Strangers on a Train

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Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I want to share this very special love connection that I witnessed on MAX, Portland’s light rail public transportation system, several weeks ago.

The scene is as follows: A man in his late 40s, dressed in a sharp business suit, sits on the train, accompanied by a similar-looking man who is clearly a business associate of some kind. On the other side of him sits a skanky, smokey-voiced woman, probably 15 years younger but weather-beaten and shopworn. She is not homeless — she has no belongings with her, and her dress and grooming have not quite fallen to that level — but she is definitely a woman of low character, as they say. A crack whore, maybe. In fact, sure, let’s say she was definitely a crack whore.

Anyway, seeing an earpiece affixed to the man’s head, the woman struck up a conversation. During the conversation, the man did not turn to look at her, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable as it progressed. She initiated:

SKANKY WOMAN: Is that a cell phone?
BUSINESSMAN: Yes. Well, this (indicating the phone in his pocket) is the cell phone. This (indicating the earpiece) is just the earpiece.
SKANKY WOMAN: You look like Spock.
BUSINESSMAN: Ha ha. Yeah.

(Pause.)

SKANKY WOMAN: Because Spock had that thing in his ear.
BUSINESSMAN: Yeah.

(Pause.)

SKANKY WOMAN: Could I have a cigarette? Just one?
BUSINESSMAN: I don’t have any. I don’t smoke.
SKANKY WOMAN: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you smelled like — I’m sorry.
BUSINESSMAN: No problem.

(Pause.)

(Pause.)

SKANKY WOMAN: You’re a very handsome man.

(Man’s cell phone rings; he instantly answers it; the conversation is over.)

Questions immediately sprang to my mind. “You’re a very handsome man”?!? What did she hope to gain by that? What was she hoping his reaction would be? What if his cell phone hadn’t rung? How would the conversation have gone? I suspect something like this:

SKANKY WOMAN: You’re a very handsome man.
BUSINESMAN: Oh. Thank you.

(Man gets up, moves to opposite end of the train.)

But perhaps she was hoping for this:

SKANKY WOMAN: You’re a very handsome man.
BUSINESSMAN: No! You flatter me. But you, my dear — you are an enchantress. (Kisses her hand.)
SKANKY WOMAN: Oh! Such a gentleman you are!
BUSINESSMAN: My good lady, at the next stop, shall we disembark and find an alleyway or public restroom in which to revel?
SKANKY WOMAN: Why, sir! I should like that very much. But first we must stop and buy me some cigarettes.
BUSINESSMAN: But of course, my dear! Of course.

(They skip merrily off together.)

Perhaps she was hoping her flirtations would lead eventually to marriage, and they would tell their children their charming “how we met” story: “Well, I was on the train one day, and your mother sat down next to me and said I smelled like cigarettes! How could I resist?”

Alas, it was not to be. The man’s cell phone rang, and he got off at the next stop. But I like to think that in an alternate universe, she’s already moving her stuff into his house and he’s getting a full work-up of shots at the health clinic.

In parting, in honor of the season, let me mention this Yahoo! news headline from last week, where a California judge ordered Paris Hilton to keep away from a particular man she’s allegedly been harassing. The headline reads:

Paris Hilton Ordered to Stay away from Man.

And on behalf of man, let me just say thank you.

The Paris Hilton story didn't have anything to do with the story I was telling, and it was only slightly related to Valentine's Day, but I wanted to mention it SOMEHOW.

I'd been saving the story of the man and woman on the train for several weeks before I realized Valentine's Day would be a lovely time to share it. I hope it makes your holiday a little brighter.

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