Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Thoughts On A Train: About Impressions & Communications

Does the lack of color in an image, or description, change the impression intended? Image Credit: Justin C. Nuyens

Thoughts on a train ~ 
by Justin C. Nuyens - June 8 at 4:07pm

Cheyenne, Wyoming - I recently listened to comedian Jimmy Carr talk about racism and perceived racism. He said that people ~ whites in particular ~ are so guilt-tripped and paranoid about being perceived as bigoted that the discourse is being compromised.

Carr's example was that a white robbery victim, afraid of being thought racist, might fail to mention to police that the perpetrator was black even if he was.

That might seem extreme and unrealistic, but I have in fact seen newspaper stories about crimes in which weight, height and clothing of a suspect were described but no race mentioned. Now what should i do with that? Assume the perp was black? Now THAT would make me racist.

The reason I bring this up is because I'm sitting in the observation car of Amtrak's California Zephyr train from Emeryville to Chicago. All Chicago-bound passengers riding coach are assigned seats the same section of the train, meaning a number of us have been together for 30 hours with 23 to go.

In this particular microcosm, if someone wants social contact the population is not great enough to pick according to one's common demographic.

The conversations started out slow if not guarded as passengers first overcame the fact that we are all different in impression. That is to say, normally we would not be associating under any circumstances, if only because we live in different neighborhoods let alone our differences in age, appearance, opinion and interest.

And then, slowly, a society is made. Smokers hitting each other up on the station breaks. Drinkers bitching about the cost of beer on the train. People asking, is there wifi? Nope. Guess we'll have to interact.

Then people start opening up. One woman is traveling to Cincinnati with her 14-year-old son to start over, a brand new life. Meanwhile she gets a call from the son she left in Sacramento. HE GOT THE JOB! He's gonna be a host at a restaurant in town.

Another woman is making a break of another sort. She is leaving her boyfriend. When he gets off work today he will find a house emptied of everything including furniture. The girl will be long gone, where to? I haven't asked.

There's a man with a jaw harp. A dude with a goatee. A guy with glasses...


Since departing the Bay Area one couple with a baby was spotted smoking a glass pipe during a smoke break in Green River. They were left behind. An hour ago we made an unexpected stop in the middle of nowhere. Rumor was a guy was smoking weed on the lower deck and Sheriff was coming.

So here is a story unraveling. And find myself asking, at what point does physical description become important to the narrative?

It doesn't matter that the woman leaving Sacto and her son are black does it? Or does it? If i tell you the girl leaving her boyfriend is obese does it change the story, or that the meth smokers were white?

I guess it depends on me. If I wanted to paint a vivid picture I would describe physical traits, mannerisms, speech patterns...

For the moment it isn't necessary. We're all the same. On the train with strangers. Finding where we belong. Negotiating the path. Trying to make friends along the way.

Don't mind me. I'm searching for America on my way to Europe.

Didrik told me to keep an eye out...
(ht: Justin C. Nuyens - assumed permission)

TAGS: Travel, communication, Train, Thoughts, Racism, Description, pictures, strangers, America, Europe, The EDJE, JustinAmerica, Justin Of America