Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shut Up

Sixteen hours? Sixteen hours of being subjected to someone else's nonstop high-volume cell-phone conversation? I'm amazed it took that long for someone to tell the yakker to shut up.

Of course, I wouldn't recommend those words. But I have some thoughts about the story of Lakeysha Beard, the Amtrak passenger whom police recently removed from a train's "quiet car" after she reportedly talked on her cell phone for 16 hours. ... Again: 16 hours! Who has that much to talk about?

And why didn't Amtrak staff intervene? Why was it left to the passengers? When I used to write a manners-advice column, I was often asked what to do about someone who was breaking the laws or rules of a public space and thereby annoying other people. My response was generally along the lines of this: "If you can, find an authority figure—someone in a uniform of some sort. Bullies (and that's who these people usually are) are cowards, and cowards are cowed by authority figures."

Plus, taking care of these sorts of problems is in authority figures' job descriptions.

Failing that, you can try speaking to someone like this as if she were simply unaware of the problem and would surely be happy to correct it. But as we see in Beard's case, approaching people who are clearly flouting well-understood rules is a losing proposition. (Beard got violent—of course she did!) Such a person is not only a bully but also (at least slightly or perhaps temporarily) a sociopath: She knows the rules but breaks them anyway. She knows she's bothering or endangering other people, and she knows that this makes her frightening. She is probably not a person you can have a productive conversation with.

I probably would've been one of the passengers who sat silently fuming for 16 hours. There's just something so teeth-grindingly, eye-rollingly annoying about being subjected to these one-sided cell-phone conversations. It's visceral. And I think that's because of the aforementioned sociopathy, or narcissism, of the speakers. It's not simply that they don't care about annoying other people. It usually seems to me that they're enjoying their stolen spotlight. They think their conversations are impressive, that we're somehow wowed by the glimpse we're getting into their lives.


With notable and infrequent exceptions, other people's private conversations are beyond banal. I try to remember that when my phone rings while I'm on Muni. And I always travel with ear plugs.

In related news: Lakeysha Beard's blathering killed an unknown number of bees.

Image: Christian Meyn /

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