Mrs. Advocate sat across the isle from me on the train and when the train staff came by to check her ticket, she fumbled quite a bit to get her ticket out and almost spilled her extra large iced coffee (32oz) on the floor, close call. I’ve spilled my coffee in the same type of scenario on the train (twice) and my iced coffee just flowed down the entire isle, it was pretty embarrassing and irritating because everyone just stares at you like you’re a bad person.
I didn’t wait around for a third time to spill my coffee so I bought a spill-proof mug. I told this brief story to her and we started chatting.
Our train ride conversation involved her talking for the most part and me just listening which confirmed my hypothesis that most people are willing to talk to other people while on public transit, they just don’t want to be the one to initiate the conversation. However, I wasn’t expecting how personal the conversation was going to get. She volunteered a lot of information that I’ll be leaving out of this post because morally I don’t feel right publishing it on the internet. Here’s about 85% of our conversation (edited on moral principles).
She mentioned that she wasn’t really feeling very well today and so she hadn’t yet touched her coffee. She was trying to drink water and eat her peanut butter crackers instead. She told me about a medical condition but didn’t elaborate on the subject so I didn’t push it. Either way, hydration and crackers are a good thing. On the list of foods that are not a good thing is probably the 32oz of D&D coffee she had, especially when she wasn’t feeling that well.
We started talking about work and she is a full time advocate for persons with developmental disabilities. Basically she partners with people who have disabilities to help them realize their life goals despite personal obstacles and various societal barriers. I asked her how she got into this line of work and she told me how she had always been an advocate for this cause but then found out that she could do it professionally and get paid so she has been doing this for about 10 years now.
She takes the train in from Allston, then switches to a commuter rail, and then she takes a taxi. All in all it’s about 2 hours each way. So that’s 4 hours of commuting EVERY DAY, now that’s dedication. She was quick to add that she doesn’t always take the commuter rail, sometimes she has meetings in Boston. Still, sounds like she has an epic commute the majority of the time. The U.S. Census Bureau would define her as an “Extreme Commuter”, i.e. someone who spends 3+ hours commuting to work every day. I found this definition in an article in Outside Magazine about a guy who bikes 3 hours into NYC a few days/week for work in midtown, pretty extreme.
To make matters more difficult she has been without power in her apartment building due to Hurricane Irene even 4 days after the storm passed through Boston. This reminded me of my friends in Vermont where there are 13 towns that are literally cut off from civilization. So I told her how these towns have one road in and one road out. In each case the roads were literally washed away, flooded, and/or collapsed because of downed bridges. So helocopters have had to fly in food and water for the thousands of residents stuck in these towns.
Anyway, she then launched into this long complex story about her friend in Vermont whose house got flooded because of Irene. This was apparently due to her asshole ex-husband who had a court-order from the divorce to do some landscaping to the property (apparently it was prone to flooding and it was his fault this flooding happened, so the court mandated that he fix it as part of the divorce settlement?). Her friend is suing the man for not doing the landscaping. This is where it gets interesting. It turns out that this man is the brother of the woman who was on the train telling me this story and it’s especially problematic because he allegedly controls her money. Bizzare situation. So him getting sued directly impacts Mrs. Advocate’s ca$h flow. She is conflicted, yet she still sides with her friend in Vermont.
The story goes on in more detail but it gets a little more personal with certain health issues so I’m just going to wrap up this post here. I was definitely surprised at how willing she was to provide such personal details with a perfect stranger on the train at 7am. If she’s willing to spill her guts to me then perhaps this month’s challenge will be easier than I thought…