Friday, January 27, 2012

Mass transit manners

I’m not sure if it was the rain, the fact that it’s Friday, a combination of both of those or something else altogether, but the VRE car I boarded this morning had significantly more empty seats than was the case every other day this week. Which is a nice surprise, but unfortunately had the effect of reminding me once again of a pet peeve that’s been gnawing at me for a while.

Here’s the thing: I like to sit in the upper level of the car, where there are single seats against the windows. I just prefer the feeling of having that little bit of space to myself, without someone right next to me and the accompanying inevitable dancing if I’m on the inside and need to get off the train before them, or I’m on the outside and they’re detraining before me, and it’s an incredibly minor thing, but there it is. I suspect a lot of my fellow commuters feel the same way.

So if you climb the stairs to the upper level you find yourself on a narrow walkway that can only physically accommodate one person at a time. No big deal considering everyone boards the train fairly calmly (as opposed to my old nemesis the Orange Crush of the Metro) and those of us heading upstairs can proceed single-file with a minimum of hassle. And there are certain ways one can reduce the hassle even further, if one is self-aware. Suppose, for instance, that you are the first person to board the car, or at least the first person to head up to the elevated seats. You have three choices as far as settling into your seat is concerned:

Option 1 You can head towards the far end of the car, away from the stairs, bypassing empty seats. That way, anyone else coming up behind you can get to those seats you walked past, and you can feel free to take your time getting out of the aisle walkway (meaning you can take your coat off, stow your briefcase in the overhead rack, lower your carcass into the seat at your own pace, &c.) This is perfectly acceptable.
OR Option 2 you can sit closer to the stairs, in the very first available seat if you like, provided that you never stop moving. Walk forward down the aisle, turn around and sit down fast with your arms and legs completely removed from the aisle, and allow anyone else coming up behind you continue walking without breaking stride, so that they may reach the farther seats as quickly as possible. Then, once no one else is trying to get down the walkway, you can lean out into the aisle to take your coat off/stow your briefcase, or even stand up in the aisle for any other settling-in reason. This is also perfectly acceptable.
OR Option 3 you can stop next to the first available seat and block the aisle so that no one else behind you can get past and get a seat of their own, and futz with your coat and briefcase and whatnot, and in your own sweet time sidle into your seat and allow the flow of fellow passengers to resume. This is RIDICULOUSLY RUDE.

I prefer Option 1 above for myself, but a few months ago I stopped spending so much time standing on the VRE platform in the morning. I still leave the house at the same time to get a parking space in the garage, but then I sit in the relative comfort of my car, shielded from the elements, listening to the radio, until about 3 minutes before the train is due in the station. By the time I reach the platform there’s a considerable crowd waiting where the doors will open after the train comes to a stop. So I’m never the first one to board anymore. And I have to admit, another reason I started hanging out in my car (in addition to not really liking the cold) is because there’s another rider who always got (gets) to the platform before me AND always made (makes) damn sure he’s the first one to climb onto the car. He hasn’t been riding the VRE as long as I have (or at least hadn’t been taking it from my stop or riding my usual car until last fall) which makes it all the more irksome, but not worth trying to outmaneuver him. I’ve completely ceded first-boarding privileges to him.

But as you’ve no doubt sussed out by now, he is an obnoxious Option 3 type. Every. Freaking. Morning. Every once in a while he might make a token gesture toward Option 2, but not all that much. And it makes me scream inside my head. Especially on a day like today! I’m well aware that some mornings there are only two or three seats left in the upper section, one very close to the stairs and one very far away, so when this fellow chooses to block the aisle it’s a choice made with a stark contrast of how much further he’d have to go plus how much further he’d be from the stairs/door when it’s time to get off the train (and yes, I’ve noted that I detrain before he does, and I’ve never ridden in all the way to Union Station, for all I know maybe it’s a bloodbath scrum to get off the train if you’re not well-positioned) (but also, for the record, the gentleman in question is in his late 50’s or 60’s but doesn’t walk with a cane, isn’t morbidly obese, and doesn’t show any other signs of how a little extra walking would be a hardship). Today, though, there was practically no one in the upper section, and literally the first four or five seats up there were totally open, the time/distance difference to reach them was negligible and yet he STILL BLOCKED THE AISLE WHILE CLAIMING THE VERY FIRST SEAT.

I know this is an incredibly trivial thing to get worked up about, but I’ve been holding this one in for a while so today’s the lucky day it became blog-fodder. After this my only recourse is going to be to stab the guy, so I hope it doesn’t rain in the mornings because I’m not sure I trust myself to carry an umbrella peaceably.

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