Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Riding on the Metro

Every workday, I drive to a train station, and take Atlanta's version of the Metro, known as MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). Every evening, I ride MARTA back to my car, parked securely in the deck, and make my way home.

Whatever charm this jaunt may offer as an occasional outing disappears after, oh, the fortieth or fiftieth haul. Not much is going to change out the windows of the train. And few experiences are more disheartening than bounding down (or up) the stairs as your train pulls out of the station. Time to start looking for some new graffiti to admire. Occasionally, I even find myself driven to eavesdropping.

Yesterday morning, I overheard the following exchange, between a youngish man and a younger woman sitting together. Acquaintances, I gathered, but not close friends. The young man was describing the tribulations associated with conceiving his first child. Evidently, he and his wife had "struggled" (is it really so hard?), had given up hope, and then had been blessed with a little one. "That's awesome!" the young woman said. To which the young man replied, "Yeah, it's pretty cool."

He then went on to describe some completely unexceptional aspect of parenting, something familiar to anyone who's ever had a kid, or been one, like, I don't know, reading a bedtime story. In response, the young woman exclaimed, "That's awesome!" to which the young man replied, "Yeah, it's pretty cool."

Limited lexicon, apparently.

That afternoon, I overheard two young men at Peachtree Center Station. One was recounting the weekend visit of a friend who "crashed" at his apartment. Every single sentence he uttered was structured as follows: "________ was like ...."

"He was like . . . . And I was like . . . .and then he got like . . . ., and so I was like . . . , so then he got, like, . . . and it was so like . . ."

Evidently, he's dispensed with the superabundance of verbs in the English language.

This morning, I was off for a glorious eleven hour workday (I'm teaching in the evenings, two nights a week) when, while ascending the escalator, I was overtaken by a young woman bounding up the stairs in frantic haste (of which there was no need, as the train wouldn't be arriving for another three minutes). From her anxious grasp slipped a can of Coke Zero, which landed on the edge of the escalator stair directly in front of me, ruptured, and then more or less exploded, covering me in Coke Zero (whatever the fuck that is) from my glasses to my shoes.

"Hey," I shouted to this nerve-addled basket-case who hadn't even bothered to look back while I was being showered in Coke. "I'm going to work!" (I was wearing some nice clothes, or as she might have pronounced it, "cloth-hes.")

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said in her Spanish-inflected English (not that there's anything wrong with it), "It was an accident. I didn't mean to."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I muttered as I wiped Coke "Zeh-roh" from my glasses with my yellow silk tie.

What a pleasure to take the train.


Anonymous said...

There was a time, in the late 50s - early 60s, when folk-icons such as Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin (among others) were noteworthy for their taciturnity. It was assumed by us hero worshippers that their refusal to indulge in the 'normal' conversational trivia that we lesser mortals used was a sign of their contempt for the mundane and significant of the fact that their intellectual superiority insulated them from the need to communicate with unworthies such as we were.

A little later, of course, the scales fell from our eyes and, with that, came the realisation that they were - in fact - actors simply doing what they were paid to do (and not really inhabitants of some intellectual stratosphere).

Although - as BS suggests - the Brandoan and Marvinesque grunt appears to have become today's 'lingua franca', it would be difficult to detect anything other than a well-developed animal intelligence in most of its users. Such is the emotional range of today's language that any and every level of human activity, from the unwrapping of a chocolate bar, via the birth of a baby, to the disaster of 9/11 is thought to be adequately covered by the descriptor, 'awesome'.

As James Dean (probably) said: "Uh!"

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