Man Stuck On Public Transit Without Book, Technology Forced To Stare Ahead Into Nothingness Like Other Plebeians

Pictured: the vacant-eyed passenger.

After unwittingly leaving his apartment without a military biography, iPod, or even the latest Sun-Times, Chicago public transportation rider Gilbert Donaldson was subjected to an agonizing ride on the southbound Brown Line Thursday morning in what he calls "one of the worst experiences of my adult life."

Lacking any entertaining distractions, the commuter was forced to resort to his intellect and legerdemain to avoid eye contact and human interaction with the rest of train's passengers for the entire "grueling" 30-block trip.

"I'm usually so engrossed in my book or paper that I don't notice the elderly woman who insists on sitting right next to me despite the 50 empty seats around us, or the young punk who treats the whole [train] car to his rap music via the shitty mono speaker on his phone," said Donaldson. "But I was so rushed this morning that I even forgot to pack my back-up material: an obsolete copy of The Economist, which I usually keep next to the umbrella rack in case of such a situation."

For part of the trip, Donaldson was able to utilize a foot-trampled copy of the day's comics and puzzles, including a Sudoku that was only partially filled in with incorrect numbers.

Said of Donaldson the find, "It probably saved my life."

The Sudoku puzzle lasted until the Clark-and-Belmont stop, at which point Donaldson was forced to pass the time by consciously avoiding focusing on any one point or object for the four-mile trip into the Central Business District. Much to his relief, not even an ephemeral flash of human interaction was shared.

"I didn't waver, not even when one lady commented to me that it was a nice day," he said. "I knew she could never understand my comments and insights. It was actually the kindest move I could make to stare solemnly out the window and wait for her to stop looking at me."

"Oh, that guy? Yeah, without any of those big books of his to read, he looked real bored, almost kind of disgusted," said fellow passenger Mitch Gumburg, who has never formally met Donaldson but sees him boarding the train almost every day. "Me, I usually just read the [Chicago Tribune daily pop culture rag] Red Eye and share a few words with my seat-neighbor every now and then, but it seems like [Donaldson] is usually occupied with much bigger and important things."

"I feel bad that he has to ride the train with us," he added apologetically.

Psychologists refer to the blank and quiescent look that some public transportation riders get as "the 50-inch stare", named for the nearest distance anything can be before staring at it starts to seem weird. The propensity of modern gadgets has helped to alleviate this phenomenon, but in their absence, the threat of having to address one's peers is still very real, says psychoanalyst Jessica Sorrens.

"I recommend that Donaldson carry prescription sunglasses and a prescription iPad with him at all times, in case he finds himself in this situation ever again," Sorrens said. "It's the only way to avoid serious, long-lasting damage to his fragile psyche."

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