You’ve seen them. Maybe you are them. A quick breakdown of those you hope to avoid on your daily commute

Original Illustrations by Kaz Palladino

Illustration by Kaz Palladino

You just wanted to sip your little coffee and read a book before arriving to work.

We all wish it were that simple. But this is the Bay Area. And Caltrain, while convenient, is still public transportation. From time to time you have the inevitable misfortune of encountering people who you would have otherwise avoided. And let’s be clear, they’re not all created equal. Below we profile the six people that you just don’t want to meet on Caltrain.

Delicious Breakfast Sandwich Person
Annoy-O-Meter (1–10): 4

You’ve once again failed to make yourself a proper breakfast and rushed off to the train, caffeine coursing through your veins. Naturally, the empty seat next to you is filled by that guy or gal with the pungent and beautifully erected breakfast sandwich. Oh my word. It’s a croissantwich. With sprouts. Where do you even get a croissantwich from nowadays? I haven’t seen one of those in years. They look at you knowingly and then take bite after nearly erotic bite. The sound of the crinkling paper bag scrapes against your soul.

Illustration by Kaz Palladino

Self-Important Business Man On Phone
Annoy-O-Meter: 8

Invariably with his wingtip up on the seat like a 9 year old, AirPods in, speaking loudly enough for the entire car to hear. “Larry, we already worked with him on this. There’s no more negotiation. Don’t boil the ocean. This should be easy!”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and venture that this is the same guy who goes on vacation to Mexico and rather than attempt Spanish yells “I WANT TWO TACOS PLEASE. TWO. DOS.” Because being loud means being understood, obviously.

You know what should be easy, Larry? Social decency, Larry. Social Grace, Larry.

Illustration by Kaz Palladino

Unassuming Bland Guy + Insane Techno:
Annoy-O-Meter: 6
Intrigue-O-Factor: 9

I’m not here to judge (or am I?). However, it’s a particular type of unsettling to see a calm, benign looking thirty something man BLASTING TECHNO out of oversized headphones. We’re talking the dark, sweaty German, 160 bpm kind of stuff. Leather and vampires. (Know what I mean?) If my panic attacks had a soundtrack they would sound a lot like this.

It’s not so much that I’m distracted by the noise and more that I am deeply intrigued about this man’s world. Early Burning Man cultural pioneer? Genius investor who’s mind needs the activity? I’ll never know. And that’s what’s eating me alive. I peer out the corner of my eye and try to read his mind.

Illustration by Kaz Palladino

Guy with Backpack on Seat on Busy Train
Annoy-O-Meter: 10

This is one of the examples that’s not actually funny and I’ve had this happen to me several times. Luckily, I have a brilliant solution.

You walk towards the only open seat on your packed train and see that a backpack is on it. “Can I please sit here?” you say to the man in the window seat.

“Sorry, my bag is there.”

First, you are a rotting sausage of a human. But I do hope your life gets better, whatever is going on. Second, I like to surprise these people and have taken great joy in doing the following.

  1. Say. “Oh ok, no problem!”
  2. Set your backpack next to theirs
  3. Put in your headphones and sing softly under your breath Mariah Carey’s Dream Lover. Don’t make eye contact.
  4. Alternative to #3. Summon the spirit of “Self Important Business Man” and have a loud, fictitious, business conversation. Be sure to close the deal.
Illustration by Kaz Palladino

The Over-engaged Giants Fan
Annoy-O-Meter: 3

Typically encountered when they are 2–3 beers in and on their way to the game. They like to chat. “No, I didn’t know that Madison Bumgarner was 2–0 against the Rockies this season and also has a dog named Oliver Sacks. Tonight is 90’s leftover laser pen night? Incredible! I did not know that. Thank you for sharing that with me.”

I haven’t really paid attention to Giants baseball (sorry, Giants) since Rod Beck and his mesmerizing orange beard.

My suggestion? Be polite. Tell them “Go Giants” and wish them many successful touchdowns. Then tuck back into your book or feign open-mouth sleep.

The Overly Friendly Caltrain Conductor
Annoy-O-Meter: 6 (for brevity)

“Good Morning, Frienderinos! This is Caltrain 233 traveling from SF to San Jose. Buckle you seat belts! Just kidding! No seat belts here! It’s a sunny day out there — not! Hope everyone has a fantastic one in “el foggo.”


I am trying to half listen to my podcast I half like while simultaneously scrolling through social media to ensure my levels of jealousy are met for the day. I need to focus. Stop being genuinely friendly and trying to make my day better. It’s obnoxious.

Illustration by Kaz Palladino

In Sum
Despite all of the above descriptions of the people you can and eventually will meet, those of us that have to commute we are pretty darn lucky to have Caltrain. It generally runs on time and does the job.

If you are one of the above people, please consider us, your fellow passengers. If you meet one of the above examples know that you’re not alone and that Mariah Carey is always a formidable option.

Happy commuting, my friends.

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