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TRAIN 407

Written by Benjamin D. Schuster


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The Journey I was raised with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. My father was one of the most successful soccer-players of his time. Post retirement, he became the head coach of Real Madrid, the world’s most reputable and influential soccer team. He still is a star and thus a magnet for millions of fans and soccer fanatics. My mom ran the show. She was the boss, the manager, the mom and the wife. She raised four children and still managed to successfully promote her husband’s career, negotiating lucrative contracts with clubs and sponsors that would allow us to fly around the globe in private jets, live on an 11 acre horse ranch and vacation on our private yacht off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. We had a great life. But after obtaining my high school diploma from a reputable boarding school in Germany, I began to realize that I was bored with my life. I hated the monotony and the lack of individual freedom. I had my own dreams and goals and I wanted to break free from the protective shell placed around my family. I wanted freedom from people always watching over me or pretending to befriend me in hopes of personal advantage derived from my family’s stature and reputation. I wanted to explore the world; take off and pursue my own destiny. Perhaps my parents noticed the rebellious tendencies surfacing or perhaps they were concerned our “big world” of glamour and fame was becoming too small for me. My parents decided I needed a change. I was told to leave Germany in pursuit of my own dreams and career goals. I was supposed to live a life on my own, away from unearned social status and acceptance. I was supposed to live as myself, not as someone’s son. Although I was initially hesitant about the idea, I was ready. Ten days after my parents set out on their new mission, I was shipped to the US in economy seating on a United Airlines flight. I sat in seat 28B and was served pre-packaged food covered in tin foil. Once in the US, I attended college in Saint Louis, Missouri. I was completely broke and forced to make


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ends meet by my own means. My life was finally in my own hands and it was exhilarating. Three years of school and multiple party blackouts later, I graduated from college and fell in love with a very supportive, down to earth woman. She was my savior, my mentor and my replacement family. She taught me that parking tickets were unacceptable and your credit scores the lifeline of your existence. She was from California and after graduating, I happily followed her back there. I had considered Saint Louis too small for me. I could fluently speak three languages and had traveled most of Europe before turning eighteen, making me feel much too special for such a small city. I had become bored with the mid-west lifestyle and mentality and was looking for a more promising life-quality and diversity. Although my emigration from the good life had started in Saint Louis, my journey to California more closely mirrored the path of a traditional immigrant. I left seeking a better life in a land of perceived prosperity that offered much more opportunity than I was leaving behind. It was a hot and very smoggy July afternoon in 2004 when my flight from Saint Louis landed at the Los Angeles International Airport. My first impression of Los Angeles was completely different from what I had anticipated. Where were the beaches, the palm trees and the hot blondes in red bathing suits jogging along white sand? Where were the movie stars, those white folks? This was not the place I had envisioned as a child watching Baywatch, Fresh Prince of Bell-Air and 90210. These shows never displayed the chaos, pollution and sheer size of roughly 5 million people spread over 498.3 square miles. As I became more familiar with the offerings of Los Angeles, I learned that the City of Angels I was expecting to enjoy only existed in small, isolated pockets where only the established and wealthy were allowed to establish roots. The majority of the city was full of miscreants and dreamers desperately striving for something heavenly while barely surviving the pedestrian reality of the city. Everyone else either lived in the slums surrounding the city or commuted in from distant places to be paid a living by those who could afford to permanently reside within the city. On August 6th, 2005, we got married. Six months later we bought a beautiful home in Hacienda Heights, a suburb in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, far away from the beaches and towards the San Bernardino Mountains. We both got jobs in


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downtown Los Angeles, roughly 13 miles west of Hacienda Heights. The daily commute soon became an unexpected burden on my budget, nerves and motivation. Depending on the day of the week and the amount of dysfunctional and unskilled drivers on the road, the commute could take an average of 60 to 90 minutes. One day, while sitting in my car with my head against the steering wheel, I noticed a passing train. It caught my attention because it wasn't a freight train, but rather appeared to be a passenger train. The blue letters on the side of the train cars read Metrolink. I ran a Google search at work that same day and discovered that Metrolink is a regional rail system operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) which links Los Angeles with various outlying counties such as Riverside, Orange, and San Bernardino. That day marked the beginning of a new life for me as I decided to become a Metrolink commuter. Although I was excited over the relief from the daily drive, I expected commuting as a passenger would encroach upon my much-valued comfort zone. I expected the close physical proximity of the commuters would emphasize the cultural diversity of the passengers and intensify the burden of maintaining acceptable social behavior. Specifically, I expected my well-maintained shoes would become scuffed, germs would be freely shared, I would need to keep my opinions to myself, and personal comfort would be regularly compromised. What I had failed to anticipate was the camaraderie and bonds that naturally form when people share a common goal. Commuters share a pursuit of happiness. For some, the happiness lies in pursuing a lucrative or satisfying career, for others, happiness lies in returning home after a long day’s work performed solely as a means of support for self or family. Others, like me, are lost in between - unsure whether the job awaiting them at their final stop is the path to a better life or a trap which will permanently stifle their ability to escape the mundane realities of the middle class employee. Regardless of the individual motivations, commuters are all working to pay rent or a mortgage, to afford outings or adventurous vacations, to pay off debt from boats, cars, tuitions or their spouse's


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extraordinary habits. The common journey from home to work and back merely to satisfy these financial burdens creates a bond similar to that shared by family members who regularly possess a common space where they can relax and interact before they start their day and then routinely meet again to decompress from the day’s activities. Relaxed by this common bond, you learn to become comfortable sitting next to a complete stranger who may possess unique cultural norms, contrary political views or other idiosyncrasies which you would be unwilling to tolerate in another setting. Unfamiliar sounds and unexpected bodymovements mesh into the voice of the train which is formed by the conversations of the commuters and the mechanical noises made by the train as it drags its passengers to work and later pulls them home. This book is a compilation of fictional stories based on experiences on the train. These stories tell the life of a young immigrant commuter who struggles with his own pursuit of happiness and self-discovery. By riding the train, this character inadvertently experiences how commuter behavior tends to fall within the same range, with some behavior being common, some unusual, some acceptable, and some totally outside acceptable limits.


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Chapter 1

April 17, 2008 – The Day it all began 7:15 AM. It is a crisp and clear quiet Monday morning. A light breeze out of the City of Industry hills carries the fragrance of dew covered grassland into the Metrolink station. Equipped with a train-schedule, driving directions and printouts with pictures of the station, I arrive at my targeted destination on Brea Canyon Road in the City of Industry. The station was easy to find, taking the 60 freeway eastbound for about 7 minutes, opposite traffic, exiting Brea Canyon Drive and heading north towards the city of Walnut. Amazingly, it took me less than 15 minutes to get to the station despite a new construction project on the same street I am relieved to be on time and on schedule. I get extremely anxious if I am behind schedule. I like to have all directions printed out and neatly organized in a folder in order to avoid being late or worse, completely lost. When traveling, I ensure I am as prepared as possible to maximize my experience. Standard items include maps of targeted vicinities, consumer and traveler reviews and miscellaneous instructions from local experts. When my mom made her first visit to Los Angeles, I prepared a folder housing detailed timetables and tour maps for every credible sight the city had to offer. I planned to utilize every minute of her visit to familiarize her with the city and its known and unknown treasures. I had hoped to impress her with my organization skills and devotion to her travel agenda, but instead she was completely overwhelmed by the regimen I had planned. One day into the trip, she officially boycotted the agenda and the folder became obsolete and inadvertently an object for ridicule When she returned to Germany she cautioned the entire neighborhood back home not to travel with “Folder Guy". While entering the station’s parking lot, I notice that most of the roughly 300 parking spaces are already occupied. I find relief in this – the volume of other passengers seems to legitimate my transition from car to train. For almost a month, I had been driving every week day from home to Downtown Los Angeles and back on the 60 Freeway. The strain of the roundtrip drive was single-handedly slowly


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ruining the enjoyment of my new environment. Only the most veteran drivers of the westbound 60 Freeway seem able to handle the miles of stop and go traffic, the ineptly ambitious drivers spontaneously cutting into their lanes only to gain a 10 foot asphalt advantage and the useless but distracting electronic signs which robotically relay the existence of a severe accident, the abduction of a small child (likely by one of their unstable parents), or, my least favorite, the anticipated remaining travel time. Although I expect the California Department of Transportation did not actually intend to electronically stomp on our limited reserve of hope as we crept slowly in long, straight lines toward our desks in the city, the neon messages were not a welcome addition to the already miserable experience. After exiting my car, I follow the large influx of people walking towards the platform of the station. The 7:35 AM train is the last available train that will get everyone to work before 9:00 AM. It is the last chance to avoid being late to work. Not surprisingly, it is the most crowded. The station’s platform is roughly 200 feet long with only 4 covered seating benches. Surprisingly, there is only one westbound-facing platform. Adjacent to the platform is a busy stopping zone where commuters can be dropped off by their loved ones, or….others. The stopping zone is not for the meek or inattentive. Exiting cars are dodging the fast walking commuters and the hugging and kissing couples saying their daily good-byes. In tribute to my favorite movie “Top Gun”, I quickly name this area the “Danger-Zone”. I too am fast approaching the station and already on the lookout for the ticket vending machine. Eager to find it as quickly as possible, I almost overlook the white Toyota Celica that is speeding away from the Danger Zone, barely missing me. No one acknowledges the narrow miss by the driver. With no apparent sympathy coming my way, I swear quietly at the driver and move on. As I enter the station, I see the waiting commuters in a series of perfectly sequenced lines exactly 20 feet apart. Everyone is standing neatly in line, one behind the other, all facing the tracks, and staring either at an adjacent storage facility or the hillside across from the platform. The station appropriately represents the “industry” for which its host city was named. It offers no restroom facilities, vending


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machines or customer service booths. A few feet down from the platform, I spot the ticket vending machine - the next hurdle to my stress-free morning. I fill with dread at the part of change which we all abhor, the potential for looking stupid or inexperienced in a public place. I am not sure why we are so much more concerned with the opinions of strangers than our own loved ones, with whom we would jokingly share the details of any procedural mishaps, but I have always been especially susceptible to the pressure of public acceptance. Despite my anxiety, I find the machine to be much more accommodating than expected. It is programmed to run each customer through a variety of options regarding fare-type, price and destination. It takes me only 25 seconds to communicate my preferences and swipe my debit card through the machine. To my right is a second ticket vending machine being used by an older Asian woman who seems overwhelmed with the options and purchase instructions. As I wait for my machine to process the charge for my round-trip ticket, a Latino man in his mid-thirties wearing a security guard outfit walks up to offer her assistance. As I would come to learn, the Latino man is not only a security guard, but also the station’s customer service representative and chatty host all in one. As I watch him in action, I notice he seems to enjoy his numerous responsibilities. His voice is calm and his patience is commendable as the older lady bombards him with questions, in painfully broken English. As the machine spits out my ticket, my two neighbors are still trying to understand each other, with little progress being made. As I flee the awkward scene, I can’t decide if I feel worse for the confused woman or her rescuer. Having my ticket in hand puts me at ease and I start to focus on enjoying the experience. I decide to walk toward the first waiting line of commuters at the very front of the platform. Possibly, train car number one. Once in line, I start studying the surrounding demographics. I think back to my only prior experience with American public transportation – the Metro Blue Line – a surface train which ran from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. My experience on the Blue Line encouraged me to always sit at the very front of the train, as close to the conductor as possible. The ‘Blue-Line’ runs through such infamous neighborhoods as Compton and Inglewood and the commuters are a combination


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of blue collar workers and a variety of social misfits making up the lower or maybe even no-income class. The ‘Blue-Line’ resembles a speeding circus of beggars, crack heads, hustlers, trannies, day laborers, prostitutes, gang members, traveling weed salesmen, muss-haired hipsters, old women racked with Jesus-lust, and numerous strains of homeless persons including the mentally ill homeless, the guitar-strumming homeless, and the shirtless and/or mumbling homeless. Amidst this crew of shame are a few middle-aged businessmen who spend the entire ride looking like bewildered tourists from Ohio wondering why they're the only Caucasians riding in their particular car. I was one of them. Contrary to the Blue-Line passengers, MetroLink commuters seem to be predominantly white-collar workers, easily distinguishable in their appearances and vocabulary. The Metrolink train starts its journey in the suburb of Riverside, which is located approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Riverside is the 61st most populous city in the United States and the 12th most populous city in California. After leaving Riverside, the train makes a 40-minute journey through smaller cities such as Ontario and Pomona, before arriving in the City of Industry. It is the Industry station that makes up for the majority of the commuters taking this particular train. I expect this is because it is so close to such middle-class neighborhoods as Walnut, Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights and La Puente which contain a high volume of commuters who otherwise would have to take the 60 Freeway. I would estimate that around 100-150 commuters take the train at 7:35 AM every morning from the Industry station. The racial makeup is probably 40 percent Asian, 30 percent Hispanic or Latino, 20 percent White, and 10 percent Black. The average age is somewhere around the low forties. I am not used to seeing people with such diverse backgrounds in one location. I wonder if this is an accurate portrayal of the Los Angeles work force, and how it compares to the overall American workforce. As I continue to assess the demographics, I notice that most of the commuters waiting for the train know each other or are making an effort to do so. Judging by the level of comfortable interaction, I can tell they are regulars. In the few minutes I


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stand in line, I overhear several detailed conversations about the status of spouses, hobbies, and job complaints. Few subjects seem to be taboo and most of the commuters address each other by their first names. As they continue to converse, it becomes apparent that the majority of the commuters share similar values and lifestyles. Despite the clear ethnic distinctions between the passengers, there do not appear to be any unofficial restrictions regarding who speaks to whom. Everyone seems to be equally interested in the mundane details being shared by their racially diverse counterparts. As a foreigner from a country where making friends in a public setting is uncommon, the level of intimacy in such a public setting is fascinating. Standing in line with so many strangers, I marvel at the personal details shared by people who know each other solely as the result of sharing public transportation. While trying to make sense of it all, I am progressively wishing I was a regular who could randomly join one of their pleasant conversations and tell them about my excitement over my new house or my hatred for my new boss. Instead I stand still and German-like, continuing to quietly assess their behavior. After a few minutes, I hear a bell – the sound is not a loud or intimidating warning like that of a freight train, per say, but instead, more a welcoming ‘ting, ting, ting’. In the distance I can see the train approaching. Everyone in line begins preparing to board. Those who had stepped out of line to converse are now getting back into position while firming their grips on their brief-cases, purses or plastic bags containing treats for their co-workers. Slowly and cautiously, the train pulls into the station and I finally realize that the symmetric lines of commuters are patterned to correspond with the positioning of the train doors. Looking to my left and towards the end of the train, I locate the locomotive car and am surprised to see that it is actually pushing the train, not pulling it. I immediately recall the big crash in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale in 2005. The Glendale train crash was the deadliest incident in Metrolink’s history. The crash occurred at 6:03 AM next to a warehouse store on the Glendale-Los Angeles border in an industrial area, north of downtown Los Angeles. Two


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Metrolink passenger trains and a Union Pacific freight train were involved in the collision which was caused by a Jeep Cherokee Sport Edition that was left abandoned on the tracks by its owner. Both passenger trains were double-deck commuter trains, one northbound on the Antelope Valley Line from Los Angeles Union Station, the other southbound on the Ventura County Line. One train overturned, and the other caught fire. Eleven people died. The incident sparked a huge outcry for its magnitude. Despite all the circumstances that led to the tragedy that morning, a common complaint made by various experts and media outlets was that the crash could possibly have had a much less tragic outcome if the locomotive of the Metrolink had been pulling the train cars, not pushing them. Being substantially heavier, with its sturdy frame, the locomotive would have been the first line of defense against the vehicle parked on the tracks and could have transferred the shock of the accident to the menacing vehicle rather than allowing the defense-less passenger cars to take the brunt of the impact. The doors open and everyone squeezes their way onto the train. I decide to stop envisioning potential crash scenarios before I’ve even boarded the train, and quickly follow the lead. I take a left turn around the restroom and first level seating arrangements, up a couple of steps to an elevated level followed by another quick left turn around a stairway pole and up a few more steps to the second level of the train car. Seating is limited yet I am determined to find an aisle seat. At 6 foot 2, I require a lot of legroom. Because the train has a fairly narrow-body with a single aisle, the seats are configured in pairs on each side, and the window seats leave no room for long legs. Most seats are facing the driving direction. A few of them however, are facing in the opposite direction in a four-seat configuration. A couple of rows down, I find a two-seat configuration with an aisle seat still available. I take the seat next to a white woman who appears to be in her mid-thirties. She is approximately five feet eight and her hair is blonde, long and sleek with a few darker highlights and the layered cut gives it a flattering look. A mini skirt with a black jacket is covering up her white blouse and fairly slim physique. Her head is resting on the window panel to her right and her arms are folded and


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resting on her chest. A silver cross hanging from a necklace is decorating her neckline. It appears as if she is sleeping. I can smell her perfume from my seat, a welcome contrast to the Metro Blue Line stench which used to cloud my commute back in Longbeach. While some of my now fellow commuters are still trying to grab the last seats, an announcer’s voice blares through the intercom: “Last call for Industry. Last call for Industry. Please stand clear of the doors.” Immediately after, a low volume beeping sound signals the doors closing shut. ”This is train 407 en route to downtown LA. Next stop will be at Montebello in approximately 15 minutes. Please be reminded to not drink, eat or smoke on the train. In respect to other fellow passengers, please do not put your feet on the seats. All tickets have to be validated prior to boarding the train. Thank you very much and have a great morning.” The message consummates my first experience as a ‘real’ commuter on a Metrolink train. As the train starts to move, the conversations that had been interrupted when the train approached the platform have now resumed. The woman next to me is still sleeping peacefully through the noise of the chatter without worrying about who could potentially be sitting only 3 inches away from her. I am scornful yet envious of her lack of vigilance. I reach down into my briefcase and grab the February edition of ‘Conde Nast Traveler’ from the side pocket. Conde Nast is the premier magazine for those with a passion for travel, adventure, culture and new ideas. Breathtaking locations, stunning photography and independent travel articles make this magazine one of my favorites As I lean back into my seat, I get a view of the hillside hotel known as the Pacific Palms Resort. It’s a welcome sight on a work day – I have often visited the driving range to hit golf balls, but only on the weekends. I actually just picked up my game again just a few months ago. I’ve always loved the sport but had not found any local friends that shared the passion. It was just recently that I decided to stop waiting for a willing partner. Unfortunately, my wife is only a beginner.


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To my left, I recognize the Chrysler dealership adjacent to the 60 Freeway. In the last year or so the dealership has gotten some serious competition from makers such as Honda, Subaru and Mazda. I am sure they are struggling in this phase of our economy. Asian car manufactures and their lesser priced, yet more reliable products have flooded the market and capitalized on a consumer trend that is now leaning towards longer lasting and significantly more fuel efficient vehicles. As I consider the effect of the economy on the local businesses, the attractive woman next to me finally wakes up. She turns her head over to me and whispers, “Good morning.” ”Hi, good morning,” I reply rather shyly before turning my head back towards my magazine. She too decides to read and pulls out “O”, the Oprah Winfrey magazine from her purse. Although I don’t feel comfortable speaking with her and although I am disappointed in her reading material, I continue checking her out. However, all I can see from the corner of my well-trained eye are her hands. Her nails are painted red and she is wearing a sterling silver beaded bracelet. I quickly recall my mother’s sage advice about the ability to determine a woman’s true age by looking at her hands, and I start to wonder if my initial 'age guess' was right. Judging by the several wrinkles on her hands, I revise my prior estimate and guess that she must actually be in her mid-forties. Age aside, she is very good looking and well put together. “You like to travel?” she suddenly asks. ”I love traveling!" ”Where are you from?” Her eyes quickly fly open. She is finally curious, after evidently noticing a slight foreign accent in my pronunciation which I have been trying to remove since I arrived in the States. I take pride in my efforts to adapt to the American culture and I am always slightly offended when my accent is detected. ”I am originally from Germany. However, I live here now and in fact today is my first time taking this train."


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"Oh my God, I love Germany, but don’t get me started on that," she responds with a big smile on her face. "Welcome to the club. I’m Lisa and we will probably run into each other quite often." "I am Ben, nice meeting you. I guess today is your lucky day since I am switching up faces around here a little bit, huh?” I am surprised to be blurting out such a bold comment so early in the conversation and I begin to fret that she will consider me arrogant or rude. Despite my comfort level with my own ego, I am obsessed with how I appear to others, both physically and socially. I thus put great effort into the precision of my physical appearance, from the uppermost strand of hair to my always coordinated socks and shoes, so as to avoid any potential criticism. It is much more difficult to exercise that level of control over social interactions, especially on a train full of conversation hungry strangers. My boldness was apparently acceptable and perhaps appreciated, because Lisa quickly laughs and in the same quick gasp of air responds: "Yes, you are!" while she looks straight in my eyes and caresses her hair. I welcome her flirtations. Since my teenage years, I have always been attracted to older women. They seem less complicated and more direct in their communications. I attribute a certain level of stability and emotional strength with older women, the attraction of which would likely be diagnosed by my wife, who is currently studying for a master’s degree in psychology, as Oedipal in nature. I begin to wonder if men have always been attracted to women who remind them of their mothers. I think of several married friends whose wives greatly resemble their mothers. Is Freud right that we really learn what to look for in a partner by gazing into the faces of our parents during our infancy, or are we just creatures of habit, hoping to maintain as much comfort as possible by preserving the familiar. Neither theory makes sense to an immigrant like myself who intentionally left his family to experience life in a foreign country. Personally, I think the attraction to older women is a direct response to the extreme social pressure on men at my stage of life to be a successful provider in today’s materialistic society. It is not enough to work hard and get paid for it. Complacency is unacceptable. The


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ladder must be climbed so that the quality of life is continually improving. This constant obsession with improvement and growth leaves little energy for the demands of today’s younger women, who still expect equal contribution on the domestic front and seem to have an endless fount of energy to balance social activities, household maintenance and a career. Older women can be a quick fix to these pressures, as they are typically more established and receptive to taking charge and leadership. The calmness of their acquired confidence is soothing and often leads to more efficient conversation, devoid of the drama and attitude common to the younger generation. The intercom suddenly disrupts my thoughts on this. “We are arriving at Montebello station, Ladies and Gentlemen. Please stand clear of the doors until the train has come to a complete stop. Thanks and have a great day!” ”I assume you are going all the way to Union Station, right?” ”Yes, that is right. I work in downtown LA. I work in the Wells Fargo Tower off Grand Boulevard.” ”No kidding, that means we work right next to each other. I am in the Deloitte & Touché Towers.” "Have you heard about the Commuter Express?” ”No, is that some kind of transportation method?” ”Yes, it’s a bus that leaves from the station and drops you off on Fourth Street right around Nick and Stef’s on Bunker Hill. It is free, well, better said, complimentary to your monthly train pass! ”Nice,” I respond with a sigh of relief, "that sounds fantastic. My alternate option would have been the subway. I was told to take it to the Pershing Square station and then walk up the hill by your towers.” ”No need for that. Just follow me when we get to Union Station and I’ll show you. You are going to prefer the bus over the subway a million times. That I can promise you,” she assures me as she leans her smiling face towards me. ”Thank you very much Lisa and I hope it is not going to be too much of a hassle to you.”


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"No worries, Ben!" she responds while flipping a page in her magazine! "We were all first timers at some time!" While I relish in her reference to commuter virginity, additional commuters board the train at the Montebello station. Unfortunately for them, the train car is already full and I can sense their frustration as they walk by. I recall that the lines for each car had been fairly even in number of people when I boarded and I expect they will thus have little luck as they move to the back cars. My mind wondered back again to the much less pleasant Blue-Line. No one spoke to each other. I was in a constant state of alert. The people around you often smelled like booze and cigarettes or their clothing was covered in dirt from laying outside. I didn’t wear a suit, my Rolex or my wedding ring to work. I was scared that any sort of valuables would lead to getting robbed. There is no way to compare the experiences. The Metrolink on the other hand, is like Economy seating on an airplane. The seats are comfortable and although they offered very little leg-room, still nice and clean. My ‘fellow’ commuters are dressed professionally and everyone seems friendly. It promoted the feeling of being on a regular passenger train in route to a vacation destination. The only thing missing was a restaurant car where I could grab some refreshments and chips. I feel safe, and I had not turned a single page in my magazine since Lisa woke up.


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Chapter 3

Joined the Rat Race and is that Mike? 7:20 AM. As I walk up to the platform, the lines are already forming and people are conversing. It is a sunny but chilly 65 degree morning. I am naturally a morning person so I am at my most cheerful at this time, fully enjoying the sunrise and the emptiness of the pre-rush roads. I typically wake up around 5:30 AM each day, weekends included, excited for the day to start. I cook up a coffee in the kitchen while my wife and our Yorkshire terrier, Coco, remain deeply asleep under our blankets. Although I enjoy some quiet morning time to myself, by 6:00 AM I usually start banging cabinet doors and slamming the fridge open and shut. The official goal is to prepare myself breakfast, but the domestic drill sergeant in me is secretly hoping to drum everyone out of bed and have them share these finer moments of the day. By 7:00 AM, after two toasts with peach jelly, a hardboiled egg, coffee and an orange juice, I happily march out of the house and to my car, parked neatly in the garage. Just a few months ago, my wife and I purchased our first home. The purchase of the house was our reward for having planned a very small, low cost wedding a year earlier. Defying our parents’ expectations, we decided to forego spending tens of thousands of dollars to extravagantly host friends and family for a few hours. Instead, we opted to save our money and make a fulfilling purchase that we could enjoy for at least as long as most new couples spend paying off the “open bar� tab. Despite the modest wedding, our budget was tight. We intended to purchase the home without any financial support from our families. Both of us were working professionals in the 50K annual range. Hence, we wanted to rely solely on our newly employed salaries and our limited savings. We were not prepared for the impact of going through the home loan, borrowing process. Not only did we have to endure the intimidating and oppressive mortgage application process, repeatedly documenting our entire financial past, we also had to place unwarranted trust in an unfamiliar realtor who was facially desperate to sell us any hovel she would find. Our realtor was


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also ill-prepared to guide us through the many “attractive” loan packages offered by the hard-nosed lenders, choked with new restrictions and requirements that seemed to be changing faster than they could read the industry updates. We ended up finding a house in our price range with enough left over to remodel it to our taste. We gladly accepted my in-laws’ invitation to stay at their house during the remodeling. Fortunately, they live within a mile from our new home and we were able to use their house as a command post during the entire remodeling phase. Unlike my wife, I was having a blast living with my in-laws during the remodeling. Her dad and I have been bonding over conversations regarding such “guy” topics as computers, politics and the economy, and have been barbecuing Bratwurst almost every night. I have a few years left before I will begin worrying about the effects of fatty meats on my currently slim physique. But I have been feeling somewhat guilty about the effects of our man-diet to him. He has high cholesterol and high blood pressure requiring a regimen of different pills and tablets to be taken every morning. The daily dosage of German sausage is probably not wise, but like most men his age, he stubbornly continues to claim that he is fine. Despite my guilt, I have opted to leave any nagging to his wife and mine. As I step up to the platform, I decide to switch things up a little by getting in line for one of the last train cars. From this new vantage point, I quickly spot an out of place commuter who doesn’t fit the ethnic breakdown I have witnessed the last few days. He has dark hair and skin, but is neither Asian, Latino, White or Black. I discern that he is of Indian descent and then realize that it is actually Mike, the new accountant on our team. I stop staring and actually greet him. "Hey Mike, good morning", I say cheerily. "Good morning," he responds in a low voice and with a confused expression. To distinguish myself from an overeager commuter, I introduce myself and advise Mike that I work at the same company and department he does now and saw him earlier in the week at the office.


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"Nice to meet you Ben," he responds with a smile on his face, exposing metal ortho braces. Mike is roughly 6'2 and 195 pounds. He has a dark complexion, narrow shoulders, a round face and wears rectangular, thickframed glasses. His hair is black, short and thinning at the crown. Overall, his appearance is clean and professional. I consider him geeky. "Is this your first time taking the train?" "Yes," he responds. "Awesome. I've only been taking it since the beginning of the week. I promise you, it will be a trip of your lifetime. You'll be amazed what is going on in here and most importantly, extremely relieved that you don’t have to take the 60 Freeway anymore." He nods in agreement and laughs out loud. In the distance I hear squealing brakes and compressed air being released from the various pressure valves of the fast approaching train. Shortly after, the train rolls into the station and stops a few feet away from the first line of commuters waiting to board. The doors open and the few individuals in front of us make their way into the train. Mike and I quickly follow them and take the stairs to the second level. On my last step, I spot a four-seat section only two rows down the aisle. I quickly walk towards it and reserve an empty seat for Mike opposite to me and facing the driving direction. He chooses the aisle, leaving the seat between himself and the window for his bag and coat. "Where do you live, Mike?� "Diamond Bar." "Really? We are practically neighbors, I live in Hacienda Heights." The conversation switches to subjects related to work, spare time activities and hobbies, and I become excited about commuting with someone from the office. Since I started my job, I have been looking for a co-worker who I can spend some time


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with outside the office and who might make my work environment a little more fun and relaxed. My life in the office has been dull and monotonous. I approached Corporate America as a piranha-infested pool where trust and camaraderie have no place. Workplace bullying, inflicted through verbal abuse and other intimidating conduct are tactics commonly used by the ambitious to assert a perception of their own superiority. Signs of weakness or dysfunction instantly make you a prospect for gossip and harassment. Although many companies have implemented strict policies and repeated training to control the phenomena, such policies have proven ineffective against the passive aggression of socialized ambition. Garnering respect and establishing authority are the most effective counter-measures to escape bullying. To avoid any potential victimization, I chose to present myself as a rigid, ambitious professional, obsessively committed to my job. I distanced myself socially from my co-workers, limiting conversation to work related matters. I seldom met up for Happy Hour, avoided water-cooler chatting and office politics, and kept my personal life very private. I attribute my many promotions within a short period of time to this behavior. However, at age 27, work is becoming prematurely tedious and I am feeling progressively unfulfilled with the role of “hard-liner” and have thus made a self-pact to interact more regularly with my co-workers and repress my paranoia over losing any authority. The train is packed and various commuters are chatting away, while others are already asleep. I begin talking to Mike about my remodeling project. Surprisingly, Mike is very supportive of my bathroom idea and reminds me that the showerhead probably needs to be re-set a bit higher considering my height. As the conversation goes on, my admiration for the friendly openness of American conversational interaction is refreshed. Although Americans are often criticized for their ethno-centric attitude and ignorance of the history, geography and politics of foreign nations, the problem seems to arise largely from a combination of the country’s disproportionate size, geographic isolation, and the social media’s focus on internal affairs. However, on an interpersonal level, Americans often initiate contact and appear optimistically curious about non-threatening foreigners such as Europeans. Compared to the treatment I


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have experienced at the hand of Parisian waiters or Berlin's bus drivers the friendly American interaction is appreciated, even if somewhat superficial. "Ladies and Gentlemen; we will be arriving at the Montebello station shortly. Please look around your seats and hold on to your belongings before exiting the train. The next and final stop will be Union Station. Have a safe day." Mike is now staring out of the window and seems to be in a reflective mood as well. I decide not to disturb him as he presumably is absorbing his experiences on this first day as a train commuter. I wonder if he is warming up to the experience as I have, shedding his trepidation and welcoming the exchange of personal privacy for public company. Although the trains and buses offer accommodating schedules and easy access to downtown Los Angeles, every morning millions of Americans opt to take refuge in their cars, shielding themselves in mobile fox holes from the anxiety and uncertainty associated with unpredictable social interaction or for some, the social stigma associated with “public transportation”. I have never fully understood the American false sense of pride associated with ownership of a private vehicle. Given the expense involved in regular use of a car, especially the oversized “utility vehicles” which clog the local parking lots, it seems uncanny to rely on such an inefficient source to commute to work and back. As the Montebello commuters board the train, Mike removes his bag from the seat next to him. A second later, a gentleman in his mid-thirties leans over and politely asks if the seat is taken. The encroaching man is approximately 5'8 tall and 300 pounds. I find his disproportionate girth unnerving. How did he let that happen to himself and, more importantly, why does he want to squeeze into the inadequate window seat. The incoming commuters start to backlog waiting for him to clear the aisle, and I am already anticipating half of his body resting on Mike's lap, ruining his first commute. Despite the impending awkwardness, we both quickly get up to give him enough room to take his seat.


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As the man clears our seats, I try to continue my original conversation with Mike. However, I cannot stop comparing Mike's compact frame to the monstrous body mass of his seatmate. The contrast between their frames reminds me of a French comic strip, which features Asterix, a petite, yet shrewd, cunning warrior who is entrusted with all perilous missions and his larger counterpart, Obelix, an oversized oaf who refuses to acknowledge that he is overweight, referring to his size with such euphemisms as "well covered" or having a chest that has "slipped a little bit". Trying to hold back laughter at the image of the two cartoon characters, I focus on my shoes and avoid looking at Mike. However, I soon hear a suppressed chuckle coming Mike’s direction, which is extremely contagious and has me struggling to contain my own laughter. Once I regain my composure, I take a quick glance around and am embarrassed to notice that we are the only passengers who seem distracted by the man’s appearance. At the absence of any other mockeries, I begin to feel shame at our insensitivity. My shame quickly converts the man from a morally deficient offender whose lack of self- discipline poses a serious risk to the country’s physical image and health care costs, to a sympathetic victim. However, I find myself only willing to excuse his physical state if it is due to some uncontrollable condition, such as a misbehaving thyroid or genetic shortcoming. In this regard, he deserves the same sympathy as a victim of cancer or other insurmountable disease. However, I am not prepared to excuse him if he merely chose to overeat. The train sets in motion and departs the Montebello station. Minutes later we are cruising north along the west bank of the Los Angeles River near the intersection of the 5 and 110 freeways. Graffiti covers the steep banks of the ugly, manmade riverbed and spills out of the river channel, onto the sidewalks, the handrails and continues its aggressive path onto the surrounding buildings. As in previous days, I wonder how the area looked earlier in the century, when the city was much younger and less scarred by the aging process of its immigrantbased economy. "I wouldn't be surprised if rival gangs and taggers show up here every night in full force," Mike points out. "Amen. It must be


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scary." As we approach Union Station, the train takes an eastbound turn over the LA river bridge, passing the Men's Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. The complex got its name from its architectural design of two towers connected by the IRC inmate reception center. It was opened in 1997, though it remained empty for a period prior to opening because of lack of operating funds. Although it predominantly houses males, the only female inmates who are housed at this facility are those who require medical attention. A voice from the intercom sarcastically confirms our disdain for the local scenery: "Good morning, boys and girls. Wake-up! We are just crossing the beautiful LA River to our left and will be arriving at Union Station in a few seconds!" As Mike and I lean back into our seats, the train passes through a densely clustered area just northeast of downtown Los Angeles, next to the station's rail yard. "Let's wait until everyone gets off the train” I urge him. It doesn’t make sense to rush when all these “boys and girls” will be blocking the ramp from the platform to the tunnel underneath the station." "No problem," Mike replies laughing, while making ample room for the over-sized man next to him to escape his seat.


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Chapter 5

Post Fourth of July Weekend – Earplugs Please! Monday morning after a three-day weekend. Back to reality! What a bummer! July 4th fell on a Friday this year, so I was able to head out of town for a mini vacation. My primary objective was to get some rest and a change of sceneries. The whole remodeling process has been very exhausting in the last weeks and both my wife and I were eager to put all the work aside and head out to La Quinta on a short retreat. La Quinta is a resort city in the desert, roughly 120 miles inland and in eastern direction from Los Angeles. It is also known as one of the nation’s leading golf destinations with pristine looking courses and the surrounding mountains that are nestled against them. Perfect for a quick getaway. I arrive at the station a couple minutes behind my normal schedule due to the fact that my car was acting up again. The battery is dying and the car has trouble staying idle once the engine finally starts. Strangely enough, it only happens in the morning when the temperature is a little cooler. I am sure that there is some sort of correlation between both circumstances, but due to my limited mechanical knowledge about cars, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish a fuel pump from the coolant intake. All I know and care about is changing the oil every 6 months and replacing the brakes. Back to the battery problem though, that could possibly be a quick fix if I had an available budget for it. After running the engine on high RPMs, I finally got it to stay idle while switching gears. “Poor thing” I think to myself. “She,” is an old one…yet strong and loyal as no other car I have ever driven before. She has roughly 156K miles on it and despite the failing battery, runs like German clockwork. Quite impressive, I would say, especially considering the fact that it is a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which I bought second hand in 2000 with roughly 75K miles at that time. I arrive at the station around 7:25AM, parking my car in the same spot as usual. As I walk towards the platform and take a


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look around me, my mood is brightening up by the beauty of the morning. Blue skies, gentlest of breezes, thick dew on the grass and the sun already giving off warmth while surfacing behind the adjacent hillside. In the distance, a few birds chirping away in the tree limbs. It all seems so perfect, yet something is troubling me. Something is not fully allowing me to enjoy the beautiful scenario. Is it just one of these days, one of these days where you feel all depressed and lack in motivation due to the realization that going to work simply overpowers all the great memories and times I have had over the last few days! I am returning to my hamster wheel, just to paddle harder and turn the wheel even faster without any sense in direction, without any greater objective! “Just business as usual,” I whisper to myself as I get in line at the platform. In the same instance, I begin to wonder what it means. What do we define as “business as usual”? The dictionary would probably define it as the normal course of an activity, particularly in circumstances that are not out of the ordinary. Yet emotionally, it has a much more complex definition. On the one hand it often resembles a level of complacency with the environment that we live in. Complacency as to the extent that a daily or even monotonous activity is considered normal and simply “the way to go.” It is simply the way to do things, without considering an alternative option or solution, without determining any means to make it more likeable or enjoyable. There is no way around it; therefore, you’ll just have to suck it up and move on. On the other hand it could also resemble a level of comfort and security in the activity that the respective individual performs. Some kind of a mellow and controlled environment that lets you predict its outcome and that lets you plan around it. For many of us, the latter version is often more rewarding since it often entails very little effort or focus to maintain it. Heck, if I can sail through the day in a calm and controlled manner, I’ll be earning an easy buck. No need to stress out or participate in important meetings at work. Just let me do my thing and don’t count on me too many times. I am your stereotypical 9:00AM to 5:00PM employee, so don’t disappoint yourself by expecting anything more than that in terms of commitment and devotion. As I stand in line, I remember that Mike is off this week. What a


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bummer. Who am I going to chat with? Who am I going to laugh with? Nobody to complaint about the fact that we are returning to work and that we should probably just quit and be crazy for a day. Like having a coffee at Starbucks, drive to the beach and lay out in the sun. Oh wow, that is wild! As the train approaches, I grab my bag to search for my commuter pass. Let’s try out the lower level this morning. Let’s see what is happening down there! I quickly take an open seat in a four-seat section next to the window, facing opposite the driving direction. While staring out of the window I once again find it very entertaining to watch the very same commuters desperately trying to catch the train by sprinting onto the platform, nearly tripping and falling over their numerous bags and folders. The doors slam shut and immediately, I recognize the sound of a crying baby only a few rows behind me. "Oh no, forget that. That is definitely the icing on the cake this morning. Another incapable mom and her annoying baby, ruining our lives.” The train takes off and needless to say, the sound of the crying baby intensifies. It is crying so intensively, it sounds like it is almost choking to death. I feel pressured to turn around, check on the situation and probably stare at the mom, hoping that she will somehow find a way to calm the baby down. Not surprisingly, some of my fellow “white” commuters are already ahead of me, looking around, trying to find sympathy from anybody else that is suffering from the same obnoxious baby. As I look over to my left, a well-dressed and perfectly styled 'white' lady holding her Starbucks coffee, rolls her eyes at me while taking a deep breath. A nod and a grin is all I have to counter for the moment. I notice that she wants to say something, but I quickly turn my head back towards the window, trying to avoid any sort of conversation pertaining to the baby. I am pissed! All I want is quiet and peacefulness. Can somebody please enforce that? The question therein lies whether there is such thing as quiet and peacefulness on public transportation. Are we allowed to turn our space into our own and enforce standards, rules and forms of etiquette? Are we allowed to turn our space into “self-


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absorbed rooms” where we are not subjected to the trivial existence of other people? It sure seems as an intrusion when an outsider like this mom shows up one day and her child is having a meltdown. We consider it rude. It upsets us. We commuters are living by a code, a code of conduct and how dare you try to break that. We are on a tight schedule; we need to be relaxed before getting to the office. You don’t. Take your baby on the next train. This reaction sure sounds human. It sure sounds like you’ve either heard or felt it before. But is it necessarily the right way to think? Is it really fair? Did I never cry in public places as an infant? Bad days can be hard, but that does not give anyone the right to make someone feel worse about it. The baby is not finding any comfort. In fact, it appears as if the crying is getting worse as the trip continues. Minute by minute, the agony escalates and my frustration is at an all-time high. Ten minutes pass and I simply can’t handle it anymore. I grab my IPod and ram my headphones into my ears, hoping that not only would I be able to hear my music and finally relax, but also would silence out the crying and weeping sound of the baby in the background. I hit 'PLAY' and turn the volume up to max. One of my favorite 'HOUSE' songs is playing. A fast beat, plenty of different instrumentals and, oh yeah, Portuguese lyrics. Kind of like a 'samba' song. I am back in my bubble of happiness. My mood is starting to change and I quickly feel how my entire body is becoming more relaxed. For a short instance, the baby even stops crying. It’s a miracle. But, the pleasure is short lived and seconds later, the little one is at it again. Instantly, I catch myself getting a little too upset about the situation. I take a deep breath and stare out of the window in order to distract myself. The one side of me wants to remain calm and simply ignore the situation. Just think of it as business as usual! The other side of me wants to get up and tell the mom to do something about it, for Christ sake! It is like the devil on my one shoulder wants to be that jackass that tells the mom to do something about it, as If she didn’t care.


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The angel on the other side however is begging for consideration, support and understanding. The situation seems to become progressively worse. Then, it suddenly stops abruptly for 2 seconds only to start all over again shortly after. We finally make it to the Montebello station, where the old gentleman that sat across from me gets off. As his seat opens up, I lean forward and take it for a better view of the drama. I am now facing the direction where the baby’s noise is coming from. The Asians are all focused on their own stuff, doing their thing, definitely acknowledging the noise of the crying baby but totally disregarding it for the time being. Even though most of them do not have an MP3 player to distract them from the crying baby, nobody is turning around or engaging in some sort of psychoanalysis of the situation. Contrary to that behavior, I’m shocked to realize that only the white women in our train car seem to revolt against the noise of the crying baby. They seem to be the only ones that appear distraught about the situation, maybe even ticked off. They are constantly turning their heads, analyzing the situation, rolling their eyes, whispering to each other, shaking their heads and trying to engage everyone else around them into a conversation that would probably subject the incompetent mom and the outof-control baby. They seem to be unable to take their eyes off the young mom, who in fact must be in her mid-twenties and of Latino descent. The baby is young, approximately 3-4 weeks old and I am progressively getting the idea that the poor thing is in some sort of pain. It simply won’t stop crying. Finally, after one of the ladies in the row in front of me finally gets her big, fat, white ass back in her seat, I get a clearer view of the mom and the baby in her arms. While rocking her baby in a gentle motion and tapping it on its back, she appears to be in a conversation with one of the two black girls who decided to sit next to her while trying to comfort the baby as well. The young Latino mom appears to be deeply saddened about something because she has tears in her eyes and running down her face. In fact, it appears that her sadness is getting worse and worse…to a degree where the black teenage girls are deciding to take the baby in their arms, desperately trying to calm it down and give the mom some time off. "What a horrible person I am," I think to myself. How can I


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possibly judge somebody before even knowing what the circumstances are? Maybe the baby is sick and needs to get to a hospital? She may possibly not have a car and therefore needs to take the train! Maybe her baby’s daddy left her and kicked her out? All kinds of scenarios come to my head and the more I observe the situation, the more I realize how my emotions are being overrun with feelings of anger and disappointment. Anger, towards my fellow white commuters and myself for our initial lack of compassion towards other people in difficult situations. Disappointment, that none of the older white ladies would help or at least comfort this young girl. I mean, these ladies are much older and most of them probably might already have been moms themselves at some point in time. But no, it is the young black girls who are taking charge, holding the baby and desperately trying to help her by any means possible. This is America, I think to myself. How typical. When all is well, everyone is happy and has all kinds of things to say to each other. Hey, how are you? Nice to meet you and nice talking to you! All kinds of similar remarks that are the epiphany of superficiality. It reminds me of my college years not so long ago. It was the first time I left Europe and I was amazed about the friendliness of the locals. These folks actually wanted to know how my day was. Oh wait a minute, maybe not I soon realized. It was just a way of interacting with each other. I’ll never forget that guy in my college dorm, approximately 6 years back. He walked by me this one morning and as we made eye contact, he asked me, "How is it going?" Just as he finished the question, I quickly started replying with a life story of my own. A story of how my day was going thus far and what I experienced in the past days. This guy actually stopped, looked at me with a sense of confusion and disbelief. His facial expression indicated to me that he thought I was some kind of a FREAK or maybe even on drugs?? He simply replied with, “Oh, Okay…have a great one then." I felt really stupid and soon realized that it was just a way of communicating. Guess what? Shortly after, if anyone would have asked me the same question again, I either did not reply at


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all or simply said "Okay. Thanks. And you?" The moral of this story is that nobody really gives a shit! It is just a way of interacting. Just a way to be friendly without being intrusive, respectful without caring too much, tolerant without being too personal. I wanted to get up, go over to that young mom and ask her if there was anything that I could do. I felt so guilty and ashamed that I wanted to redeem myself. But, hey, what do I know about babies? I don’t even like kids. I don't even hang out with my nephews and nieces on family holidays. Kids scare me. That is the bottom line! As quickly as my idea of assisting the women had come to mind, it also vanished. There is nothing I am apparently able to do in order to help the situation and besides all that, we are already approaching the station. The young mom gets off her seat and takes the baby back into her arms. Everyone is staring at her and I am certain that most of them feel pity for her and the complicated situation with the crying baby. The train stops and like every morning, everyone is slow to exit the train car and rushing to their connecting means of transportation. How typical I think to myself. It is Monday morning and nobody is evidently eager to get into the office. I too am taking it slow today. I exit the car dead last. While walking through the tunnel to the other end of the station, my mind starts to focus on the work ahead and all the things that I will have to accomplish in order to stay on top of my shit! The crying baby? Oh yeah, the baby! I almost forgot about it. What I did not forget though, was the experience I made as a human and the impact it hopefully will have on my attitude towards scenarios considered “out-of-the-ordinary�, which I face daily when riding the train and being exposed to a public setting where I cannot make my space private.


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Chapter 14

September 12, 2008 – The Day that changed our lives! It is Saturday morning, 7:15 AM. The house is calm, my wife is still snoring, the dog is sleeping on my pillow and it’s quiet on the street. I am zipping on a cup of coffee and walking over to our home office to check my e-mail and read the newspapers online. The sun is shining thru the windows and I can see the birds sitting on the edge of our yard-fence. Some of them are resting; others are joining the group and tweeting away. As usual, it all looks peaceful and in perfect harmony. This is the reason I love being a morning person, especially on the weekends. I enjoy the silence and being by myself, running errands by myself and watching or reading the news all by myself. I consider it very relaxing, rejuvenating and accomplishing since I get to do so many things that I would normally not be able to do in the same time span if and when my wife or the dog would be up and awake. But today is no ordinary Saturday morning. It isn’t as peaceful and joyous as it could be perceived. I had a hard time falling asleep and was plagued with nightmares about the terrible train crash that occurred last night during rush-hour commute. Although the accident didn’t occur on the same route as the one I usually take to and from work, the tragedy is weighing heavily on my mind and I try to avoid imagining the pain and suffering that the survivors and relatives of the victims must be feeling right now. As I sit in my office and browse through CNN online, I find numerous articles about the accident. The headline is as dramatic as the accident itself and per The Associate Press, 10 people were killed and many others injured when a Metrolink train packed with hundreds of rush-hour commuters collided with a freight train in suburban Los Angeles. The apparent head-on collision between Metrolink Train 111 and the Union Pacific train occurred about 4:30 PM in Chatsworth, a suburb northwest of LA. The crash forced the Metrolink engine well back into the first passenger car, and both toppled over. The passenger train was believed to have been traveling about 40 mph. The crash in itself sparked a fire that was quickly brought


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under control by the arriving firefighters on the scene. The LA County Sheriff's spokesman indicated that approximately 10 people had died thus far, as rescuers continued to search the wreckage. An estimated 350 to 400 people were on the commuter train, which was heading north. Passengers were still being evacuated. Three passenger cars and one locomotive were involved in the crash. At least one car from the commuter train had derailed and was laying on its side. The Associated Press also reported that firefighters pulled passengers out of a rear door and down a ladder from the toppled car, which had been separated from the rest of the train by several feet. Crumpled and charred freight cars were strewn across the tracks. Dazed and injured passengers sat on the ground and milled about on both sides of the tracks. The train left Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and was heading northwest to Moorpark in Ventura County. The cause for the accident is still under investigation and I am unable to find any comments or statements from officials of the NTSB or Metrolink in any of these articles. As I sit there, thinking about the tragedy, I remember the e-mail conversation I had with my co-worker shortly after the accident was aired through the various different media outlets. My colleague was the first one to notify me about the accident: "A train crashed in Chatsworth." "No kidding. Where is Chatsworth?" I responded in disbelief. "Somewhere out there in the boonies." "Man, those freight trains crash all the time on the Riverside Route I take every day. I wish they would use different tracks." "No, it is a commuter train," my colleague conveyed in all seriousness. "What? Come again?� "It looks like a head-on collision of a commuter with a freight train." "Oh my God. Are you serious? How severe?“


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"It doesn’t look good. I am following it through the CNN Live Video News Feed" "I'll check it out as well. That is horrible!" "I agree, Ben." I remember dropping everything I had on my schedule for the remainder of the day since the distraction amongst several of my commuter colleagues would not have led to any positive results on work related discussions anyways. Fortunately it was fast approaching 5:00 PM and I did not have matters with urgency remaining on my to-do list. I immediately linked into the Video News Feed and couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw it. The destruction of the collision was out of scope and numerous firefighters were entering and exiting the train through the emergency windows. All in all, it felt like a déjà vu. It was like Glendale crash all over again, but this time, the impact was more severe. I was a 'commuter' myself and I could not imagine what it would be like to lose a spouse, a son, a daughter and a friend in an accident such alike. Then, as if matters where not already worse enough, an interview with a responding firefighter at the scene was broadcasted in the Video News Feed. "We saw bodies where the metal had been pushed together and ... we cut them out piece by piece. They were trapped in the metal. There are some things we are trained for. But there are also some things I don't care what kind of training you have, you don't always prepare for. This situation, particularly early on, with people inside the train, with the injuries, and with people moaning and crying and screaming, it was a traumatic experience." As I am sitting in my home office, sipping on my coffee and staring out of the window, I am starting to feel empty, disappointed, and very disillusioned. Not only are the pictures of the crash site horrifying but I also feel sad for not valuing the many things in life that we tend to take for granted. I also wonder why I am not able to publically express emotions when hearing about tragedies such as this one. Instead, I tend to sweep it under the rug with sarcastic comments and pretend


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that it doesn’t affect me when in fact it really does weigh heavily on so many levels. I remember discrediting the impact of the crash in front of my colleagues various times, which I thought would help them focusing on their own safety and pretend these things never happened. In the past, I've had people tell me that it might be my German background, as we are not huggy, kissy or warm people. I always feel that public display of emotion isn't necessary, and losing your cool when there is chaos will only make matters worse. I was taught to never let anyone see me cry because it shows weakness. That doesn't mean I don't care or don't feel things. It simply means that I live by the impression that there is enough time to be considerate about other people's feelings or emotional state of mind. But situations such as the train accident last night, are a constant reminder that sometimes there is not enough time to say "I love you", hold hands, give a hug or simply wish the other person a great day." Moms and dads were just returning from work, sons and daughters where just on their way home from school. Nobody could foresee the tragedy and those involved probably did not have a second chance to reconcile issues with their loved ones or tell them how much they meant to them. Unfortunately, it takes scenarios such as these to realize what and who is really important in one’s life. It takes scenarios such as these that make you want to sit back, stop the music and re-evaluate your priorities, perception and commitment in life. It takes scenarios such as these to call yourself out on the bullshit that you surround yourself with and the lack of appreciation for the accomplishments achieved by yourself and others. It takes scenarios such as these to look at the person that you love and tell them that you would be nothing without them and that he or she completes one’s life. As I walk through the house, I take a peek into the bedroom and see my wife and dog cuddled together underneath the blanket. Laying there peacefully, she resembles a perfect picture of tranquility, serenity, beauty and inner peace. She is lost in peaceful dreams and as I continue watching her, the thought crosses my mind "What if?" What if I'd never made it home from work? What if today never comes, will she know how much I love her? What if today never comes, will the love I expressed to her in the past be enough to last in the future? What if today


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never comes, would I live with the regret that I have never let my true feelings reveal? I feel lost, guilty and ashamed. If today never came, none of the responses would have been "Yes" and that is simply heart wrenching. At the same time it substantiates the lifestyle I live, the lifestyle that I have been promoting all along. The perception that there will always be more money, more stuff, more vacations, more of anything that I already have. But the truth is that if I can't take a step back and be happy for the things I have, I would always want more. I would want more in the sense of always "needing" more than you currently have. If you always need "just one more thing" to be happy, then you're just wasting your time looking for happiness because there will always be "just one more thing" that you don't have. I turn around, close the door and head back into the office. As I sit down on the couch, I wonder how it must feel like going back to work on Monday and realizing that one of the faces you see every day, one of the faces that you have had conversations before about family, friends or even work, is simply not there anymore. Furthermore, how does it feel like when one of these faces is just missing because somebody else has taken them away from there, somebody else has decided it was his or her time and this was the last station? I am not sure if I'd go back to my routine. I am not sure if I'd go back to the same life as before. I'd probably try to change my life around. I'd try to do things differently. Heck, I'd tell my wife I love her and I'd take her out for dinner and a movie, give her a hug or just ask her: "What do YOU want to do now?" Unfortunately, however, we humans are driven by habits and traditions and it won’t take long to fall right back to where it started all along. As so many times before, this 'new' concept would only last as long as it isn’t too complicated, too exhausting and probably too unfamiliar to adapt to. We will forget and move on, having changed almost nothing at all! I am determined to make this change today, and although I know that it is going to be hard and a slow process, I know that this would turn my life around. This change would make things happier and promote a life of higher quality and happiness. For now, I have to get over the tragedy, I have to isolate this accident in my mind and apply the lesson taught to myself: "Appreciate life to the fullest, one day at a time, because


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something temporary cannot give us an everlasting satisfaction!"


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Train 407  

Train 407 is about a young immigrant commuter who documents the struggles of middle class Americans on their daily commute by train in one o...

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