If someone gets hit by a train full of commuters, did they get hit at all?
A scorching hot day in the South Bay Area, and commuters are packed in the Mountain View train station to make their way northbound back into the city after work.
As the train approaches, noted by the whaling horn, people squish together to push and pry to make it to the train entrance sooner than that person, and that person, and that person.
CalTrain speeds north, stopping at stations like Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Just north of Redwood City, the cars slow to a stop as the overhead voice tells riders that an incident has occurred.
For any regular Bay Area public transportation traveler, this is just a part of the everyday risk. But that’s perhaps one reason why no one seemed to care. Social media quickly tells us that the southbound train reaching Redwood City has hit a pedestrian.
The overhead voice — filled with apology for the delay — informs passengers that there was a “trespasser strike”. A woman across the hallway laughs to her friend, tickled by the intentional dispassion of the term “trespasser strike”.
As more people climb onto their laptops and phones, chatter elevates as more start to make alternate plans for their way home.
I interpret writer David Foster Wallace’s essay This Is Water like this: being aware of the world outside of yourself is crucial. It must be a constant reminder towards compassion and empathy — being so entrenched in self-centeredness can be like a fish that doesn’t even know its living in water.
“If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important — if you want to operate on your default-setting — then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things.” — This Is Water, David Foster Wallace
As I start to reminisce on this, I glance at the seated, impatient people on the train. My own pre-occupation suddenly starts to show itself to me, that I too was flirting with passing judgement on a train full of other commuters. I was still putting myself as the center of this world.
Just another cliché in a train full of clichés.
The overhead voice tells us cheerfully they received the signal to move forward.
The train pulls away from the station, slowly as not to disturb the southbound train still stuck in its place, now abandoned.
Next to the train tracks, we pass one policeman taking notes as he speaks with the southbound train’s driver. Further along, police cars line the street as more policemen stand and look at the stuck train, gleaming still in the hot, setting sun.