Sunday, January 01, 2006

Metro-North Railroad survival

Not "survival" in the literal sense, but I have found these Koss "Spark Plug" earbuds (only $13 at J&R) indispensable for my commute to the city. I noticed a friend's pair last summer and never got my own until November. What a pity I didn't buy mine sooner! They've made it bearable to sit near noisy people on the train. Their ear cushions aren't specifically meant to act like real earplugs, and they don't completely block out all exterior sound, but they're quite effective with a little music playing. Sound reproduction is not bad considering their main benefit, though a little treble is necessary to compensate for their natural bass boost. Their Sony predecessors may have better fidelity but can't drown out fellow passengers' loud chatter.

Perhaps I'm just hypersensitive, or perhaps it's because I like to nap a little on the train (to complement my limited sleep during the week), but others' loud conversations can be extremely annoying. This includes cell phones, which are possibly worse because people feel a need to yell into them to be heard. Such obnoxious people are distracting even I'm just reading the Post or just sitting. Most people are respectful, but a few have no consideration for others. Some even sit on opposite sides of the aisle and practically yell at each other. What I'll never understand is how two people think they can converse by talking simultaneously at each other, with neither pausing except to breathe. Certainly it's their right to talk, something these ignorantly (and maybe sometimes intentionally) rude people assert when you ask them nicely if they'd talk a little less loudly. A wide degree of freedom, however, should never be construed as a forbiddance of courtesy.

Before my Koss, more than once I had to change seats to escape such people. It's risky if the train is crowded, because a new seat might be even worse, or I might not find a seat at all. Fortunately that wasn't necessary Thursday morning, when I realized I had my earbuds but had forgotten my MP3 player. The ride home was a different story. I found a seat a few rows from one end of one of the rear cars. A little later, four teenage girls entered and sat down at that end of the car, where the last two rows of seats face each other. It's an almost inviolate rule that a group of teenagers on the train will chatter incessantly. My earbuds would certainly not be enough, but it was just a few minutes to departure. The train was filling up, so I stayed put. Fortunately the earbuds mostly drowned them out, and I said to myself I'd have gone insane without them.

I had no way of knowing how much worse Friday night would be. I had stayed in the city for a while after work and took a later train home. Late evening trains at this time of the year tend to have more families than usual, a combination of children on holiday break, parents using vacation time, and the allure of holiday shopping. A woman and her exceptionally noisy toddler sat across the aisle from me, and there were three people in the row ahead who were practically shouting at each other, though they were sitting next to each other. The train had just barely started boarding, so I chanced moving to the other end of the car in search of a new seat.

"From the frying pan into the fire." The two men in the row behind me were talking, though not loudly enough to overcome the earbuds. As the train filled up, a couple and their three sons sat near me: two on my side of the aisle, three on the opposite. A husband and wife sat in the row across from me and never stopped talking, but I couldn't hear them. Two of the other couple's three sons, however, were the most misbehaved brats I've ever seen in my life. It took more "spirited" music like Styx and 80s pop to counteract their noise. I would think their parents were thoroughly ashamed that one boy continually howled like a dog (I kid you not) while bouncing up and down in his seat, and the other repeatedly left his seat several times to punch him. I speak of actual punches with the intent of causing pain: at one point the father had to pick up the instigator and carry him several feet away.

Hopefully the commute will be back to normal when I return to work Tuesday, though that means my usual morning express will be back to crowded conditions. It's been nice not having to walk half the train in search of a seat.

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