Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Are These People?

I took the Amtrak Acela Express from Boston to New York City last week. 

If you've ever ridden the Acela you know that most of the train is Business Class; seating is four seats divided by an aisle, two and two.

Boston is the start of the route to New York, which eventually winds up in D.C.  So, getting on at 6 a.m. in the morning is nice--each car is clean and completely empty.

And that's where my sordid tale begins.

The stops between Boston and NYC include two more near Boston, one in Providence and one in Hartford.  A passenger would therefore presume, especially on a morning commuter train, that other folks--and lots of other folks--would board throughout the ride.

So, a thoughtful rider, which is what I (mostly) am, takes a seat near the window, drops a single tray for his computer, and acquires precisely one seat's worth of terrain, knowing that a seat-mate will come along soon in Boston or Providence.

That's when I looked across the aisle only to see Ms. (Soon to Be)-Talking-Loud-on-the-Phone.  She is sitting in the aisle seat, has pulled down her own and the inside tray, scattered her files and electronics all around, and, in the process, constructed a charming little moving office.

In other words she's bought one ticket, claimed two spaces, and positioned herself in such a way that you'd need a crowbar to claim the seat next to her.

So what happens at the first stop?  An (easily) 300 lbs. guy gets on and, of course, sits next to me.  Now, I have nothing against big and fat, but I have much against cramped and paralyzed.  My right arm is squished tight and my elbow jammed in my solar plexus so that my "a-s-d-f" still worked beautifully but my "semi-l-k-j" was crossways to the keyboard.

I could have taken a plane from Logan and had this.

Meanwhile, across the aisle, Ms. You-Know-Who is starting to rattle on about "underlying platform performance" and lord-knows-what-all.  I can taste the bile rising in the back of my throat. 

(Wait.  That was the Starbuck's coffee without enough milk, but you know what I mean.)

Squish.  "They never call the Helpdesk till it's too late."  Scrunch.  "Maybe we should do an offsite and figure out their core competencies."









Now, if I were a minister and this were a sermon, something good would happen right about now.  It would turn out, for example, that the guy I was sitting next to was a famous guitarist for some band my kids know and he would give me backstage passes and autographs to bring home.  Or he'd be some kind of angel financier looking for a CEO to run his Historical RFID company for three months before selling it to Google.  Meanwhile, Ms. Just-Send-Them-The-Software-Patch-and-I'll-Bill-Them would have, say, Courtney Love get on the train and force herself into the adjacent seat.

Alas, I am not a minister and this stuff does not happen.  To me.

At some point my enormous friend gets up for food and I am able to unfold my ribs, but I have learned in our brief interchange that he has no phone, nothing to read and (honest to goodness) doesn't know why he's going to New York City.  Truly.  

So where is this going?  Well, there's a place for people like Ms. Keeps-Both-Seats-All-the-Way-to-NYC-While-I-Suffer.  Not in my circle of friends, but surely in business.  She has a kind of protective gauze around her brain that makes her impervious to normal human impulse and consideration.  And she projects a kind of force field that is to be reckoned with.

That kind of fearless cluelessness leads to a personality that can often get things done where others cannot.

At least, I cannot. 

This is a person who thinks she was born on third base but has actually been running around lost in right field most of her life.  This is a person omnidirectionally obtuse, and happily so.

So, as the train pulled into Penn Station and my sternum recentered itself, I thought, people like this are obnoxious to be around but, to their credit, can be phenomenally useful in the right situations.

And, hence, can be used.

You know who you are.  On second thought, you don't have a clue who you are.  But we'll use you when we need you.  We'll put you in situations where angels fear to tread and you'll be successful.

It'll be sweet revenge, and worth every bit of the ride from South Station to Penn Station.