Today’s Times sheds light on another area of American life where discourse has become less than civil: the Quiet Car. Though originally introduced to keep people who cannot abide the sound of one-sided cell-phone conversation from attacking the shameless souls who cannot help but have them, passengers on the train cars that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit have designated Quiet have since subdivided, pitting those whose interpretation of the word includes whispering against those who are under the impression that the train car is their own personal Zen meditation center. Tensions between these two parties are so high that the slightest noise — whispering, coughing, even the automated announcements — can cause an eruption, resulting in a noise level no one is happy with.
The Times illustrates with an anecdote from a ride on New Jersey Transit last week:
“Excuse me,” said the woman sitting across from them, raising her reading glasses, and then her voice. “This is the quiet car.”
Mr. Arbeeny apologized and began whispering, which caused further agitation. The woman put down her book and summoned a conductor.
“They are not supposed to be talking,” she said, wagging her index finger at the group.
The conductor tried stepping quietly between both parties.
“They do have a right to talk,” he said in a soft voice, “they just have to speak in a very quiet manner.”
God willing, no one has to get smacked with a copy of The New Yorker before these people remember they are all united by the common goal: not hearing “He said what? Oh my gawd.”