My augmented train window

Even boredom seems to be in its last throes: designers in Japan have found a way to make our train trips perpetually fun-filled. With the help of an iPhone, a projector, a GPS module and Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor, their contrivance allows riders to add new objects to what they see “outside,” thus enlivening the bleak landscape in their train windows. This could be a big hit in North Korea—and not just on trains.

—”The perils of perfection,” The New York Times

I felt kind of bad about the way I’d left things with Cornelius this morning, what with him crying and screaming, “Give it back! It’s mine!” and me yelling, “I paid for it! STOP WHINING!!!!” and then stomping out of the house, slamming the door, and screeching my tires as I pulled out of the driveway. It’s true that I paid for the Kinect, and the X-Box, and every friggin’ game in the house, and the house, and everything Cornelius can claim to “own,” but he is only five and he was about to get to the next level in Lego Indiana Jones when I rushed downstairs still fastening my belt and unplugged the Kinect and stuck it in my briefcase and grabbed my coat and made my way for the door so I wouldn’t miss my train.

Does the kid even understand how boring the commute is? The only excitement I get comes maybe once every two months or so, when someone spills something or yells at someone or farts, and then I get to exchange amused glances with my fellow passengers. The view outside the train is even more dreary, especially now, in the middle of winter, when there’s no snow on the ground, no leaves on the trees, and the grass is all brown. When we pass through some of the poorer areas, I sometimes think to myself, “Wow, this must be what it’s like to live in North Korea—you know, for the average person; not for that little dictator guy who is conspiring with Dennis Rodman to nuke us.”

So I just made the train. Like just made it, which meant I had to jump on the first car and walk all the way back through every other car to the rear car, where I knew it would be pretty empty and I’d have enough room to set up. But because I had to bring so much stuff—my laptop, my iPhone, Cornelius’s Kinect (yeah, like it’s his), a projector, a tripod—I was bumping my equipment into people all over the place. I had gotten up a good head of steam about halfway through the train, when the car slipped and wobbled and I lost my footing and I hit some lady in the forehead. I said I was sorry real quick and kept moving, but I think she was crying. I felt kind of bad about that.

But I got back there to the rear car pretty fast and just like I thought it was pretty empty. In fact, a whole area of those seats that face each other—six on one side, four on the other—was completely free, which was perfect. I put down my bag in the six-seater side, stripped off my coat and laid it across the four-seater side, and then went back to the six seater to get all my gear arranged. It was harder than I thought. Took me about 20 minutes to get it all set up, which meant about a third of the commute was already over. Plus a bunch of jerks kept asking me to stop sticking my butt in the aisle so they could get through and more than a couple of idiots asked why I had to take up this whole area, and would it be okay if they just moved my coat? Didn’t they see what I was doing? They didn’t even know that they would get to enjoy this too.

When I was done, I sat down on my coat and the magic began. I looked out the window at the bare trees and poorly maintained buildings, letting it sink in how boring and dreary it all was. Then I did it. I touched top of the window pane and a beautiful balloon started floating by.

touch the train window

I touched the bottom of the pane, and a shadow of a child appeared. The shadow reminded me of Cornelius. I wondered if he was still crying. A tap in the middle of the window pane caused the shadow of a flock of Canada geese to take off. It was fantastic. They seemed so free. I did it a few more times, and then I started to think about how much money I’d spent on all this stuff. I texted home, “Tell Cornelius I’m sorry.” Then the conductor announced that we were at Harlem 125th Street, and I had to pack everything up.

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