Friday, 22 April 2016

Lessons learned riding the Athens Metro

Travelling on the Athens Underground every day has given me a new perspective on some things.

For a start, I have now worked out why people wear sunglasses indoors. And, believe it or not, it’s not just to look cool, enigmatic and interesting.

No - people wear their shades on the train so they can stare directly at other passengers without it being obvious how rude they’re being! Once you’ve got your trusty Raybans on (just make sure the lenses are nice and dark) you can really scrutinise everything about the people in the carriage with you – their untouched roots, badly applied lipstick, crooked toupees, what they’re reading, the faces they pull as they listen to their iPods. It’s great.

Public transport is a positive paradise for people-watchers. All humanity is there, and some things that belong in other categories too. The freaks, the wage slave veterans, the knackered new parents, the cheeky school kids, the young lad with the unmistakable look of one who got lucky last night, the hopeless gaze of his mate who didn’t…

Whether we’re waiting at the platform or actually riding the train, we all establish our own little exclusion zones, don’t we? Even when we’re packed in so tight that you need a crowbar to get off at your stop, we all maintain our private space. You might be so close to your nearest neighbour that you know – in intimate detail – what he had for dinner the night before (especially if it involved garlic), but those precious few millimetres are impenetrable.

And another thing - we all either lean or hang, don’t we? Personally, I’m a leaner. Always have been, always will be. Probably comes down to innate laziness, but I do like to think I am doing my fellow travelers a favour by not hanging from the overhead straps on a sweaty day in the Athens Underground (just think about it for a moment).

As I lean, I slip on my shades (looking very cool, enigmatic and interesting as I do so – at least in my mind) and check out my fellow passengers as we sway all together to the rhythm of the traffic. Some stare solidly ahead of them throughout the entire journey, like they’re afraid that civilisation would come to an end if they caught someone’s eye. Others constantly flit their gaze from one place to another, trying not to get caught staring at anyone in particular. Some simply seek refuge in a book, magazine or feigned sleep. And then there are a few – very few, mind you – who will occasionally look at you and even (gasp!) smile.

But beware! Letting down your defences sends out a signal to the itinerant loons that can be found on trains and buses all over the world. Like Jasper Carrott, I seem to be something of a homing beacon for the 'nutters on the bus' and, being a soft-hearted old boot, have become embroiled in more than my share of discussions about the colour of my aura, the imminent invasion of earth by giant earwigs, or the demons that live in the air-conditioning vents.

Kids are pretty safe. Pre-schoolers usually haven’t learned to be all inhibited and buttoned-down yet, they take you pretty much as they find you. All you have to do is pull a few silly faces to capture your audience and produce a fit of the giggles and the illusion that you are the most entertaining person on the face of the earth.

But when you arrive at your destination, the illusion is shattered as Mum gives you a filthy look (the type reserved for dirty old men who hang around school playgrounds) and whisks her little darling away to safety....

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