New Jersey Transit began its "Quiet Commute" on express trains. The first and last cars were designated as "quiet cars."
The first time I rode in one of these cars there was a young woman who unleashed her screaming child on the rest of us as she continued a cellphone conversation about her case in court. When the conductor came to collect our tickets, I notified him about the woman and he said, "we are self-policing." Whose self? Certainly not his self. Why didn't he take his self over to her self and tell her to shut up?
As the months passed, the policy was catching on. Self-policing went the way of the old bounty hunters and conductors stepped in to enforce the rule. Once the cars became quiet, a new annoying thing emerged. It seems that even the slightest noise in a quiet car is worse than overall noise in a regular one. The rustling of a bag, a cough, or a clipping of a nail (yes, people do clip their nails on the train) can spark a primitive emotion in me to crush the enemy.
It wasn't until a Wednesday morning about six months into the policy that I finally got the nerve to tell a group of matinee ladies that they were in a quiet car. They were on their way to New York for a Broadway show. There are lots of women on the train every Wednesday morning heading to the Great White Way. I politely suggested that they move into another car so they could enjoy their journey. The leader of the pack bitterly defended their position and made her companions stay in their seats. "Who do they think they are, telling us we can't talk? What kind of a world are we living in?" she muttered to her sheepish flock. I thought, " a world where unfortunately we have to share with you."
All the way to Penn Station the rest of us had to tolerate their whispering. Every time they uttered an "s," they hissed. This could have replaced water boarding, let me tell you! I swore I wouldn't alert anyone else to be quiet ever again.
In no time, I broke my own rule and took the risk to tell a man that there was no cell phone use in the quiet car we occupied. I left my seat and went over to him so I could say it softly. He held his hand over the phone and firmly let me know he was aware of the rule but I was in the wrong car. And indeed I was. Oops.
That was it, no more telling anyone to be quiet. You can imagine, how exasperating it was for me to be sitting in the quiet car one night with a family across from me who had a screaming baby with them.
This family had a lot of luggage that was stored above them and they looked so comfortable, settled in, you know. I wasn't going to be the one to tell them to move. Fortunately, a man approached them with his plea to move their seats to another car. He wasn't a bully about it either. Good, this torture would soon be over. But no, they didn't do a thing. The baby kept screaming. The noise continued past Secaucus and on to Newark. When we neared Newark Airport, a woman stood up and demanded that they quiet the baby or leave the car. Again, they did nothing to adhere to the pleas of their fellow commuters. Unbelievably rude. No response whatsoever. Outrageous. "Didn't the screaming bother them too?"
Then another woman approached them but this time, she took a card out of her purse, went over and showed it to them. It took a few seconds for the father to read it and then he used his hands to communicate with the rest of his family. Immediately all their hands were moving feverishly. You didn't need to know sign language to see that they were embarrassed and completely apologetic.
I asked the women if I could see the card she presented to them. QUIET COMMUTE was printed on it with the NJ Transit logo and a tag line "this is a quiet car."
We passengers certainly got what we desired that night when the deaf family picked up their belongings and moved to another car. I watched them go through the door to what would be for them another quiet car, always a quiet place, always quiet. It saddened me that they had to leave because we didn't want to hear anything when all they wanted was to hear everything.