Watching the homeward commute

by Radio Somewhere

When I leave work and walk out to catch a bus home, I often find my way blocked by a train. I work in the SODO (south of downtown) district of Seattle, where trains are a frequent annoyance one way or another. But in the afternoon, it’s usually just a passenger train that is gone past in an instant, instead of the lumbering freight train of length sufficient for the caboose to still be in Canada after the locomotive has crossed the Oregon state line.

I actually enjoy watching trains when they’re not blocking my way — or blocking the bus I’m waiting for. And, I especially enjoy the spectacle of the Sounder commuter trains tearing southbound out of Seattle — for they get up speed very fast. As I stand at the gate on a dusty side street, I try to pick out faces amongst the people already seated, settled, and absorbed in smartphone, table, laptop, book, or even newspaper. I never expect to see anyone I know. I just wonder what kind of day they’ve had — and what they have waiting for them at home by way of spouse or partner, kids, pets, yard, grocery shopping, dinner, chores, homework, bathtime, TV, bedtime — and so on.

I’ve done more than my share of train-riding, growing up as I did in England. But I’ve never actually commuted by train, so my experience of the evening commute has always been as a spectator. The six o’clock train from London Paddington to Evesham (where my mother still lives) has always been a fun trip (at least in my memory.) It’s roughly an hour to Oxford, two hours to Evesham, and three hours to Hereford. Between Oxford and Evesham are Charlbury, Kingham, and Morton-in-the-Marsh, towns to which the train ride is long enough to justify a cocktail or two — and residents of those towns will sometimes make a cocktail hour out of the ride home. It’s rather nice, if you think about it — having after-work drinks with people who work for other companies in other parts of London, and who live in different towns along the line. Once the train pulls out of Paddington Station, the buffet car opens and the aisle is soon busy with people carrying miniatures, mixers, and plastic cups. I’m sure this is tradition with evening commuters on trains the world over.

I’ve also enjoyed watching evening commuters at the Seattle Ferry Terminal heading home to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton — and doing wind sprints to get to the gate before it closes. Run! Run! Run! There used to be a liquor store at Second and Seneca that was popular with ferry commuters. I was once in there before catching a bus home — and the place did a VERY brisk business in miniatures. A coworker friend who lived on Bainbridge Island told me that was always something of a tradition in her family — grab a couple of minis at that liquor store before running for the boat!

My commute home can often involve a half-hour walk after I get of the bus. The last part of the walk is along the waterfront of West Seattle, from where I enjoy the sight of the ferries sailing for Vashon Island and Southworth (on the Kitsap Peninsula). It’s a very comforting sight after dark, when the lighted vessels are the brightest objects out in the Sound. I cannot see the people — but I know they are there. And I wonder what kind of day they’ve had — and what they have waiting for them at home by way of spouse or partner, kids, pets, yard, grocery shopping, dinner, chores, homework, bathtime, TV, bedtime — and so on.

Here’s hoping everyone got home safely this evening.

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