened each day at his stop. While he was sleeping, other passengers would remark that he must have quite the night life or a second job that prevented him from getting enough sleep.
There was the medical researcher who worked at Southwestern Medical School who enjoyed watching me cross-stitch. One day, she asked if she could sew a row on a bib that I was working on, and I obliged. She did some backwards stitching on it that caused that one row to be higher than all the rest, but I couldn't undo it with her sitting beside me. It made for quite a story when I presented the gift to the recipient.
There was the archivist who had to clip portions of the paper each day on her commute. She was always on task.
I could go on listing other passengers and their stories, as well as the stories that evolved between the passengers and the train personnel, but hopefully you get the gist. This wasn't a Boston or NYC train. It was a Texas train filled with relational Southerners.
When I announced my last day of commuting after three short months and celebrated it by bringing pizza and Dublin Dr. Peppers for the crew, many of the passengers wished me luck and said their goodbyes with a disappointed look. It was as if to say they couldn't believe that I would ditch the commuting community, or maybe they were sorry that they had let me in to their little world considering that I ended up being a short-timer. They'd probably be surprised to know that I have often missed them and wanted to hear their new stories.
All of these memories have come flooding back this week as I have been making a few trips by train. I haven't seen any of the characters who played such large roles in the 2003 morning train community, but I'm not sure I really expected to. Instead, I'm content to remember it just the way it was back then. When everybody knew my name and was always glad I came.