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Being the quiet guy while riding the Metra

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I am like the quietest guy on the train, which I don’t get to use nearly enough.

This really isn’t the train because it is Metra, which means the line you are riding has a definite start and a finish, kind of like an elongated carnival ride that isn’t scary, although some of the passengers can be.

I haven’t checked all of the schedules of all the lines, but the most you can be on this carnival ride is about two hours. Which is a long time if you are commuting. Having lived in Harvard, the last stop on the Northwest Line, and Woodstock, the second to last stop, for more than 30 years, I know of what I speak. It’s about an hour and a half from start to finish, but the time breezes by.

But Metra isn’t a real train like Amtrak, which connects you to the entire country, even the entire world if you happen upon an airport.

I can literally walk from our house in Woodstock to London, and actually walk less than a mile on either end of the trip. I can walk from our house in Woodstock to my parents’ house in Fort Madison, Iowa, of all places, without walking more than a mile on either end.

Metra takes me to A Governor Who Wasn’t Imprisoned Transportation Center, which is across the street from Union Station, where I can board Amtrak, and catch a train that stops in Fort Madison, just blocks from my parents’ house. No cars, just feet.

Real trains roll across vast expanses of countryside, scenery you can soak in from the passenger seats, looking out clear windows, not the greenish, Oz windows of Metra cars. Real trains have sleeping quarters and showers. You can fall asleep on Metra.

And I have fallen asleep on Metra, a number of times. Twice in the past year, I have slept through the Woodstock stop where I need to get off, ending up at the last stop in Harvard, about 15 miles away. Thankfully, my wife is patient with me, and the drive back from Harvard is always a nice one. But it’s not one that I would like to make often, or ever again, under those circumstances.

But when you are quiet, you can fall asleep easily. Despite my best efforts to stay awake in that 10-minute trip from the Crystal Lake stop to Woodstock, I have dozed off.

I’ve often thought about getting a placard to hang around my neck with “Woodstock” written on it in block letters, hoping that one of my fellow passengers would wake me up, saying, “Don’t you want to get off in Woodstock?” It seems pathetic, but I’d be willing to tip.

The other day, I happened to board one of Metra’s “quiet cars,” where cellphones, loud music or loud conversations are frowned upon. It’s a self-policing system.

But the train was not moving, and I had two phone calls to return. One was to voicemail. The other was a quick call to my insurance agent about whether we had installed a railing on our front steps. I was done. The train had yet to move.

But a guy in a loud red shirt, who was wearing expensive headphones around his neck – he wasn’t going to hear anything but his music – got up and reminded me that I was on a quiet car. I knew that, but the rules don’t roll until the train rolls. I told him as much, but did not ask him to cover up his long-sleeved shirt that was screaming red.

Another guy – a distinctive, slender man with white hair, wearing tasteful, black-rimmed glasses and muted clothing, who was doing paperwork in the last seat of the upper deck – did the same thing about an hour into the trip, reminding another customer who made a call that calls are not allowed on quiet cars.

I was directly across from him, and his voice was barely audible. The distinctive guy was half a car away. The guy on the phone quickly ended his call.

It’s good to know and follow the rules, but the distinctive guy was a Noise Nazi. And he chose a seat next to the speakers that announced the next stop. Irony. Whatever.

Then I noticed he had taken off his shoes, and he was resting his feet on the seat in front of him. As much as I wanted to play conductor or Gucci Gestapo, I kept it to myself, thinking, “What a hypocrite.” Here he’s telling an otherwise quiet guy to get off the phone because of the rules, yet there he was, propping his sweaty, dirty socks on a seat that someone else would sit on, and risk getting athlete’s butt.

It’s unlikely the conductor would see him, so he was safe. I’m the quiet guy, and I’m not going to raise a ruckus.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at


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