How You Ride The Train Says More About Your Personality Than You Think

by Michael Lee
luke + mallory leasure

We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking. And if the harsh jerking of this overcrowded train does not stop, my mask will gradually fall off, as I hold and cling on for dear life to the swaying dangling handlebar above my head. Then suddenly the train comes to an almighty halt, and those once calm, composed businessmen standing across from me and holding onto their leather-bound suitcases come crashing to the ground. When the train was in motion, they suppressed so hard their darkest desires and adopted a more socially accepted image. But now they're flustered and discomposed while walking out of the train car.

Just spending a few minutes on the train is utterly fascinating. It's possible to gain quite an insight into the type of people who use public transportation. Whether it be the idle student listening to his angry rock music on full blast, the frowning woman completely immersed in her favorite fictional tale of love and unrequited romance or just me, looking blankly into thin air, the types of behaviors of people on public transportation are varied, to say the least. Each person is etched with their own quirk and trait, yet seemly doing their upmost best not to step out of line.

It makes me wonder, while in the presence of others, are we simply just keeping up appearances? Are we saving face to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to maintain dignity and to preserve social reputation as others around you do the same?

The inside of the train carriage is a rather peculiar environment, in that on the one hand, it is a public space in which one must abide at least to some degree by the rules of subconscious public conduct. However, it also provides us with our own private space in which to shut off everything around us and relax while traveling. Sometimes we tend to lose ourselves or social obstacles, and sudden occurrences make us lose our bearings and our social masks slip off.

In the haste of the train suddenly halting to a crashing stop, I accidentally stepped on the unsuspecting toes of an older woman looking at the floor in a stern-like fashion, each etched frown line on her forehead indicated she was not best pleased to be stuck in a human sardine can of nudging elbows and rucksacks. Her mask is very telling, while others were far more concealed.

I stand tiredly amongst sleepy-eyed, drowsy looking commuters sipping on their morning Starbucks coffee, making the most annoying gulping sound with each palpable sip while deeply engrossed in the daily Metro paper. I notice a smartly dressed middle-aged man with strands of grey flicking through his iPhone with each twitch of his wrinkled thumb, I'm jealous and resentful that he is comfortably perched on a seat, and I am standing uncomfortably with my face narrowly avoiding arms and lingering bad breath and body odor.

I wonder how I look to the other commuters as I flicker through my Android phone. Does my mask show strains of wear and tear? Do I look strange and unusual with my tattoos and big spiky hair amongst grey and black suits that blend together and look all the same?

And so I sit in unassuming silence. I put my mask firmly back on just like everyone else, as I keep my eyes firmly peeled on to the floor and try to not make awkward eye contact with all the wandering eyes around me. My mask allows me to hide my true emotions and create the persona of the perfect public transportation traveler. I feel the pressure to do this because it's some kind of social agreement that everyone on the train will follow the same actions as everyone else.

Someone is walking through the car, begging for money and some food? You only give it if someone else does it first, even though you'll feel badly when you don't donate anything at all. Someone is laughing loudly with their friends? You chastise them in your head automatically because it's your conditioned response. Riding public transportation is basically a collection of people putting on fake personas so as to make it through their ride in private, isolated peace.

How odd that feeling is as I sit amongst the depressed, the psychopaths, the freaks, the social outcasts, the maniacs, the weird, the peculiar and the heartbroken as they pretend they are none of those things. I know they are all wearing masks, but as we pull into Liverpool Street Station, I just have to play along and pretend I don't notice anything.