Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is It The Quiet Car Or The Silent Car?

Today’s TheTrainInVain blog post comes from Marsh, our Metro-North correspondent.  What started as a post about the quiet car turned into a debate between us.  Once again, Marsh called me the Anna Wintour of blogging.  I wear that title with honor.

On October 17, 2011, the MTA launched a new program on Metro-North rush hour trains where one car would be set aside as a “quiet car.” It would be an environment free of cell phones, loud conversations, beeps, and buzzes.  The LIRR soon rolled out the same program.

I planned to tell a story of how I was unnecessarily “shushed” on the quiet car by a woman who possessed bionic hearing or had an object lodged in an unfortunate place.  

I had run into an old friend at Grand Central who I hadn’t seen for many years.  It turned out we were getting on the same train.  By the time we boarded and sat down, we were wrapping up our conversation. The woman, several rows away, admonished us for talking in the quiet car by uttering a loud “shush.”  We were not loud, by any measure.

When Dave read the details of the events leading up to the “shushing,” he not only disagreed with my point of view, it seemed he felt I should have been kicked off the train, put on trial, and sentenced to five years of hard labor in Leavenworth Federal Prison for my actions.

So, instead of ending our 30-year friendship or (more importantly) stepping down as the Metro-North correspondent for this blog, I suggested we debate the merits of the Quiet car and how, or if, common courtesy can be effectively enforced.

Marsh: So Dave. Am I really worse than Hitler for talking to my friend who was sitting across from me?

Dave: Oh come on now, Marsh.  How could you be worse that Hitler?  That would be an exaggeration.  You’re much more like Stalin.

While the letter of the quiet car rule suggests minimal conversation is allowed, the spirit of the rule is subject to interpretation.  Judging from interactions I’ve witnessed in the quiet car, I’ve found that most people want just that.  Quiet.  In my view, the spirit of the rule is that all in-person conversations, mobile phone rambling, nail clipping, etc. should be taken to another car.  

You sat in the quiet car and talked. I’m afraid that puts you on par with a lunatic who used Communist imagery to advance his Fascist agenda.

Marsh: Thanks Comrade, for the opportunity to plead my case.  Nobody abhors idle chitchat more than me.  If I were truly at fault, I’d own up to it. This conversation was nearly done as we sat down. The car was practically empty. The train hadn’t left the station. She was sitting a good five rows away. Her “shush” was louder than my voice.  Her reaction was akin to a police officer pulling me over for driving 58 MPH in a 55 zone.  

Dave: While the train is in the station awaiting departure time, people are in a state of high anxiety.  It is "jockeying" time.  They board, seek the right seat, in the right car, near or away from various types.  They try to avoid swinging suitcases and people stepping on their feet.  Quiet car denizens are looking out for violators.  You were a violator. 

Yes, you were going 58 in a 55, but it was the last day of the month and the police officer was desperate to make quota.  You pressed that woman's panic button.

Marsh: What if I had an allergic reaction to this woman’s perfume and I had to sneeze? Who would be at fault? Now, if it were up to me, all conversations on the train (quiet car or otherwise) would not exceed 15 seconds, regardless of volume.  That is, unless the subject matter is REALLY interesting. I admit, though, there are flaws in that rule and there could be interpretation problems.

Did you know that conductors carry “Shhh” cards? They’re supposed to hand them out to violators. I’ve never seen one used. I wonder if it’s like soccer, where the ref takes out the card and writes in his little notepad. If there were a conductor in my car during my incident, he/she would have given a card to the woman for “flopping.”

Dave: Now hold on a minute, Comrade Marshkov.  There's a bit of waffling here.  On one hand, you want to have a quiet conversation, but on the other hand, it should be 15 seconds or less?  Are you telling me that you were shushed over a 15 second conversation?   Even a high anxiety shusher would wait a little longer than that.  Are you dictating rules as they suit you? There's that Stalin tendency again.

I've heard about the "Shhh" cards.  I've never seen a conductor use one.  Moreover, I've never seen a conductor get involved in a shush session.

Marsh: This woman was absolutely an “impatient shusher.” I didn’t get ten words out of my mouth before she sprung into action. She was drunk with perceived power, like Bobby Brady when he wore that safety monitor armband. I’m now convinced more than ever of my innocence.  VICTORY IS MINE!

Bobby Brady, with SHHH monitor armband
The quiet car program was deployed due to complaints about mobile phone abuse, and I applaud it.  A person is 82.9 percent more likely to be louder on a mobile phone than in person. I hate phones.  That said, it’s impossible to have a truly quiet car. Trains are noisy. They have engines, whistles, and over-modulated announcements booming from the loudspeakers.  So how about if from now on, I promise to channel Teddy Roosevelt instead of Stalin?  I will speak softly and carry a big stick to whack impatient shushers.

Dave: You may not be able to have a completely quiet car, but you can have quiet humans in the car.  How about we compromise? The rule should be, “Don't speak at all, carry a big stick, and you get to whack impatient shushers and others who speak, sneeze, cough, snore, sigh, or moan.”  Deal?

Marsh: Deal.

Dave: Looks like we have a proposal to write to the MTA.

Thanks Marsh, for your contribution.  And once again, for tolerating my Anna Wintour tendencies.

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