This weekend, I paid a visit to Philadelphia. I took a bus through one of the bus companies that serves Chinatowns of various East Coast cities, namely, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C., and New York (and probably others). Any of these bus companies are referred to as "the Chinatown Bus," though there must be half a dozen to a dozen in D.C. alone. I used the New Century Travel bus line because other than a company called Apex, it is the only Chinatown bus that goes straight from D.C. to Philadelphia.
I was pleasantly surprised with the ease and comfort of the ride except for one major annoyance, and it had nothing to do with the bus, the driver, or the heavy traffic (which, on a Friday afternoon outbound from D.C. is to be expected). Sure, there was a somewhat random stop outside a gas station and truck plaza in Baltimore on the way back at New Century's makeshift bus station out there (i.e. a parking lot), but that took five minutes.
Again, the only real problem that I encountered had nothing to do with the bus itself but rather with the two people sitting behind me: both college-aged, one male, one female. They were basically making small talk, which is annoying enough in an of itself. It's one thing to engage in a little empty conversation when you meet someone in passing, but I have never understood those people who make it their sole purpose on a flight, train ride, or bus ride, to engage their seatmate in inane conversation. A few pleasntries are fine, you know, "where are you from?" "what brings you to [fill in the blank city]?" Full-fledged conversations are another animal. To me, the great thing about traveling is that you have a few hours to yourself to just read and listen to music. How often in our day-to-day routine are we afforded such luxury? How can people squander that precious time by talking to someone about how bad their commute is, etc?
That is exactly what the two people behind me chose to do, for three and a half hours. They talked about college, they talked about "funny" movies like 40 Year Old Virgin, they talked about TV shows. Why do I know what they were talking about? Because when someone told the girl how to project back when she was younger, she took it to heart. She spoke loud, and she laughed even louder. Plus, her laugh was unpleasant. It was the point on the laugh spectrum where a cackle meets a guffaw. She laughed more frequently than an SNL audience at an old Eddie Murphy skit. And yet, nothing she was laughing at was truly funny. I would have taken a baby crying over that sound.
In view of this experience, my question is, am I allowed to ask this person to be quiet? I sat their stewing in the fact that had I been in another society--oh, say Paris--this disruptive conversation would be looked down upon entirely. The conversationalists' fellow passengers would stare them down to a point where they became mute out of fear. All I could so was turn up my music and try to fall asleep, pondering why our country must be one of loud talkers, of people walking down the streets speaking their cell phone conversations into the air. We may be protective of our personal space, but we are disturbingly open about our supposedly personal conversations. Worst of all, some of us are loud. I love the D.C. Metro right now, because it has definitions of bad train etiquette, such as blocking the left side of the escalator and talking loudly on a cell phone in the car. I hope the loud people will take it to heart, but I'm sure they won't. They're too busy yelling into their phones.
One little breach of etiquette isn't a big deal, whether it be what I refer to as noise pollution or escalator path obstruction, and I suppose I should calm down a little, but I guess I start writhing with anger at such ignorance because of the principle behind it: inconsiderate people. People who do not care how they inconvenience others. This is an ever-growing trend in our country, and little measures like signs in the subway are a good first step. A good second step would be a general valuing of those periods of time we have to ourselves, whether it be on a speeding Chinatown bus or a crowded train.