We were on the North East Corridor train heading out from Penn Station in New York to Metro Park in New Jersey to spend a few days with my brother Colin and his family.
On a commuter train to suburbia it’s hard not to observe the other passengers and wonder about their stories and their lives.
There was a guy sitting across from us, I’m guessing in his twenties dressed all in black with headphones on – every now and then he would sing along in Spanish. Many of the public signs here are in English and Spanish, which surprised me.
There was an African American guy, again in his twenties wearing a green hoodie and a baseball cap under that, also listening to his music.
An older guy sat alongside us wearing grey tracksuit bottoms and a grey top and an unusual pair of Crocs on his feet. He also had a crutch so this probably explained the footwear. He looked a little dishevelled so maybe he wasn’t having the best of days.
The ticket collector came around – he takes your ticket, then produces another ticket, punches a hole in this and then clips it behind you under a little metal clip. He does this for each of the people around us.
He comes to the guy next to us, the grey tracksuit guy, who takes his ticket from under his sock and produces it for inspection.
“Tear it in half” the ticket officer tells him. The passenger looks confused.
“Tear it in half” the ticket officer repeats, this time with a little more intent.
He looks confused and asks “Why?”
“I’m not touching that, it’s been in your sock” he says.
The poor guy in the tracksuit never felt better I’m sure. His bad day, week, month, year or decade was confirmed in front of his fellow travellers and he quietly accepted this instruction and tore his ticket in half.
The ticket officer was able to go ahead with his job without having to touch the offensive ticket.
This was an unpleasant and unnecessary exchange between two strangers and at what cost?
Would it have been so hard just to take the piece of paper from this fellow human being and treat it like all those other pieces of paper, equally and with respect?
However, we are not equal.