By Sally Friedman
The business-suited man in the seat in front of mine is arguing about politics. He's defending President Obama just as vigorously as his companion, also business-suited, is decrying the president's health-care plan. And neither cares at all who's listening.
Across the aisle, a kid with a backpack and Rutgers jacket who looks like he needs a shower is plugged into his ear buds, swaying to music only he hears. Just a few minutes later, the distinct sound of snoring suggests that the he's had either a wild or studious night.
It's high noon, and I'm riding the rails with PATCO on my bargain senior fare. I'm happy as a clam.
Some years ago, on my frequent trips from Moorestown to Philly, I gave up my car addiction in favor of economy. I was ready to relinquish the special joys of crawling along Interstate 95, where a tractor-trailer was always sure to overturn just as I got there.
I was liberated.
But there was one more compelling reason that has kept me happily hanging on to my PATCO habit.
Eavesdropping. I blush to admit that I love it.
On the way from Ferry Avenue in Camden, my jump-on point of choice, to 16th and Locust, my usual stop, the listening-in is prime.
It's always high season for odd bits of human marginalia, mini-glimpses into strangers' lives. And with the advent of cellphones, the opportunities have increased exponentially.
"He's definitely seeing her. I can just tell. He has that look," the attractive woman in the coat I envied and the boots I'd die for was saying to someone on the other end of her smartphone. I immediately checked her finger for a wedding band, and there it was.
So the "he" was almost certainly her husband. And here I was, right in the midst of what seemed to be a B-movie tempest brewing.
And get this: The "he" - the presumed villain of the piece - had just bought the wife a bracelet. "The kind you don't get at Walmart," as she so colorfully expressed.
This was far better stuff than the rather tedious novel our book group had chosen this month.
And wouldn't you know that Madame Boots got off at 9th-10th and Locust, leaving me forever dangling?
Was he or wasn't he straying? Would she wear the bracelet anyway?
I also will never know whether the grandson of the gray-haired woman carrying a Macy's shopping bag will get into the University of Delaware. He had just applied, she was telling her seatmate, and that would make him the first college graduate in the family if he was accepted and got through.
"That will be some graduation party!" she was saying.
So now, along with wondering about the higher-education fates of my own grandchildren, I had the grandson of the Macy's shopping bag lady on my mind. I was rooting for him.
Yes, that's how it goes as I ride the rails on PATCO.
There's always somebody's sliver of life to be tasted and digested, some snippet of valuable information drifting my way. Who knew that Collingswood had a hot new hairdresser who truly understood the sacred words "Just a trim"?
Riding along sealed in my car, would I have heard why the Phillies messed up so badly last spring (the team needs new blood), or how to get a wine stain out of a tablecloth (pour boiling water over it from a height)?
And all this in a 12-minute ride, give or take.
I'd say it's well worth the senior fare.