Sandy Moening is one of many Sounder regulars who have found that making friends with other commuters makes getting to work more fun.

By the time you read this, Sandy Moening will have worked her last day as a credit-inquiry specialist for Bank of America in Seattle. Her position was outsourced, sending Moening, 60, into retirement.

But it’s the commute that Moening is going to miss the most.

Really.

Moening’s return to Kent on the 5:40 p.m. Sounder has taken 25 minutes, but to her, it’s been happy hour.

On one of her last commuting trips, she settles into her usual window seat in the second-to-last car, filled with anticipation. She knows exactly who will fill the adjacent seats.

Awaiting their arrival is “the most fun I have every day.”

It was no joy ride, however, when Moening took the 158 bus to work from her home on East Hill. She had to get up an hour earlier. She rarely spoke to a soul.

On-board etiquette


Abiding by some general dos and don’ts helps make the ride more pleasant for everyone.

Do wear headphones or read a book or magazine if you’d rather keep to yourself.

Do bring your morning coffee (or tea) in a thermal mug, to-go cup or other closed container.

Do pay the fare. Conductors randomly check tickets and passes, and failing to produce one can mean a $150 fine for the first offense.

Do keep your voice down when talking on your cellphone. Better yet, send a text message.

Do be discreet. This pretty much applies to any train behavior.

Don’t lie down, put your feet on the seats or stash your backpack on the seat next to you. The trains fill up, and you’ll most likely have a neighbor.

Don’t try to ride bare-chested or barefoot. It’s prohibited — and it’s gross.

Source: Sound Transit

When Sounder service started, the trip was reliably faster, the rail car cleaner, but the biggest difference was the company she kept.

Rather than staring at the back of a different head every day, the train put Moening face to face with other office workers on their way to and from home in the Southeast suburbs.

They began an exchange as sweet and free as the contents of a communal candy bowl. Bring what you like; take what you want. It was good, even when the workday wasn’t.

Moening is one of many Sounder regulars who have found that making friends with other commuters makes getting to work more fun.

When fellow rider Coral Hunt announced her engagement last summer, Moening and the other members of their group threw her a bridal shower on the train, complete with presents, games and enough pop and brownies for everyone in the car.

In the six minutes they had before Hunt boarded, they decorated the car with crepe-paper wedding bells and streamers from the dollar store.

Making Friends


If you want to socialize during your ride, here are a few additional guidelines to help you make your own “train friends.”

Do be patient. Some people are more comfortable than others when it comes to striking up a conversation, so give it time. A game or puzzle can help break the ice.

Do sit in the same place every day if you’d like to meet regulars on your commute. Making friends is easier if you see the same people on a regular basis. Smile and introduce yourself if you want to talk. Afternoons, especially on Fridays, are the most sociable times.

Do give out your e-mail address, business card or cellphone number to train acquaintances. It’s less personal than home information. The rest can come later.

Source: Sound Transit

Moening gave Hunt tiny containers of M&M’s in her wedding colors — pink and lavender — to hand out to riders as she told them of her wedding plans.

Holding a party on the train, though unprecedented at the time, didn’t seem strange to Moening. After all, she explained, the basis for friendship is common ground, and their common ground was the Sounder.

“We are just such close friends,” she said. At the same time, though, “We really don’t know about each other except what those rides on the train provide.”

Moening’s “train friends,” as she calls them, are at once intimate and anonymous.

“I don’t see their cars, I don’t see their dogs, I don’t see their houses or where they live,” she said. “It’s a great thing because this is a completely different type of friend.”

In the nearly seven years since the Sounder first rolled out of Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square, nearly 5.5 million riders have boarded the Tacoma-to-Seattle trains. Sound Transit has spent $604 million on trains, track, signal work and communications systems for service between the two cities.

Where did the “quiet car” go?


Added in 2000, the “quiet car” was a place where riders sought sanctuary from the din of the daily commute. It had such an ardent following that some riders would shush others, according to customer-service accessibility manager Cheryl Huston.

Alas, the quiet car is history. As ridership increased, Sound Transit needed to make the space available to everyone, Huston said. The car’s dim lights also had to go because they weren’t bright enough to meet federal regulations.

Sound Transit gave riders six weeks’ notice before discontinuing the car earlier this year, but Huston said some regulars still sit in the same seats, their lips, predictably, zipped.

Most of the roughly 1,500 riders who board the train in Auburn, Kent and Tukwila each day close themselves off to others by powering up laptops, taking a nap or losing themselves in a book.

Debra Freeman of Covington puts on headphones primarily to block out the noise of people talking loudly on their cellphones. And sometimes, on days when she’d rather not be knee to knee with another person, she’ll pay up to $27 to park her car downtown.

“Sometimes you just want to be in your own car and not have to interact with the multitudes,” Freeman said.

Star Zatine, 47, felt the same way before she got drawn into conversation with Moening’s group and started to sit in the same place each day. Her train ride is more enjoyable now that she socializes during it, she said. The experience has broadened her social horizons.

“It has made me come out a little more, talk to more people in the elevator, the person who serves you coffee, just because it makes it a little more enjoyable,” Zatine said.

From the card players to the chess club to the ladies who knit, “it’s like a bunch of little cliqués,” said Damon Berbert, 32, who works at Washington Mutual.

The nucleus of his group formed when Berbert and another WaMu employee met Joann Kujawski and Dustin Thoms, co-workers at Expeditors, a Seattle-based global-logistics company.

Beth Skrivan, an insurance underwriter, ended up sitting nearby, smiling at their jokes.

“We absorbed her,” Berbert said.

Erin Rogers, 26, joked that Skrivan didn’t want to join but yielded to peer pressure.

Though they ride apart in the mornings because they have different schedules, the five straphangers meet in the same seats every afternoon to joke around, sharing snacks and stories.

They e-mail each other and occasionally meet for lunch in Seattle. Thoms once helped Rogers move furniture; she thanked him with his favorite snack: carrots with ranch dressing.

Moening’s group has taken friendship off the train, too. They got together for dinner and gambling at the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn. One rider, Sandy Fielder, hosted a holiday-cookie exchange at her Puyallup home.

Rogers, who is fond of seasonal themes, brings marshmallow Peeps for each holiday, forcing the guys to try the new ones. Thoms entertains the others by letting them play the “Brain Age” quiz on his PDA. They compete to see whose gray matter is the youngest that day. Thoms is 33, but recent results put his brain at 38.

Skrivan refuses to play. At 42, she’s the eldest of the group, so they call her “grandma.”

She’s not a grandma, she clarified: She’s a step-grandma. She sometimes brings cookies to share.

“The guys always want food,” she said with a shrug.

The group also plays a game called “Before and After,” similar to “Wheel of Fortune,” but without the wheel.

And this is where it becomes like high school.

The clue and spaces for the word are written on a notepad and held up for the other players to see. From time to time, riders outside the group have called out answers. One woman kept blurting them out in a bid to join the group.

“We shut her down, though,” Berbert said, only half-jokingly. “We don’t take well to newcomers.”

Still, there is hope for solo Sounder riders looking to join the fun. Kujawski is getting married and will be quitting her job to stay home, freeing up a coveted seat.

“We’re taking applications,” Toms said.

Moening’s friends, however, are saving a space for her return. Fielder, who works in procurement for the Seattle Mariners, has arranged an after-work game for the ladies, and Moening plans to spend some afternoons downtown so she can ride home with them again.

The end of her job is not the end of the line.

“These friends — oh, no,” Moening said, “I wouldn’t give them up for nothing.”

Amy Roe: 206-464-3347 or aroe@seattletimes.com