Observations on the Behavior of Homo Sapiens when Trains Come in Pairs

Story contributed by Roland Couture.

Occasionally MAX trains in rush hour arrive in pairs about 2-3 minutes apart. The first train in any such pair will always carry most of the passengers — it’ll be a miserably full train with standing room only, where you’ll jostle about for the duration of the ride, jam-packed between members of “the public,” who may be variously fragrant.

Meanwhile the second train will be almost empty, with plenty of seats and room to stretch out. Waitresses come around with drinks and snacks, and there are big plush couches and shelves full of interesting reading material.

Not really. But it is definitely always the nicer experience of the two. It’s so peaceful aboard that second train, especially compared to the first train, that I started calling it a ‘nirvana train.’

My wife, upon hearing about a nirvana train, promptly thought I meant Nirvana train (as I am still a fan of Cobain et al). And from there she sort of retroactively dubbed the first train of the pair — the one that sucks — the Hole train. In yo FACE Courtney Love.

So yeah, the precise reason the Nirvana train is so awesome, is because everybody already got on the Hole train. The Hole train is basically the decoy. It’s there only to clear everybody off the platform to get ready for the Nirvana train. Or that’s how I look at it anyway. I don’t know what everybody’s schedules and connections are like, but to me it seems like once you realize a Nirvana train is coming in 2-3 minutes, it’s a no-brainer to wait for it so you can ride in comfort.

Hardly anyone does; I’m usually the only one still on the platform after that Hole train pulls through. So I figure most of the riders of the Nirvana train must be 1) the few people who tried to catch the Hole train but missed it, and 2) the few people who Poisson-randomly happened to arrive at the stop in the 2-3 minutes between the two trains. If there’s anyone else like me, who’s on there because they’re optimizing for comfort, I can’t tell which ones they are. Maybe if I observe more closely and look for signs that they think they’re on a big plush couch?

Anyway now you know the secret of the Nirvana train. Hopefully submitting this to a public forum doesn’t convince too many of you to adopt my ways. A crowd would ruin the nirvana. But I guess I’m pretty confident that won’t happen. Why not? Well, for starters there’s the presence/absence argument. Even though we can probably trust the schedule that says the Nirvana train is coming, it remains, until the moment it shows up, just a theoretical construct. Most people would rather go with the bird in the hand. That’s one aspect. Pretty rational.

Plus, even more fundamentally, I mean, the first train is first. It’s direct. It’s now. You get on now, and you get there sooner; why complicate things?

There’s a competitive reason to get on the first train, too. Time is money, right? Second place won’t do! Gotta reach for the top! Go for it! You 80s, striving, Eye of the Tiger mo-fo you!

Finally, for whatever reason, homo sapiens seems to be plagued by an intractable, primal fear of missing trains. Just look at the way they run for them if you need convincing — you’d think it was the last helicopter out of Saigon in 1975. I’d like to hear evolutionary psychologists try to explain that, since trains are a pretty recent invention.

What’s that, evolutionary psychologists, you’d like me to take a stab at that one? All righty. Maybe it’s more about the fact that everybody (the “whole tribe”) is already on the train, and the straggler is afraid of being left out or left behind. Don’t underestimate that drive for remaining with the group — it built Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune. “Back in the day” of hunting & gathering, the solitary straggler didn’t just suffer from a boring time with no small-talk (and I imagine all the talk was pretty small back then); he probably fairly soon met a fate of unsuccessful solitary foraging and a visit from a predator. So you’d better catch that train. DON’T MISS IT!!!!

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One Response to Observations on the Behavior of Homo Sapiens when Trains Come in Pairs

  1. rth says:

    Dude, WTF? The first rule of nirvana train is don’t talk about nirvana train.

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