When you people watch at the train station

train station

The train station looks like a massive crosswalk. Everyone is zigzagging around one another as if walking on imaginary zebra stripes. Some people are obviously just commuting through the station, carrying small briefcases or maybe not carrying anything at all. Others are pushing carts full of cling wrapped rollerboards and backpacks. They probably came a very long distance to get here. Or maybe just one or two cities over with a tendency to overpack.

The smell of fresh baked goods fills the departures hall, enticing weary travelers to line up and pick up their breakfast. A man orders in the local language and goes on his way after being handed a pastry in a loud paper baggie. The girl behind him points to a panini and uses broken English to ask for it hot. The lady behind the counter hears a rainbow of different languages every day and has developed an adequate system of pantomime to fulfill orders.

Groups of people huddle in the middle of the station, forcing others to veer around them. Everyone glances up at the digital display that updates every few minutes with platform information for different trains. Some people are just passing under it, scanning the information quickly as if they already know where to go. Others are standing there with arms crossed staring at their train information, willing it with their mind to update with the assigned platform. Still, it doesn’t.

An older couple nearing retirement age is walking hand in hand with huge backpacking backpacks bouncing behind them. It’s impossible to tell if they’re just embarking on a new adventure or finishing one up. The wear on their bags and sun-kissed wrinkles on their face suggest they’ve been doing this awhile. It’s nice when people who are young at heart find each other.

Children in the train station are surprisingly less stressed than their accompanying adults. A little girl sits on a stroller she’s too big for fiddling with a donut she no longer wants as her mother glances nervously at her watch and waits for dad to come back from the bathroom with their son. The little girl is unfazed, blissfully unaware of her mother’s anxiety that they’ll miss their train.

Two people hold back tears as they hug goodbye, probably unsure of when they’ll see each other again. Train stations aren’t quite as dramatic as airports but there’s still a bit of sentimentality couched in all the hubbub. You’re suddenly glad that you’re not having one of those trips to the train station.

A woman is walking briskly wearing a shirt that says “My favorite” with an arrow that points to the left even though her paramour is walking to her right. When they arrive at a staircase, he picks up the giant pink luggage that he probably cautioned her against taking. You can see why he’s her favorite.

Someone who looks distinctly different from most of the locals bounces past you in a colorful backpack and a large camera. You instinctively assume she must be a tourist. Then you realize how silly that is. She could be your neighbor on her way to a nearby city for the weekend.

A large man is ushering a small family through the station. The matriarch expresses her concern about not having local currency. The man, probably a local guide, reassures her that this will be no problem. They can stop by a cash exchange.

There’s a small furry dog traveling VIP in a cozy brown carrier sitting on her owner’s lap. The pup’s owner is a heavy man with a thick beard that’s gone mostly gray. He taps his foot on the floor impatiently, while softly stroking his dog’s unruly hair.

Three guys and two girls are talking way more excitedly than anybody should be this early in the morning. Based on the hangover they’re complaining about, they’re either on a backpacking trip or they’re studying abroad here. Whatever their experience is, their luxury luggage indicates that no one in this group is footing the bill for it.

Across from them, a couple is fighting. They’re keeping their voices low, but the woman’s body language suggests he’s getting an earful through her gritted teeth. He pleads with her to no avail. Whatever he’s trying is only making it worse.

You don’t get a chance to find out how their argument ends up, because a large group bustles through the crowd obscuring your view. They’re led by a woman holding up a large red unopened umbrella. They’re probably getting walked to a tour bus already waiting outside that will take them on the day’s sightseeing adventures. You can already tell some of these people are not wearing the right shoes.

A young man is reassuring his nervous mother that it’s normal for the departure platform information to take some time to post to the board. “I don’t want to have to run after the train,” she says, biting at her fingernails. “Don’t worry. This happens all the time. We’ll make it,” he says. She wants to trust that he’s right, but doesn’t.

Meanwhile, you stand there leaning against a large column because no seats are available. With a small day pack and headphones in, you casually but purposefully glance at all the people around you. Because what else can you do when you get to the train station too early?