Kevin Sampsell’s “In Transit” from the City of Weird anthology details a narrator’s inner thoughts while riding the MAX train. He thinks about avoiding eye contact with the other passengers, and his thoughts become more and more paranoid, eventually feeling like “[he was] in hell”. The story concludes when the train hits a pedestrian. Rather than feeling sadness at the death of a person, or disgust at the sight of viscera splattered on the sidewalk, the passengers of the train are irritated that their MAX will be late.
This story was of particular interest to be because I ride the MAX everyday to school. There is a different paradigm on public transportation. Things that would be perfectly acceptable in normal life–like smiling at a stranger–are an invitation for harassment or even violence. It also struck a chord with me because I felt guilty when I realized I’d had the same annoyed thoughts of being late when I heard the train struck a pedestrian. It’s absolutely sickening when I realize I prioritized my commute over the life of another human being.
The avoidance of eye contact is important in this story. There is no human connection on public transportation. This lack of connection may be what leads to the callousness at the end of the story. The moral of the story in this instance is not really clear. It presents a problem–lack of human connection in our daily lives–but not a solution. When the narrator tries to be kind to other passengers on the MAX, they respond with hostility. Sitting with your eyes down, probably on your phone, is really the only accepted model while riding the train.
The statement this story is making is unique to the 21st century. In such a fast paced, rat race society, the thought of being late to work is more appalling than the loss of human life. In our consumerist society, money is a higher priority than empathy. It made my stomach drop when I realized that the story is not scary because of a snarling monster or a cunning serial killer. It is scary because the events described could (and have) happen in any given day. “In Transit” is essentially the transcription of many Portlanders’ morning commute–collision and all. “In Transit” could have been my story. Horror in the everyday and mundane is truly scary.
Little, Gigi. City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales. Portland: Forest Avenue Press, 2016. Print.
Jalena Post is an undergraduate Linguistics student at Portland State University. She enjoys horror in all of its forms, from Bela Lugosi classics, to poorly-written Internet creepypasta, to the films of the New French Extremity movement.