iPod, I.C.E. and I
It’s the first Monday of the new year, and the I.C.E. train to Frankfurt was pretty packed. Still I managed to find a spot in a four seat compartment with two men and one other woman. My journey had begun earlier this morning - first taking a bus from the hotel near the theater where I’d had my last performance, then switching to the regional train at the Mönchengladbach main station, and finally to the InterCity Express in Düsseldorf. By that time I was well into a very interesting Podcast of “This American Life” and was looking forward to boarding the comfortable, heated, high-speed train, kicking back and listening to the end of the story.
As one does before taking a seat next to someone on a train, I asked, “Is this seat taken?” Then I began the five-minute winter ritual of peeling off numerous layers of outerwear, found a place to stow my things, set my coffee cup and sandwich on the table between the seats and sat down to listen to my iPod. Ahhhh...
The two gentlemen next to me were conversing intensely about something - I can’t be sure what, because they were speaking in a foreign tongue. Turkish? No, not that. Persian? Hindi? Maybe. I turned my attention back to Ira Glass and tried to relax.
Several minutes later the men were still talking, as they had been incessantly since I sat down. Even with my fancy in-ear headphones “drastically reducing unwanted outside noises” - that’s what it says on the box they came in - the voice of the man sitting to my right penetrated the barrier. It now took all my concentration to follow the story on “This American Life,” so I chose instead to resume listening to it later and play a round of Scrabble with my iPod. Even focussing on Scrabble became a challenge amidst the babble. The iPod ended up winning the game by a 100-point margin. Damn those confabulating fellows!
It was then I began to realize just how enervated I was by this discussion going on next to me. They just would not stop talking! And when they weren’t talking to each other, one of them was on his cell phone. And while one was on the phone, the other one got antsy and placed a phone call himself. At one point, they even traded phones so that the other person could talk to whomever the other guy was talking to. It was obviously business-related, I deduced from the anglicisms threaded throughout their seamless conversation.
The man with the more penetrating voice had an ordinary ringtone, but the soft-spoken of the two had a cell phone that vibrated so loudly that it defeated the purpose of setting the phone to vibrate in the first place. Meanwhile, this conversation cumconference call had captured the attention of passengers on the other side of the aisle, some reacting with sharp glances and others with outright laughter.
When one of them got up to go to the toilet, I thought, ‘Relief!’ (not just for him, but also for me). After half a minute of precious silence, however, the other one felt the urge to make yet another call. No!! I thought at this point that they must indeed be speaking Hindi or some sort of Indian dialect, because I could imagine that someone who hails from a country with over a billion people might become uneasy if it gets too quiet.
By this time I had a headache (having grown up in a land with wide open spaces), otherwise I would’ve taken the next logical step of drowning their voices out with loud music. Instead I put the in-ear headphones back on, attempting this time to use them as earplugs. Unfortunately, as promised on the box they came in, the earphones only ensured “accurate, detailed sound across the entire sonic spectrum.”
Usually I’m able to tune out conversations in foreign languages, but it wasn’t exactly the content nor volume of the men’s voices that was bothering me. The man sitting diagonally across from me was even rather soft-spoken, and their language (which I later found out was in fact your average household Hindi) is actually pleasant to hear. Why is it, then, that I found the one man’s voice so annoying, yet the woman across from me seemed oblivious, reading her book peacefully the entire time with not one single tsk-tsk of annoyance or piercing glance? On any other day, I probably could have found another place to sit. Asking them to be quiet didn’t seem fair, either; after all, everyone else in the train was talking.
After 90 minutes of my supersonic odyssey (on a train which really only travels one-fourth the speed of sound), my right ear literally ached, and I felt as if I was about to lose my composure, stand up and start screaming the Hindi equivalent of “Shut the fuck up, Gee!”
Stepping off the train into the din of Frankfurt’s bustlingHauptbahnhof during lunch hour was like entering an idyllic meadow of tall grass and listening to the soft cooing of whippoorwills. When I got home, I refrained from turning on the radio and granted myself two hours of silence. Even Ira Glass was going to have to wait.
Tune in for Part Two next time on the Grahamophone!