For about a week and a half I was working up in Wako city, which was actually pretty fun. The most painful part of the assignment was the commute, which involved riding trains and subways for about an hour and a half one way. First I rode from Chiba to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Ikebukuro, then from there up to Wakoshi station. The first leg of the trip was usually pretty full in the morning, and I never got to sit down. Standing for about 40 minutes surrounded and crowded by mostly middle-aged to old men is no picnic, especially when you get a good whiff of “old man smell” that makes you want to vomit bloody diarrhea. And if you ever experience some guy pressing his sweaty back direct against yours, you too will feel the burning rage comparable only to Nick Roberts witnessing someone hawk a loogie onto the sidewalk.
Luckily, the last two trains I rode in the morning were usually less crowded and I was able to sit and sleep for those rides. It’s strange when you start a train routine, even if only for a week or two, because you adapt and start to remember all kinds of weird things, like which car to get on so that you’ll be closest to the escalator when you arrive. You also start to see the same people, whom of course you would never speak to, but there is that silent and awkward bit of acknowledgment in the split-second of eye contact you make when you realize this is the old man who almost drooled on himself the previous day. Or the old guy who was reading hardcore pornography last week. There was also the high school girl who probably thought I was just being creepy, even though I was just trying to figure out how a completely Japanese-looking girl was reading a super thick English mystery novel. Even I don’t attempt books that thick.
And there is no bigger victory on a train commute than scoring a seat, especially a corner seat, on a crowded train. For the most part my return trip from Tokyo to Chiba was always packed, even more than in the mornings. Having a seat was not a realistic goal. Once though, a miracle happened. I was standing in front of a corner seat, swaying back and forth on the grips while staring at posters advertising about 50 different brands of canned coffee. Somewhere around Kinshicho, which is relatively early in the ride, the guy sitting in front of me starts to gather his things and stuff them into his man-bag. I recognized immediately that he was going to get off the train. The seat would be mine. As soon was we stop, however, the greasy salaryman next to me starts to move. OH HELL NO. I casually yet powerfully swing my briefcase, already retrieved from the overhead rack, into the seat space and perform a counter-clockwise spin placing myself gently and smoothly into the treasured corner spot. Middle aged salary man didn’t know what hit him. I slept the rest of the journey in luxurious comfort, not only because I was sitting down after a long day’s work, but because I had just shown the guy now standing in front of me who’s boss of them all since 1983. ME.