A plethora of fascinating personal life stories mysteriously lurk behind those multitude of faces we see every day on Amtrak trains, who, without uttering a solitary word, stare transfixed into their smart phones, sip caffeinated coffee from Styrofoam cups, methodically apply blush-on to pale cheeks, and bite into a buttered roll carefully wrapped in cellophane. Together for a designated period of time—45 minutes, 1 hour, 1 hour fifteen minutes in the identical milieu of Amtrak commuter trains, they are all obsessed with their own inner thoughts.
The majority of us look beyond these faces as the day unfolds. But one individual, one astute observer of people, possesses a remarkable gift of looking beyond those faces and initiating meaningful dialogue. That is David Lee Crites, the author of Scenes from the Train: Observations of a Daily Commuter. During an interview on my web-based radio show, Writers’ Café, in response to my query, Why did you decide to write a book about Amtrak commuters since most of us would just glance and then just as quickly glance away, David said, “I like what’s going on in peoples’ lives….For some strange reason people describe so much of their lives when they’re sitting on the train.”
Obviously, we are physically in close proximity, but yet that does not usually invite the introduction of conversation. It is a fascinating phenomenon whereby people will reveal their innermost turmoil to strangers whose paths will never cross again—the turmoil idiosyncratic of today’s society. A few kind words from that stranger can alleviate their suffering and thereby serve a therapeutic function.
Our education, socioeconomic status, age, religion, gender, race, ethnicity—everything that distinguishes us as human beings on this planet, differ dramatically—what we have in common, however, is a shared space in the limited perimeter of that commuter train. What justifies why these strangers are lulled into a sense of security and comfort? As David said, “I feel that at a certain point of time you’re going through from being in a work mode to being in a non-work mode. There are things you cannot talk about when you’re at work…as soon as you leave the office it’s OK. It’s like I’m free.”
David embarked on a unique journey due to his experience as a commuter and introduced himself to selected fellow commuters. The inevitable question is, how could he be confident that he would receive favorable responses? “At this point in my life I’m like the quintessential grandpa. I don’t have to worry about people taking me wrong.” His grandfatherly demeanor put his subjects at ease and in essence made his remarkable book possible.
Transferring spoken words uttered on Amtrak into written words in a book, David is immortalizing his subjects. ”I did my best to obfuscate enough of what was said so that even if these people read the book the chances are very slim they would recognize themselves.” David recognizes the critical importance of respecting the privacy of his subjects. ’‘We become so insulated from everyone we’re sometimes desperate to have someone hear what we are saying. That is one of the things that made me want to do this book.”
That daily commute to that identical destination—your job—every day of the year, except for holidays and weekends, could quite conceivably be brightened if only for a fleeting moment we turn our shoulders to the man or woman next to us and say hello.
David introduces us to his fascinating and diverse cast of characters—each of whom inhabit a separate chapter, a unique literary device—the Slavic woman with the very long hair, the senior legal partner, the Palestinian woman, the actress reading a script—a character who just got fired by a text message , a character who asked him if was married and he said no, and a character who has a business proposition. When you read that last chapter you wish there were more.
I have just finished reading “Scenes On The Train” by David Lee Crites. This book is an easy read in that each story keeps pulling you forward to the next story. You find yourself wanting to meet these people that the author interacts with during his daily commute to work. They are at the same time ordinary and extraordinary, average and fascinating. This book provides an affirmation of the obvious: everyone has a story. Understanding that can change the way you look at the world around you. –Clara Dudak
Review of “Scenes From a Train,” by David Lee Crites: I’ve read this book three times now. It is an excellent read! Quick, for the length and very well written! Think of sitting with a good friend, hearing his stories of all the things he has seen over several years of riding on commuter trains. The stories are many and varied; from “wonderful people” to real villains, from the staggeringly poor to the very wealthy. Love stories to rescues to suicides; a whole wide world of experiences! l will buy copies of this book for every family member and a lot of friends! I probably should add that the author is my younger brother, and I have ridden the trains with him several times. We’ve sat at the same tables where most of this book was written and he’s pointed out who was sitting where for several of the encounters! This book is REAL! –Rocky W. J. Crites
The author has a keen sense of what makes humanity tick and how the vignettes he describes reflect on the complexity of our present-day society. His astute observances of the commuters on the train, their interactions, the tenuous threads that bind their lives for a brief period each day, and his passion to discover the outcomes of their stories, make this a fascinating read. Not only is this book a fun read (especially if you’re a commuter), but it also offers insightful social commentary and makes us ponder the deeper questions about where we are headed, and how we can become our best selves even when life derails our most tender hopes and dreams. –Dr. Haydee Dabritz
Where to buy the book:
Available on Amazon as both a paperback and for Kindle.
Email the author davidlee @ adoniah.co for a direct link.
Follow author’s Facebook page (under David Lee Crites – Author). He offers a give-away via his Facebook page for readers who get the book and leave a review.
Readers can follow him on goodreads.com (under David Lee Crites – Author).
For those who have had the “happy experience” of being laid off, it is never a good thing. No amount of warning can soften the blow. No amount of preparation can make it easier to deal with.
But still – in a text message?
That’s pretty cold.
One of the more horrific lies we allow fellow humans to get away with, is when they say something inane like “it is only business, it’s not personal.”
Yes, it might be “only business,” but yanking the rug out from under someone’s life to help with the bottom line is certainly “personal.” I believe a great many of these mega rich people will have an uncomfortable welcome from Father on the other side when He asks them about their “business practices.”
The next week, one of the friends who helped Fred told me the company he worked for was bought out, and they simply walked in and closed the doors. They kept six of the two hundred employees. Fred’s boss was not one of them; John was not one of them. They called everyone to a meeting, complete with snacks and an open bar, and while the announcement was happening, a moving company came in and stripped everyone’s office, packed up their personal effects into boxes, and took them to be shipped to their respective houses.
There is only one word for this kind of acquisition: ruthless.
This wasn’t “only business,” it was genocide. A bigger company wanted something the smaller company had, so they took it. The owners got huge payoffs, and the employees got screwed. Claiming it was “just business,” and “not personal” is simply a lie. The old owners made a killing on the backs of the very people who made it possible. The new owners couldn’t have cared less for those people.
Just because your business decision was based on business metrics and profits and you don’t care about the people who are affected by it, does not mean it wasn’t “personal.” It means you are a worthless human being.
“Ruthless” is one of those terms, like today and hypocrite, we only use with a prefix or suffix attached to it. We don’t hear about someone who has “ruth.” We only speak of someone who lacks that quality – and in a major way. Those who are without empathy and love for their fellow sojourners in life, and who can, with theoretical impunity, make “business decisions” without respect to the destructive outcome of those decisions, are “ruthless.” They are despicable people.
The lie is the part where they say “it wasn’t personal.” Because it was. It was pathetically, and painfully personal. They simply made a decision, based on business metrics, which was the best for them, personally, and ignored the fact that it was destructive to everyone else, personally. It takes a particularly ruthless, despicable individual to do that, and then try to justify it by openly admitting they did it strictly to make their own personal results happen.
Marilyn Silverman is a writer, assistant editor of Caribbean American Weekly, host of Writers Cafe Radio Show, and Panelist (How to market and promote your book: Inaugural Black Book Expo, New York).