Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Overheard cell phone conversations on the subway

For the past several days, ever since the CTA announced that it has signed a multimillion dollar contract to bring cell phone service into the subway system, I've been trying to think of something funny to write about that decision. In my mind, the joke goes something like this: I'm on the Red Line heading south, having just left the Fullerton stop. As we descend into the tunnel, the guy sitting next to me continues his cell phone conversation. This person is super-pleased because now that there's service underground, the conversation can continue uninterrupted. However, here's where it's supposed to start getting funny: as soon as we go underground, he can't hear anything at all because the train is so damn loud. The planned punchline is this: What would this guy be shouting into the phone during the stretches between stops while the train is rumbling along?

I've posed this question to several people, but the results are never funny. (The best response came from H2O, who suggested the guy next to me says quite loudly and clearly into his phone: "Detonate.") Still, the set-up is pretty good, I think. It's a commentary on the absurdity of providing a service that isn't really necessary, that will only serve to annoy everyone involved, from the people trying to hold the conversation to all the passengers being forced to listen to some guy yelling into his phone.

I pondered this attempt at humor last night on the L, returning from the MCA where I had just seen a not-so-funny comedy event. Most of the jokes at the event, I felt, mirrored my own attempts at writing humor: Good situational set-up, but lame (or non-existent) punchline. As I pondered, I watched a couple in front of me. They were sitting in the face-to-face seats near the doors, across the aisle from each other. Instead of talking, or even communicating intelligently in some other manner, they spent the time making faces at each other: little smirks, rolls of the eyes, scrunching up of faces, that kind of stuff. I couldn't help but think: This is my least favorite part of a relationship ... when you are so bored and have so little to say to the other person that you end up saying nothing at all; instead, you while away the days pretending that you're sharing private little jokes. Then again, maybe they didn't feel comfortable speaking in public. Maybe they were just enjoying each other's company by trying to be goofy. Maybe they were deaf. I don't know about any of that, but these two spent a good 10 minutes facing each other without a single attempt at human communication.

Another possibility is that these two have figured out what the CTA hasn't: That talking on the L is impossible. Even if they had been sitting side-by-side, trying to whisper sweet nothings into each other's ears, they wouldn't be able to hear. Even as the train rose up out of the tunnel, the clanging and screeching and grinding would require shouted I love you's and You make the goofiest of faces, my love's. This, in turn, made me wonder about those old, old L cars that had no air conditioning, but rather windows that opened. My first memory of the L, in fact, is sitting near an open window, watching sparks flash in the darkness of the tunnel, feeling the wind rush past my face, smelling that underground smell, and covering my ears from all that racket.

Like so many other things in life, like so many forgotten or unheard conversations, those days are long gone.


Anonymous the daughter said...

Reminds me of a line from a song, "...we look at each other, wondering what the other is thinking. But we never say a thing, and these crimes between us grow deeper..." -DMB

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Molitor said...

It's interesting. When I was in DC over thanksgiving, I noticed they had Cell service in the subway. Since I was traveling with my parents it was nice to conduct business and receive important calls while with them. The service was somewhat sporadic at times but the key was that their trains seem much more quiet than Chicago's. I don't know if it's the subway system being muted or the trains themselves. Anyway cell phones like anything else If properly used it's a good resource but some people ruin it for the rest of us. It's similar to golfing or drivers, there are always a minority of jackasses who need to learn etiquette

11:11 AM  
Anonymous he said she said...

so exactly how much business were you getting done on Thanksgiving? "Hey farmer Joe, can I get one of them big birds all killed so we can eat it all up"

A subway ride, if you are heading from the northside to the southside takes a long time, but I think you are underground for at most 10 minutes. I think any stock broker or Hiedi Fleiss wannabe that can't live without a phone for those few minutes should just get off the train and take a cab or better yet, walk.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Molitor said...

It was actually on the monday following Thanksgiving and I was literally on the train all day back and forth between stops. Again, it's a nice convenience that's been abused plus there's a security issue that's involved.

Anyway. Here are my biggest pet peeves that rank above the Cell phone problem.

1. People who take two seats and don't move in for you.

2. People who enter the train and don't move all the way in.

3. People who listen to IPODS and when you say "excuse me" they don't hear you.

4. When trains don't run express to Western.

5. People who leave garbage on the train when cans are readily available

6. Bikers who use the El during the rush hour period. (a recent occurence that doesn't happen too often but when the train is packed you try getting around 2 on a train it's no fun) No problem during off peak hours per CTA policy.

7. And then the cell phone.....

1:25 PM  
Anonymous he said she said...

when someone doesn't move when listening to an ipod, I give their ass a grab and they move right quick, but sometimes the guy moves into me instead of away and then, pet peeve #8 - PDA (public display of affection)

1:43 PM  
Anonymous kevin said...

Here's a few other things on the el that annoy me:

1) People who don't give up their seat for the elderly, handicapped or pregnant.

2) People who sit in the "reserved for elderly of handicapped" seats when there are other seats available.

3) People who eat on the train (especially smelly, fast food.)

4) Cubs fans.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Marley6 said...

God I miss mass transit. I guess I am just too spoiled since I do not have to use the Red Rose bus system in Lancaster, PA. If mass transit annoys you, try getting stuck behind a horse and buggy when you are late. FYI - no poop bags either like those horse carriages in Central Park NY

2:23 PM  
Blogger ap said...

There are cities all over the world with whisper-quiet subways. Case in point: every city in Japan. Chicago has this old, loud rail system and tunnels that echo like hell ...

2:51 PM  
Anonymous jenska said...

My favorite L experience was the trail of feces/urine trough the car, covered in little piles of cat litter.

Few people remember their manners on the L I think, or in public in general (cell phones in movies theaters for example). When I was pregnant it was a daily annoyance riding the 45 minutes home on the brown line. I think I was offered a seat on a crowded train a whole 4 times the entire pregnancy! But actually, like Mr. Molitor, it's the littering that really gets under my skin.

3:30 PM  

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