Streetcars in Vienna are blessedly quiet. The machines—brand new, high-tech plastic platforms—announce themselves on approach with only a slight electric hum. I now react to their high pitch with the same short sprints I used to make to catch the lumbering College streetcar in Toronto.
Riders of streetcars in Vienna are blessedly quiet. This is familiar to a Canadian whose politeness extends to a stranger’s personal sonic space. There is the gentle murmur of cell-phone conversations in foreign languages; there are giggles from drunk teenagers. Otherwise, all is as silent as a church as the station stop is intoned by the gentle, automated priestess on the intercom. We are reminded in formal language to yield our seats to those in need; a chime ushers the faithful through the doors, which close with a futuristic hiss.
The blessed quiet on streetcars in Vienna is my solace. I ride when I am in pain, and need my body to be moved; I ride when I need a ritual to compartmentalize the slamming, full-body ache of fibromyalgia. My pain sounds like Steve Reich’s Music for 18: it is lush and constant and throbbing; it envelops and heightens my senses. Streetcars, chronic pain, and minimalism all derive their beauty from consistency: the dependability of sensations becomes companionship.
The blessedly quiet riders of streetcars in Vienna respond with silent alarm if someone breaks our vow of silence. We shift our knees away from the noise. The first few times I heard The Boy With Tourette’s Syndrome, his wildly unpredictable sounds jangled me, interrupting my meditation; the jagged, aggressive extroversion of his affliction offended the holy space of my internal suffering. I shifted my knees.
But the third time I rode with The Boy, he recognized me as a fellow Friday-night regular at services at the Church of Blessed Riders of Streetcars in Vienna (parish of the Number 43 to Neuwaldegg).
“Servus!” he called out through the blessed quiet, and then “brrrrrrr WHOOOOP! clack brrrrrrrrrr.” Surprised out of my German vocabulary, I silently sat down behind him in the otherwise empty streetcar. He asked me the time, he asked me something else with words I don’t yet understand, he pointed out the cathedral we were passing. In between words, above the recitation of station names, there was the virtuosic singing of his tics: great long, joyous whoops; mechanical clicking and whirring; a buzz; a wet sound with his lips. Constant sound, but varied, shifting abruptly in fascinating circles. I wanted to ask him if I could record him, but could not remember the verb for “to record,” or felt myself too polite to interrupt, or felt vulnerable at having been detected. I hoped my limited small talk was adequate companionship. “Steigen Sie hier aus?” he finally asked me, as the priestess announced my stop. Yes, I told him, and bade him goodnight with a formal valediction, one of two that I have learned.

Image: Design by Atanas Bozdorov from a photo by Grzegorz M.