Monday, January 09, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel

(Or felt)

Uncomfortable. Another ride from Hell on the PATH train.

It was about 6:15, and a large crowd was waiting to board the train. I thought I would have to stand, but when it pulled in, I managed to get a seat in the preferred position -- next to door, with an empty seat on only one side of me. Just as I was congratulating myself for ensconcing my posterior so swiftly and advantageously, a group of giggly teenage girls entered the car and sat down opposite me -- or at least some of them did. There were six of them, and only three open seats left, so, rather than grabbing a pole and standing like ordinary commuters, the three unseated schoolgirls sat on their friends' laps, which they found hilarious. You might think this wasn't such a bad thing, even mildly entertaining, perhaps, but I was trying to concentrate on my e-book, and their high-pitched giggling was making that nearly impossible.

Still, I could have mentally tuned them out after a while, if it were not for the someone who sat down next to me -- not a schoolgirl, but a tough-looking character holding a newspaper, who managed to take up a bit more than his allotted seat. I noticed that he nodded to another shady guy, who shambled further down the car, before unfolding his newspaper and proceeding to lay out three stacks of playing cards on top of it. "Oh no," I thought, "three-card Monty is sitting next to me."

There were no more empty seats left, and the train was starting to move, so I stayed put and tried to ignore him. He began shuffling his cards around, which seemed to fascinate the schoolgirls. As he did so, he kept elbowing me in the ribs. He began to ask the girls to guess which deck the red card was under as he shuffled like an practiced Vegas dealer on Dexedrine. A few times the girls guessed right and a few times they guessed wrong. Because the hustler was trying to use his flimsy newspaper as a table, the cards often fell onto the floor, which the teens found hysterical. Then he started asking them to bet money on where the red card was, and to my amazement, some of them actually did -- five dollars, ten dollars. A guy sitting next to the girls also put some money down. They all lost. And every couple of minutes, the card sharp glanced over at me, to see if maybe I too might want to place a bet. I did not.

The 20-minute ride seemed to last for 40 as all this was going on. I pretended to read my book to signal that I wasn't interested in his little con. His elbows and the squealing from the girls made reading impractical anyway.

By the time I reached my destination and exited the train, I was considering whether I should drive to and from work. But with gasoline headed for four bucks a gallon, I think I'll continue to gamble on the PATH train for the time being.

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