“Moreno likes the word ‘aqualung’. On a given day, he heard it fluttering in the warm air inside the metro and saved it somewhere near its stomach. He doesn’t know what it means, and imagines that if he searched for it in an encyclopaedia, he would find the image of a fantastic animal, maybe a dragon-fly look-alike – because a word like that surely has wings. As a reflex, when Moreno hears the whistling sound of the closing doors, the aqualung flutters in the opening of his stomach and escapes gliding through the train car, in case any other passenger captures it in its flight”.
Moreno found himself entertained by a grammatical wandering in what could have been one in a sea of countless commutes. It doesn’t need to be factually correct, as there are no ‘aqualungs’ with wings he could possibly find in the encyclopaedia. But this story from Laura Soto goes to prove another point. Just as Moreno, I have had different commuting enticements of my own. I reckon it was a night-time comedian who showed me that it doesn’t require a PhD in linguistics to manipulate language – especially idioms – into jokes that lighten up the humour of the rest of the bus inhabitants, traffic notwithstanding. In a different occasion, a musician that carries his amplifier and guitar through the different bus routes of a city covered the most iconic rock songs only to draw attention to the third and final act, one of his own compositions. I join in the crowd’s support and give him some change.
In a manner, commuting is a way of encountering proximity. I’ve encountered politicians (some maintain a certain low-profile in Latin America), businessmen, colleagues and friends. One time, I shared the same train car with a person I secretly have a celebrity-crush on. We rode for 8 stops on the metro line, but I couldn’t make any contact. It was one of many occasions where the taboo of showing our vulnerability proved to have a high cost.
Commuters often follow the same routes. They go to the office everyday. They visit friends or family on the weekends. They go to school or meet a friend for a meal or drink. But in each of those trips there is a kind of imaginary luggage that is almost never the same. One day, it is the fixation on a word. Another time, a job-to-be-done haunts our thoughts and cripples our social interactions. Maybe a book takes the reader outside of the constricted spaces of public transportation into another, fictional universe or a song brings the person back into distant memories. By all means, going from our current locations to a specific destination is a trip that does not only consist of the steps required for transportation, but also the ideas, visions and common practices that are within the commuter.
Along these lines, Stan Raucher is a photographer that decided to capture the social awkwardness of riding in public transportation systems across the planet: Naples, Delhi, Mexico City, NYC, Paris and many more. Raucher clearly makes an invitation while we follow him in what could change the way we think about the experience of travelling within a city. This is not only an encounter with coincidences, but also, a closer look to shared humanity, in constrained spaces. Protect your wallets, watch the gap and keep away from the automated doors. Here is some of his work:
Metro line 7 near Les Halles, Paris.
Metro 1 Deak Ferenc Ter Station, Budapest.
Metro U3 Stephensplatz Station, Vienna.
Atlantic Avenue MTA Station, Brooklyn.
This article is a compilation of two different articles originally published in Spanish on the website Wondrus.
Written and translated by Luis Eduardo Barrueto , a Guatemalan journalist and founder of Wondrus, an Internet depository for cultural and scientific curiosities and fun facts for Spanish speakers.
The excerpt at the beginning is a free translation from the Spanish of a story by Laura Soto, winner of the Santiago en 100 Días short story contest.
Photo Credit: Staunraucher.com