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The Tribe of the Train, Part 1

Whenever people gather together in a confined physical or temporal space–a geographical region, an era in time, or a telephone booth–people will eventually develop rules, laws and customs that identify them with that particular group. This article is the first of a three-part series examining such a group: The Tribe of the Train: The Metra Commuter.

The Tribe is a stratified society divided into three distinct, yet vertically mobile, classes. The lowest class is that of the Tourist–people who do not take the train on a regular basis and are ignorant of the commandments that govern the tribe. In general, they misbehave due to ignorance (the person taking the train to attend a yearly sales conference), maliciousness (such as the flock of high-school kids on break) or blood-alcohol level (for example, drunken baseball fans who flock to the city on warm summer nights).

The next caste is the regular rush-hour commuter (i.e., “Regulars”). These are the people who take the train to work every day, Monday through Friday, for years on end. The Regulars are responsible for passing on the Commandments–the rules and laws that differentiate their commute from the more barbarous societies one would find on the CTA, for example.

The Regulars form themselves into clans who have banded together due to proximity of space and time. Of course, different clans can, and often do, conflict over various interpretations of the Commandments that govern proper and ordered behavior.

These conflicts range from minor feuds that result in one clan migrating from one coach to another, to civil conflagrations that have dispersed and scattered people from to the furthest ends of the train. Clans are, however, very flexible, and regularly adopt new members who may have fled from such conflicts. Clans have also been known to adopt members from the Tourist caste, providing vertical mobility within the caste structure.

At the pinnacle of the train social structure are the Conductors. They are the judges and kings who rule over the train. Yet the clans have considerable autonomy, and the Conductor’s authority seems to be based on the consent of the clans, rather than on the Conductor’s ability to coerce and control.

In Part 2 of this series, I will describe a clan of Regulars, its history, evolution, and eventual demise. Part 3 will summarize the Train’s Commandments.

Do you have any observations about this peculiar human society? Please share them by clicking on the Comment button below.


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