Upon moving to a "real" city, like Chicago, I immediately realized how popular mp3 players are. Call me naive, but I honestly had no idea.
Of course I have a medium size mp3 collection and I thought people mostly listened on the computers (while working on their computers) or burned CDs to take with them to parties or in the car. Of course, I knew that iPods and other mp3 player existed. I just didn't know that 90% of city commuters had one (or more) mp3 playing device(s) and that 95% of those were iPods.
I had no idea Apple was still thriving in the electronics business. No idea.
I've been commuting from the outskirts of Chicago to my job in the loop for over six months. I've been killing two hours, five-days-a-week catching up on my reading, tearing through novels, works of non-fiction and short stories, surpassing my whole literary experience in that six month time frame.
I've noticed the millions of faces reading newspapers or more frequently free local lifestyle rags put out by the major newspapers. But the countless number of headphones and wires on a single El train on a weekday morning is overwhelming.
A few weeks ago, I received a free iPod Shuffle at work. I have to admit after six months of holding my head high and looking down my nose over the pages of written word at my fellow white ear-bud studded passengers, I loaded my shuffle only minutes after arriving home from work.
I just threw a random selection of my computers mp3 collection onto the shuffle and during the next day's commute spent most of the time skipping songs that I didn't really feel like listening to at 7:24AM or 6:37PM.
That night I took a mp3 CD of David Sedaris readings, that my father had burned for me and that I hadn't had a chance to listen to at home, and committed them to my iPods memory.
I am not an expert iPod user. My novice is most evident when I try to find a focal point in a crowded train, while listening. The problem with listening to David Sedaris instead of music, is that I frequently cannot contain laughter on a train void of human noises. The random bursts of laughter at the inopportune time of, say catching the eye of someone on a cell phone who looks as though they having their last conversation with a close and drying relative, generates quite unaffectionate looks in my direction.
Outward joy is not something tolerated, but instead loathed, in a big city (even a fairly friendly big city, like Chicago). People don't understand happiness in general, and especially not speifically related to the mindless stimuli of an iPod.
"What song could possibly be making that girl laugh so much?"
I am a nerd, but I consider the urge that I hardly fight to laugh at the writings of David Sedaris highly superior to the urge that I fight quite well to sing-along to every song worth listening too. I consider the "winable" fight with songs tiresome and unenjoyable, while on the other hand people noticing my laughter, possibly thinking me insane, can only protect me.
For, everyone knows that no one is going to strike up a conversation and try to take advantage of the crazy woman in the back of the train giggling while trying desperately not to look you directly in the eye.