When I was a teenager back in the mists of time, I wore blue suede shoes, “pegged” jeans, and a black leather jacket, my hair swept back in ducktails, a pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve of my tee shirt—in the parlance of those times, daddy-o, the look of a “juvenile delinquent.”
But it was only a look, a style, a way of standing out while fitting in, and no more telling of my true character than the business suit I wear now.
Fast forward to 2010. I am riding an early morning MARTA train to my office in downtown Atlanta. The passengers are mostly people of color, heading to and from their jobs. Some are dressed in the uniforms that will carry them through the day as security guards, chefs, and hotel workers. Others are clearly tourists, trying to get an early start and be first in line at the aquarium or the World of Coca Cola. Most, however, are ciphers—there’s really no way to tell who they are or what they do. All of us, save the manic, map-whipping tourists, are sleepy.
The train comes to a screeching stop, the doors open, and two boisterous teenagers in droopy pants and hoodies come sauntering onto the train. The mood changes instantly. Women clutch their purses. Men stare straight ahead or look out the window. And the tourists have a look that suggests they should have walked or taken a taxi, or taken a cruise to anywhere else.
“Man, I can’t believe you did that!” shouts one, slapping the other on the back.
“Well, somebody had to,” comes the reply, much louder than it needs to be.
I watch them come down the aisle, and I’m concerned, too. They’re coming right to the seats opposite me, and they’ve already given me what I interpret as a quick, measuring look. Am I about to be a victim? They sit down, still laughing, and one of them points at me.
“I see you’re reading Game of Thrones,” he says. "Great series, huh?”
“Yes, it is,” I say, surprised and infinitely more at ease.
“Gotta love Tyrion, right?”
“Yes, my favorite character.”
“Mine, too, and I love the way Martin keeps changing point of view to give you a deeper understanding of each character.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” I say.
He turns to talk to his companion. “So how does it feel to ace the chemical engineering exam?”
His companion pushes back his hoodie and heaves a big sigh. “A total relief is how it feels. Now philosophy, that’s another story. Kierkegaard is kicking my ass.”
The other laughs. “Soren, the Knight of Faith? That old infinite qualitative distinction and shit?
“I hear you.”