Song Of The Day 8/8/2013: The Divine Comedy - "Commuter Love"

L'internet has been abuzz the last couple of days over an item in the "Missed Connections" section of the Brooklyn Craigslist. Described by various outlets as "The Best" or "The Saddest" or "The Most-Heartbreaking Missed Connections post of all time," it's written from the point of view of a gentleman who's fallen quietly and discreetly in love with someone he's seen on the Q train from Brooklyn to Manhattan every day -- for sixty years. And he's never scrounged up the courage to initiate anything more than the briefest, most situational contact with this person in all this time:
"For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles [sic] sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles...

"I'll talk to her before daybreak; I'll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we've passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, 'Well, this is inconvenient,' but I couldn't very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed — why hadn't I said 'Bless You'? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat."
One day he doesn't see her, and he believes he has to come to grips with reality. "Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train. But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all."

I'm pretty sure this post is fiction -- if the math is correct, then they've been riding together since 1953, which seems a stretch -- following that trend of using established, popular websites as storytelling devices, like the customer review meme. (Though I don't know what kind of foolish person would do that kind of thing.) Still it's a good story, and I'm sure it happens all the time in the urbs, across shorter periods of time. Especially in New York.

Back when I lived in San Francisco being amongst new strangers was a minor rush I used to get when I was getting on board MUNI's light rail. I too would have never acted upon any feelings I might have had for other commuters, had I felt them. But there was always that thrill of potential connection. It's a little bit different than being on a bus. Light rail moves more smoothly, and doesn't go over as many bumps as a bus does. Light rail leaves just a little more room for new experiences, if we don't let the mundanity of the situation blind us and make us reclusive in plain sight.

All that said about light rail v. bus, the most memorable encounter I had with a perfect stranger on public transit was on a bus. I was riding one through Laurel Heights in SF. I was trying to write in my notebook. It was an effort because the pen was moving along with the bus. Keeping the pen steady was uselessly difficult; it threw my handwriting off. A nice woman moving to get off the bus paused at my seat before she disembarked and said, "I write on buses too." Then she smiled and left.

Regardless of whether the Craiglist story is bogus, it's still moving. And naturally it's put "Commuter Love" by this blog's spirit animal Neil Hannon in my head for 24 hours. Urbanites, don't let your fears or your mobile devices get in your way of true unadulterated love. Just don't get all creepy about it and you'll be fine.

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