Thursday, March 10, 2005

Empty Seat Etiquette

Since this seems to be the week of public transportation posts, I am going to enlighten all of you as to a few rules of proper behavior when you find yourself near an empty seat on a public transportation vehicle. These rules are applicable to both buses and trains.

I have seen both these rules broken during the past week. Here is a little background: I take one bus to work. It’s practically door-to-door service for me, traveling directly from the congested residential neighborhood in which I live to the congested business district in which I work. As a result, the bus is usually very crowded. People are standing in aisles, jammed up against doors and hanging from ceilings (or would, if they were monkeys). Therefore, when someone vacates a seat, that seat is a very hot commodity. The standing passengers watch the seated passengers like vultures, waiting for some sign that the seated one is soon going to get off the bus. The moment someone shifts, puts away their book or newspaper, or reaches for the “stop requested” pull-thingy, the vultures start moving in. Therefore, the following behaviors are completely unacceptable. Particularly before 8:30am, when I haven’t had any coffee:

1) Blocking the empty seat. If you don’t want it, step aside! Shift a bit in either direction, indicating that you are passing up your claim to throne. No one actually expects you to look around, make eye contact with a stranger, and offer them the seat (though it would be nice if you did. Particularly if you are a large male, and there is a small female in high heels next to you). It is well known that people don’t like talking to strangers. So don’t make them talk to you, by asking you if you’re going to take that seat. And if you’re not sitting because you’re getting off at the next stop, remember this: letting someone else sit means there’s one less person standing between you and the exit.

2) Shielding the window seat. This is a different variety of seat-blocking offense. Here in the Windy City, seats often tend to be two-by-two. So if you sit down in the aisle seat, and the window seat next to you is empty, no one else can get to it. So just scootch yourself over into that window seat, and let someone else take the aisle seat. Now, there are reasonable exceptions to this rule: this morning, a very large woman shielded the window seat. Logically, scootching into the window seat would have been physically uncomfortable for her. But people with no scootching limitations have no such excuse. So scootch!

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