Beware the Side Sitter

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm afraid of lots of things. Spiders, bees, heights, intimacy, clowns, Rosie O'Donnell. But the one thing I'm not afraid of is driving in the snow. We've had a rough couple of weather days here and it seems like every time there's a snow storm, people forget how to drive. And these aren't people who are in town visiting. These are the ones who grew up here. Their cars mysteriously won't go over 20 miles an hour and they think that a four lane road is now two. It's days likes this that I wish I still took the train.


I started a new job working downtown a few years ago and I explored my parking options. The garage in the building was $240, the parking lot across the street, $90 and the lot you had to walk 4 blocks to get to was the best bargain at $40. However, being the spoiled suburbanite that I was, the thought of walking that far scared me a little and since I'm always looking to save a buck anyway, I decided to take the train.

We don't have an elaborate train system here. For example, you can't hop on the train to spend the day in Columbus or meet up with some friends for the weekend in Dayton. However, if east-west traveling is your thing, riding the rails is the way to go. I bought my first pass card and had no idea of the adventures I would encounter and the cast of characters that would liven my commute.

There are a few different kinds of people who ride the train. Professionals who read the paper, catching up on daily events so they can talk about them around the water cooler and students, lost in their ipods, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings and yet instinctually able to open their eyes at the right stop so they can get off. This particular line ran from the center of downtown to the airport and back. Across the board, people usually didn't speak and they certainly didn't make eye contact.

The seats all faced front and sat two across so you could spend your commute reading the paper, looking out the window, listening to your ipod or staring at the back of someone's head. One spring morning, I boarded the train, sat in the third row back and saw him.

A side sitter.

He didn't slide into the window seat to allow the next person to sit down. He slouched sideways with his back against the window and his foot up on the seat. He was wearing a leather jacket, brand new athletic shoes and a gold chain around his neck. There were 8 stops before we reached downtown. Each person that got on the train was greeted by him, "Do you have a dollah twenny five?" Most ignored him or mumbled a "no" under their breath but he was persistent.

"Can I have a dollah twenny-five?"

Three stops in, a woman boarded the train carrying a serving tray covered with plastic wrap. She had a plaid headband that pulled back her shoulder length blonde hair and she wore a sensible sweater set over her classic cuffed trousers. Her pearl earrings matched her necklace and her Coach bag was the perfect accent to it all. She sat in the seat behind Side Sitter, on the aisle. She had no window to look out and no paper to read so she had no choice but to look straight ahead, clutching her tray. She stared at the back of the conductor's head and I could see Side Sitter staring at her. I waited for him to make his pitch. He looked at her. He looked at her tray. She nervously looked out the opposite window.

"Whatcha got?"

"Hmmm?", Plaid Headband was startled.

"Whatcha got?", his eyes darted to her lap.

"Oh these? They're croissants.", she nervously lilted with an impeccable French accent. (KWAH-SON)

"Huh?"

"Croissants", she repeated.

"Kwazn"

"Croissants"

"Kwannn"

Was she actually trying to get this guy to pronounce croissants??


"Wha's that?"

"It's a buttery, leavened variant of puffed pastry. Sort of like a French doughnut."

Was she really trying to explain to him what a croissant was?? I glanced around trying to catch the attention of someone else who was witnessing this.

He started at her blankly. "Can I have one?"

"No, so sorry. I only made one for everyone. No extras." She smiled as she shook her head and I thought I saw her lip tremble.

"Maybe someone will call in sick," said Side Sitter.

"No. I don't think they will."

I was mesmerized by this exchange and I didn't even bother to look away. It lasted for 5 more exits. Side Sitter finally realized that Plaid Headband wasn't going to budge so he gave it one last shot as we were all exiting the train and walking away from the platform.

"Do you have a dollah twenny five?" She kept walking.

I turned my head so he wouldn't see me laughing and my gaze fell upon a Pepsi machine. The sign on it read $1.25.

He caught my eye and before he could even mutter it, I handed him $1.25. Too bad I didn't have a croissant for him.

4 comments

  1. I used to love the tube in London as I kid. I would stare at everyone and tug at my Mother's sleeve saying 'look at her' etc. A few years later in my teenage years I realised I had become one of the freaks to be stared at. I thought I was cool with bright red hair, piercings etc and a child grabbed his mother and said ''what is that?''

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  2. Eternally distracted,
    That's so funny! See? What goes around comes around..

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  3. I would've given him one if he could pronounce croissant.

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  4. He couldn't pronounce dollar.

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C'mon, you know you want to say it..

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