Forget SEPTA’s QuietRide. Who’s Up for a Book Club Car?

How to make friends on the train.

First car will be your QuietRide Car. Please, respect the QuietRide Car. If you’ve ever ridden a SEPTA train, or even set foot in one of the city’s bustling stations, you’ve heard this. And if you’re a commuter, you’re probably sick of it.

I’ve ridden in the quiet car, and I’ve ridden in the other cars, and the rest of the train really isn’t particularly loud. If you’re riding with a friend, you might be chatting among yourselves, and it’s true that many people (myself included) talk on their cell phones.

But God forbid strangers ever talk to each other.

We want to pretend that we’re commuting alone, but it’s time to face facts: We aren’t. There are a whole slew of interesting people on the train with you. Why not take advantage of it?

There’s never been much passenger interaction on the train, and the latest technological advancements definitely make it worse. Our smart phones and tablets provide constant distractions (Words With Friends is quite addicting), and iPods give us the opportunity to tune out the world around us. It’s no wonder people don’t talk to each other; our gadgets make it really damn difficult.

Recently, I was sitting quietly on the train when a teenager approached me and looked at me hesitantly. Confused, I pulled my headphones off and she repeated her question.

“May I sit here?”

Commuters are so used to having people sit down and get up without a word of acknowledgment that it can be a little shocking when someone bothers to ask. I was similarly surprised when a woman once started a conversation with me about living in Glenside. She had seen me get on at that stop and confessed she was thinking about moving there. Did I like it? What was the atmosphere like?

I normally spend my time on the train reading, not chatting, but I’m certainly not opposed to conversation. When I was first reading the Hunger Games trilogy, my daily commute (along with every other second of my day) was spent devouring the three novels. One morning, I sat down next to another twentysomething and pulled out my copy of Mockingjay. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she, too, was holding a battered copy of the Suzanne Collins best seller.

We made eye contact and that was it: We launched into a hearty discussion of Peeta vs. Gale (Peeta, for sure), how many times she’s read the books (three), and how we each felt about the upcoming movie (apprehensive but excited). When I got to my stop, for the first time ever, I felt a little sad to leave the train.

Had we both been using Kindles or some other e-reader, we wouldn’t have talked at all. I would have had to stare closely at her lap to decipher the tiny letters at the top of her screen to see the title, and at that point I’d have felt like too much of a creep to announce that I was also reading the same book. Technology would have kept us from ever chatting, so I guess I got lucky that she happened to also have the book in, well, “book format.”

Because that little impromptu discussion made my normally boring commute so much fun, I started thinking: What if we commuters got together and actually planned on all reading the same book?

I know I’m being a little crazy, but let’s take a lesson from the QuietRide Car. Why not add a Book Club Car? We could choose the book in advance and occasionally devote a car to talking about it.

We shouldn’t stop with a Book Club Car, though. What about a Networking Car? In these economic times, nobody can really afford to waste more than an hour each day commuting; unpaid interns and the underemployed could use our commutes to search for job openings and make important connections instead.

For the religious folks out there who don’t have time to get to church, how about a Worship Car?

A Group Therapy Car? Anyone?

Learn to live a little, Philly commuters. Take off the headphones, put down your cell phone, and step outside your comfort zone. See that woman sitting next to you? That might be me, and I might be dying to chat with you about the book you’re reading. (It’s my very favorite.) So put away your iPod and make some eye contact for a change. If you bring the coffee, I’ll bring the donuts and an hour’s worth of pleasant conversation.

If you see me on SEPTA, feel free to sit down next to me and start a conversation, because one thing is definitely for sure: You’ll never catch me in the QuietRide Car.

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