All this (and more) I learned in seven stops on the Metro the other day, from a complete stranger who was a loud and compulsive oversharer.
This is the age of TMI, with Facebook and Twitter making sure we know exactly what the kid who sat next to us in ninth grade U.S. history 20 years ago is cooking for dinner, when she is doing laundry and which Clairol color she switched to.
But you have some control over THAT kind of oversharing, unless you’re as clumsy as disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner. The Red Line, by comparison, lacks a “HIDE” button, and the oversharers know it.
They are cunning in the bait they set to hook you into their world — a smile, a quick comment while you wait for the train. Women seem especially vulnerable to their maneuverings, judging from the responses I received when I asked Dr. Gridlock readers about their TMI public transit moments.
“That escalator is broken again,” the oversharer will say, huffing a bit and looking at you for your response. You bite. “Yeah, those escalators, haha,” you offer, making harmless small talk as you both get on the Metro car. And the hook is set. You’re toast.
“My doctor just changed my meds, and he really wouldn’t want me walking down all those stairs in this weather,” the woman adds.
Danger! Danger! Anytime “meds” are spoken of, you’re in trouble. But it’s too late. You’re in, and even though you break from staring at your fellow passengers’ shoes and look directly into their eyes begging for help, they look away.
These are the oversharers who sense our weakness, those of us who always get cornered by them. Whether we’re just polite or make a living trying to get others to talk or take great care to avoid the sculpted, self-importance of other Washington types, we are the dupes, the suckers. And we usually know exactly the moment when it begins to go south.
Heather Lisy won’t forget her mistake a few years ago, on a commute home from work.
“A woman got on at National Airport, sat down beside me and began telling me about her vacation out West to see her daughter. At first, I thought she must have known me because she started talking like I was her best friend, said Lisy, who lives in Washington.
“She told me about how her daughter moved out West, what she did on her vacation and finally whipped out her phone to show me pictures of her daughter, her daughter’s friends and herself,” Lisy recounted. “For four long stops, I had to listen and look at pictures of people I didn’t know or care about. The other passengers were quite amused, but I couldn’t wait to get off.”
We have tools to deflect them. The white iPod earbud is the universal signal to BACK OFF. Or, depending on which line you’re riding, there are Kindles, Bibles, magazines, paperbacks or legal briefs to thwart the oversharer.