I came to work today via the usual public transport route which comprises 2 mainline trains, a London Overground train and the Victoria Line staff train to the depot. As public transport journeys go this is not a bad one and the combination of operators allows the opportunity to reflect on the many types of people who join me on the journey.
As I walk to the station in the morning I pass a gentleman walking his dog, the second we pass his step quickens and the poor little dog has to struggle to keep up. Why would he accelerate in this manner? I don’t live in a rough area, I certainly don’t look intimidating, what on earth is it that causes him to speed up? Well I can tell you that it is me that causes the quickening of pace and I should imagine that poor dog hates seeing me on a Monday morning!
So why is it that passing a stranger in the road should make this fellow stranger hurry up his day? Well the answer lies in the madness of people and their routines, especially those of the commuter variety. The first part of my journey you see is a small branch line journey of some 15 minutes, the ideal location on the train for the connection is the front and that is a special place to be and apparently a position to be defended at all costs. Now I don’t appear every day, every Monday or always at the same time so I lull the other fellow into a sense of security that his kingdom is protected and then, out of nowhere, I appear on his dog walking route.
I am not a man to make these random observations without challenging myself first so don’t think that I haven’t tested the theory, I have walked faster behind him and snuck through alleys, the closer and quicker that I approach the train station the faster he goes. It really is my appearance on the short route to the station that upsets him. So today I though that I would test the theory further, I arrived at the station, purchased my ticket and observed the posters at the end of the station (it’s a terminus station) and watched my quick stepping companion powering up the hill.
Now it starts to get a little technical here but stay with me, you see there are two classes of train that use the station nowadays 360 and 321; I observed a sign that said 321s had to stop somewhat before the end of the platform, I would guess that this is to stop the rear cab opening up over the TPWS grids. Right technical bit over sorry for that but its important for the story, you see now I realise the dilemma that my commuting adversary faces and, most importantly, how to use it to my advantage.
As my adversary powers to the end of the platform, gleefully aware that he has overtaken me and secured his key position, I spot his weakness* As the train approaches I see that it is a 321 and I know where it has to stop, I can approximate its deceleration and I can match my stride. You see the problem the other fellow has is that he never quite knows where the magical last door will stop, he can never guess the perfect position on the platform it’s all some hideous gamble for him.
My timing was spot on it put us on a collision course, how could he let this happen? Bless him he was actually at the door before the train stopped and walking alongside with his finger on the button! My route took me to the second set of doors which is more than adequate for me, but the look on his face was priceless.
The interesting thing in this episode of extreme people watching is that this man’s journey only takes him a small distance, he gets off at the next interchange so the whole drama of capturing his seat saves him little more than seconds on his day. You see the thing with commuters is it is not the time it saves, not some great convenience, no its a territory thing. For those small minutes this man is the king of his castle, if I sit in his seat I may as well sleep with his wife** I will have desecrated all that he holds dear and very probably ruined his day.
Its been years since I have commuted by train and its fun, once again, to have the opportunity to ruin a grown mans day by sitting in a random seat, imagining the hell his wife will go through when he returns home and she asks “did you have a good day?” Before the female readership starts relating this to the humorous Neanderthal workings of modern man let me tell you, it works just as well with women.
To the man in Walton – I’m not there on Monday so give the dog a break!
*I guess that it is possible that a man that gets so excited over a seat on a train has more than one weakness
**I will presume that he is married for the purposes of the story and lets be fair he is a prime catch