When we have to change an opinion about any one, we charge heavily to his account the inconvenience he thereby causes us. ―Friedrich Nietzsche
I was riding a train the other day that came to a halt between stations.
After a few moments, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: the conductor explained that there had been “a pedestrian strike” down the line, and they’d inform us when they knew more.
I guess some people weren’t paying attention. After a while there was a rumble of discontent and querulous voices, and this one man started prowling the aisles trying to meet people’s eyes in outraged commiseration. Even absent the announcement, this was premature grounds for bonding; we hadn’t been stalled that long.
“What’s going on?” he was demanding. “What is this? Are they going to tell us anything?”
At some length I looked up from my book, as it seemed no one else was going to enlighten him.
“They made an announcement,” I said, without expanding.
“Did they say what’s going on?”
“Yes. They said there was a pedestrian strike.”
The man was clearly at war. His face worked, as they say. He had so wanted to be outraged. He had already gotten himself so worked up. And here was the one situation in which no decent human being could express anything but unselfish concern.
“Oh,” he said. Then, “did they say when we’d be moving?”
“No,” I said. I was very cold. I returned to my book.
When the conductor came through later, the man buttonholed him for details.
“Sir, I don’t know what you want us to do,” the conductor said. He would be stuck, he added, indefinitely.
Afterward, the passenger wandered the aisles some more, having found something to be indignant about. “Indefinitely!” He exclaimed. “That’s quite the choice of words! Indefinitely, he says!”
It was probably not a fatal strike, because it wasn’t in the papers and the conductor had said that a fatality took several hours to resolve. This was only about forty-five minutes.
When I got off at my stop, the outraged guy did, too. His wife was there to meet him. “What an ordeal,” he said to her.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.