Strangers on a Train (The Not So Thrilling Version)

What do you write about when you cannot think of anything to write about?

I signed up for an article this week, as I haven’t written in awhile and have really missed it. I figured I would think of a topic quickly, but found myself on Wednesday still trying to think of something to talk about. After Googling hundreds of writing prompts (literally hundreds, you guys ““ it was a struggle), I came to the conclusion that telling a travel story might be fun. If nothing else, it might spark others to tell stories similar to my own (which I always love hearing!). Here goes.

While living in London three summers ago, I had a very specific daily routine. I would wake up at 8:30 in the morning, normally to sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window. I would roll out of the slightly lumpy bed, take a quick shower while listening to Capital FM, and then head downstairs for a snack before leaving for the tube station. I always enjoyed my walk, as it was filled with lots of different sights and people and sounds each day. I am so used to driving to work at home and spending time on my own that I craved the interaction, even if it was with people I might only cross paths with once. However, I found myself running into a lot of the same people over and over again (probably because they had a daily routine of their own that just happened to meld nicely with mine). One such guy ““ he rode the same train as me in the morning ““ still sticks out in my mind. He was a younger guy and was always dressed in well put together and often EXTREMELY color coordinated outfits. An outfit he wore a lot ““ my “favorite” outfit of his, if you will ““ was a green polo shirt, khakis, green slip-on shoes, and a messenger bag with green and orange stripes on it. I remember looking at him while waiting for the train to show up, thinking to myself, “Well, you sure do know what colors go nicely together.” He wore black, thick rimmed glasses. His hair was always impeccably styled. Looking back on it, I think I had a pretty solid stranger crush on him. I remember telling a fellow intern about this guy and she asked “Well, what’s his name?” My response of “Um”¦Man on Train?” was not terribly impressive.

We would often board at the same time ““ he would normally let me get on first and I would thank him kind of timidly ““ and then we would stand across the train from one another. He would stand right by the door, while I often stood as far away from the door as I could. Both of us rode the train for only a few stops, so we would stay standing, hold onto the poles, and simply sway with the rhythm of the train and wait to disembark at Earl’s Court to continue our journeys separately. He was always listening to his iPod and I liked to imagine what sort of music he listened to. During that summer, I was pretty into R. Kelly’s “Body Body” (don’t ask me why) ““ I liked to think that he would enjoy the song if he were to join me in listening.

We rode the train almost every single day together and I found myself wondering a lot about this guy. I was really interested in where he was going, what he was doing in London, how long he had lived in the city or if he even lived in the city at all ““ whatever. Near the end of my time abroad, I decided that I wanted to at least say hello to him and let him know that I sort of looked forward to seeing him each day. I wasn’t sure about how he would interpret my random declaration of public transportation love, but I figured he would, at the very least, just write me off as an overly friendly American woman and then go on his way. On my last Monday heading to work, I decided that today was the day I was going to say hello to Man on the Train. I sort of talked myself through it, considering carefully how to go about this interaction without looking terribly threatening or odd. I decided that the best way to go about it was to ““ surprise! ““ just walk up to him and say hello.

So, that’s what I did.

I arrived at the station a few minutes earlier than normal and sat down on a bench. I had just started to drink my juice when Man on Train came bounding up the stairs. He was wearing the green outfit, which I took as a sign from the Tube Gods that I needed to go up to this guy and say hello. I walked sort of tentatively up to him, immediately regretting my decision to be friendly when I realized what I was doing. As I went to go tap him on the shoulder, he turned around and said, “Finally, one of us is saying hello!”  I was a bit taken aback. I had assumed for two months that my interest was one-sided and, frankly, that I had been covert (LOL) in my observing him and trying to figure out more about him. Apparently, I was not as subtle as I thought.

I said, “Well, yes! One of us is. I’m Caitlin.” He introduced himself (Charlie. Of course his name was Charlie.) and told me that he had wanted to approach me for awhile. I told him that the exact same thing had been on my mind and he thanked me for being “another gregarious American and taking the plunge!” We boarded the train together, then continued to talk until we both disembarked at Earl’s Court. We shared a few tidbits about ourselves as he walked me to my next train ““ I let him know I was abroad for an internship, he lived right down the road from the tube station and worked in the same borough that I did ““ and I found myself as enchanted by him as I thought I would be. He was very kind, very funny, had a lovely air about him ““ he just fit the bill perfectly for a nice little public transit crush. Before we separated, I told him that I had really looked forward to seeing him each day during my time in London, if only for the small sense of comfort it brought me being so far from home. He laughed a bit, then said he thought I was really brave for venturing to such a big city for the period of time that I did. I heard my train coming through the tunnel and told him I had to, unfortunately, head out. He asked if I’d like a hug, as that “seems like something you Americans love to do,” and I told him of course. We hugged, then he began to walk to find his own train. He looked back right before turning a corner and yelled, “Cheers for not being a stranger!”

I didn’t see him for the rest of my time in London. I kept showing up to the train later and later each day, hoping that he wouldn’t be there. Looking back, I think I wanted to have that one, perfect interaction with him. I’ll never forget Charlie and his place within my time in London, though. His daily presence in my morning commute was comforting while venturing out on my own for, truly, the first time in my life. His admiration of my bravery for moving to England meant even more, if only because my time abroad left me feeling very alone and vulnerable at times. He couldn’t have known what his short statement meant to me ““ I wish I could somehow tell him. I catch myself thinking about him even now, wondering if he’s still working in Islington and living in the same flat. I hope wherever he is, he’s happy. Cheers for not being a stranger either, Charlie. Our time speaking was short, but your impact on me certainly hasn’t been.

Have you ever met anyone during your travels that has stuck with you in such a strong way? If so, where did you meet? What was your first interaction like? Are you still in touch now? I would love to hear your stories!

By Caitlin

25 years old. Proud Michigander. Lover of Scandinavia, feminism, the Detroit Tigers, and perusing unaffordable real estate.

Du har. Du vil. Du burde.

2 replies on “Strangers on a Train (The Not So Thrilling Version)”

This was a lovely article, Caitlin! Thank you for sharing. It brought a smile to my lips. :)

I have to admit that I felt a little sad that you purposely avoided him for the rest of your trip. I’m the sort who’s always left wondering about things afterwards, so I don’t know if I would’ve been able to just leave it at that “one perfect encounter”. But I can also understand why you would. :)

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