I’d never seen this before. The 7:22’s about to leave. A guy—Lennon specs, preppy, clean cut–asks another guy—rumpled beige suit, loosened tie, tired, resembling Robin Williams when he has a beard–to let him in for the window seat. Robin Williams obliges.
The train takes off. Clean Cut makes a joke. Robin Williams, munching a bag of nuts and quaffing a Sam Adams, offers a perfunctory laugh.
A conversation ensues. Clean Cut, drinking a plastic cup of cola that is or is not augmented with alcohol, is clearly the aggressor; when he speaks, he turns towards Robin Williams. Williams, meanwhile, is playing defense; short retorts to Clean Cut’s questions, looking straight ahead.
Mind you, they’ve already broken the most hallowed of commuter rules, the same golden rule you learned when you were six and your friends were turning up on milk cartons: don’t talk to strangers. Blame the drinks. The one convo I’ve had in my four months on the train, my seat-mate wished me a happy holiday, and I responded “You as well.” He then asked me what I did for work, intrigued because I’d said “You as well” and not “You too.” Honest. That’s what he told me.
By Harlem, the two are well-engaged, yet still holding fast to their roles: Clean Cut pushing the convo, Robin Williams half-heartedly playing along.
But by the Westchester border, Williams warms. Instead of answering to the seat-back in front of him, he turns about 45 degrees to Clean Cut to answer. They’re smiling. They’re laughing.
What are they talking about?
At White Plains, the usual gaggle gets off. I inch closer. Clean Cut says the Democrats have become smarter, are much more in touch with their people.
Moments later, Clean Cut asks what the name of the parish is. Robin Williams struggles to find the answer.
“Sacred Heart,” eventually comes the reply.
As we approach Hawthorne, Clean Cut has bad news: it’s his stop. Will they shake hands, promise to do lunch, barbecue in summer, introduce their wives, hug? Not so. Smiles and nods, and Clean Cut is on his way.