Midday Train to Albany: Part Two
PART TWO: Later, while on the train, I was awaiting my turkey and cheese micro-waved sandwich when the attendee and conductor started talking. They both seemed cool, relatively laid back, at ease with themselves, you know, not caught up in illogical actions/thoughts like homophobia, racism, and/or flaunting their societal position (elitism). Their conversation exuded an unpretentiousness that completely took all tension within my shoulders right out. Somehow I must have gotten very comfortable because I surmised I could get away with giving the conductor my opinion of him. I said “man, you are a youthful looking conductor. Are you a legacy? Does this line of work run through your family?” They were both surprised at my unsolicited opinion and bold questioning, and the attendee asked “How did you know this type of work runs in his family?” I thought from the energy he exhibited collecting tickets I just imagined he may have been that little boy who watched his father, maybe even grandfather, in this line of work. He may have been the little boy who loved trains! But he just projected an energy and appreciation that shouted out his enthusiasm for being on a train and perhaps even, meeting with people. However, I said, “You look like you love the job that you watched your dad do!” The youthful looking conductor smiled, acknowledged that both his father and grandfather had been conductors, and then started to really open up with me. He, the attendee and I then all fully stepped into a conversation.
We talked about train life, and their spending an evening in Montreal, then New York, then Montreal, then New York, over and over again. Granted, at the salary of the younger employees of trains, unless they come from wealth, Montreal and New York City will bite the budget hard, or you won’t be doing much. But how many people get to live between two international cities on an alternating basis? If you get the right networks going that could be quite the learning/living experience.
I connected with these two younger cats so well, it was amazing. We only talked about five to seven minutes, but while it was rapid, it was real. At one point they asked me where I was headed and why. They appeared a bit impressed when I mentioned I was on my way to consult to a college for an on-line course on social justice and diversity. I then mentioned I was from Los Angeles originally, and then responded to the heartfelt question extended to me about whether I liked being in the North Country with a bit of detail. I mentioned being an educator, the Press Republican’s Wiley Wandering blog, and the bullying film, Dissed Respect. I did it quick so as not to brag (though who am I kidding, I am proud and it felt good to say it). I was smiling after just summarizing how much I am enjoying my career and the young brother summarized his perspective on what I said by saying “You brought your city hustle to that small town!” My city hustle? I pounded him (for the slang impaired, a pound is somewhat of a handshake, or really more a fist balled tap to a friend/associate to indicate agreement) for the compliment, chatted with them a bit more, then returned to my seat, fully expecting to chat with the two of them later.
Now, I started unpacking the statement, “My city hustle,” the moment it was said. I wasn’t going to overreact, but his statement, while delivered with very positive affection, still could have carried a pejorative connotation with it. I have some thoughts on this, but so might you! What are they?
The attendee, a young black man, was quite an understated intellect. His assertion that my hustle had served me well during my career in the North Country was astute, if not layered. But the most interesting thing about the exchange for me was that I had prejudged this brother. After he dropped that bit of insight upon me, it made me realize that I had inadvertently, subconsciously stereotyped him as not having a whole lot of anything significant to contribute to a conversation beyond some soft frill stuff about the train, maybe some observations about women, racism, sports, or entertainment. Damn, have I somehow become an academic, intellectual elite? Have I somehow transcended analysis of “the man” and become the man myself?
I have always said that one of the things I was concerned about was the fact that “as we climb the social ladder, what is our perspective on the rungs we left behind?” What is yours? When you go back into your old neighborhoods or see old friends, and your lifestyles or economic means are not on the same level as they were in high school, how does this affect you? When you encounter that middle school acquaintance or high school friend, and they appear to be in much different health than you, do you feel happy or sad for them? More so, do you think of the happenstance or social conditions that contributed to them being situated the way they are? After talking with the attendee a while longer about my professional reality in the North Country being more advantageous for me because of less racial competition and his revealing tremendous insight about the realities of under representation I was proud and sad simultaneously. I was proud to recognize that this much less educated black man had at least as much wisdom as I did, if not more. And I was sad because when you consider all the work I put in teaching and learning about social justice and diversity, I had succumbed to my socialization again and judged this book/man by his cover/hype! You don’t do that, do you? When was the last time? Why don’t you share it with the crew?