6 Unspoken Rules of Public Transportation (Everybody Breaks)
No one wants to be on mass transit. Whether it's a bus, a train or, for our Norwegian readers, one of your big public toboggans, no one's taking transit for the fun of it. We're not there to have new experiences, or meet new people, or smell new smells. We're there because, by definition, we want to be somewhere else.
If you feel this way (and you almost certainly do) and you realize that everyone else feels the same way (we definitely do), one obvious conclusion jumps out. Everything will be much more tolerable if everyone in one of these big people-moving boxes does everyone else the tiny courtesy of leaving them the fuck alone.
These smiles are just to mask the malevolent scorn these two feel for each other.
This is something most people get intuitively. It's basically the Golden Rule in action; we want to be left alone on the bus, so leave everyone else alone. But not everyone gets this, whether because they don't want to be left alone, or because they never learned the Golden Rule, or because they have been swallowed by their own asshole and are now some kind of Mobius dickhead.
Maybe you're one of them. Maybe you're reading this as part of a court-ordered alternative punishment because of something you've done on a bus. Maybe courts have finally gotten that rad. So, for the benefit of the courts, and to satisfy the conditions of my own court-ordered alternative punishment, I present this column on the six worst things human beings do to one another on public transportation, and how to avoid them.
Sitting Too Close
Science has told us that people generally prefer it when everyone else stays at least a couple feet away from them. Obviously, that's not always going to be practical when we're riding the loser cruiser, which means that we all have to, at least a little bit, put up with people being up in our grills.
And to make this necessary encroachment somewhat more tolerable, we should at least try to delay it as long as possible: When on a lightly crowded bus or train, don't sit down beside someone else until it's absolutely necessary.
This relates quite closely to the concept of urinal etiquette, which provides guidelines for basically the same problem that dudes have at a bank of urinals. For those readers without funhoses, I'll explain: Dudes don't like peeing beside other dudes, and will position themselves at a bank of urinals to maximize the amount of space between everyone. There are quizzes you can take to learn the etiquette, but for transit-related circumstances, the shorthand works really well: Always go for an isolated seat before you sit down beside someone.
Here, green means good. Sitting in a red seat is an act of open hostility, about the equivalent of twisting the head off a doll while staring at him unblinkingly, humming "Hakuna Matata."
A side note: Experts agree that you get Bonus Bus Points if you're willing to move to an empty space when one opens up. Yes, this "feels weird" -- you're going to worry what the person you're moving away from is thinking. "Do I smell?" is one obvious possibility. "Is that guy racist against stinky people?" is another. But don't worry about it; that weird feeling passes quickly, as everyone involved enjoys the extra space they've just acquired. Don't try to explain why you're doing this; that will actually make things even weirder. Instead, keep a printed copy of this column with you at all times and hand it to your ex-seatmate as you depart. Handing out printed copies of websites you enjoy is a totally normal, nonthreatening thing to do.
Blocking the Window Seat
Because of how completely bullshit gravity is, standing is generally more work than sitting, and generally worth avoiding if at all possible. So anyone who makes it more difficult for someone to reach an empty seat is a real gaping asshole. If you happen to be doing that, say by parking yourself in an aisle seat, thus blocking an empty window seat, well, I hope you didn't have an appointment to keep. Because your bus is being rerouted straight to hell.
Which is I think a Meatloaf lyric.
"But! But! But!" I hear you mewling. "I have to get off at the next stop, and don't want to have to climb over anyone to get out! Welp!"
Oh. Well, that's fine then. Sure, go ahead and inconvenience other people to save yourself that trouble. You colossal asshat. Get up and stand by the door before you get stabbed.
Letting Everyone Else Hear Their Crappy Music
Based on my study of 1980s movies, loud music on the bus and subway used to be a bigger problem in the 1980s, when the only way to listen to music was by ghetto blaster. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, although I will admit to not living very close to any ghettos.
I have been trying to get a grotto installed, actually, but the homeowner's association are being real grotto-babies about it.
What I do see, or rather, hear, are crappy earbud headphones that leak approximately 100 percent of their sound out the back, to the point where I wonder if they might work better if they were inserted backward. The (old) stock Apple headphones were pretty bad for this; I could be half a bus away from a set of those and still pick up lyrics.
Music is great on public transportation because it helps us ignore everyone else. But don't let that perfectly healthy act of antisocial behavior degenerate into the less healthy act of forcing everyone else around you to listen to dubstep.
"WUUUUUUUB. WUUB WUUB. WUUB WUUB. WUUUB. WUUUUUUUUUUUB."
Standing in the Wrong Place
There aren't many great places to stand on a bus or train; by the time you're forced to stand, the thing's going to be packed enough that no matter where you position yourself, you'll be in someone's way. The only thing you can do is minimize the number of people you're inconveniencing with your big standing ass. And there are a few simple rules for doing that:
1) Don't Stand in Front of the Doors
If you're nowhere near your stop, you should be nowhere near the door. The back of the bus or the middle of the train car are best. Unless it's packed, and the doors are the only place where there's the three cubic feet you can squeeze yourself into, in which case, fine, stand by the doors. But just know that you're going to be getting on and off to make room at every stop.
2) Don't Lean on Poles
Those poles are for multiple people to grab on to, necessary for keeping buses from becoming mosh pits/American Gladiator events. When you lean on or hug one of these poles, your back and ass are taking up valuable grabbing space. According to Transit Law, anyone who sees you doing this is allowed to grab on to you for support. The arm, lapels, neck, whatever.
Or the funhose.
3) Also the Escalator. Don't Fuck Up the Escalator.
And for the love of Escalating Jesus, don't stand on the walking side of the escalator. (The exact side varies by country.) You're going to get yelled at, or stepped on, or shanked in the neck. In the future, escalator steps will be able to detect when someone is standing on the wrong side, and will fall out beneath that person, dumping them into pits of ... something futurey. Let's say nanolava.
(On a side note, this advice evidently doesn't apply in Japan, where some cities have started banning walking on escalators. Having a mix of walkers and standers increases the risk of collisions, and a standing-only escalator policy evidently improves throughput. This is interesting science, but I urge you not to try this shit anywhere else in the world if your neck is vulnerable to shankings.)
Waving Bags Around
Having a bag at all on mass transit is already a pretty big nuisance for everyone, so if you can avoid it, please do. But I get that you've got a meeting, or a class, or a shitty hostel to get to, and you'll need some stuff when you get there.
There's a Lonely Planet guide to Belgium and a really filthy sleeping bag stuffed in there.
The problem with baggage is pretty obvious: It takes up space. Space that could be used by other people, or worse, space that is already being used by other people. When you hit someone with your bag, you are committing a hate crime, one that's been perpetrated by the bag-having against the bagless for too fucking long. A day is coming, sooner than you think, where everyone who doesn't put their backpack at their feet on a crowded train is going to be put against a wall and shot.
The children will be encouraged to frolic in their blood.
Talking to People
This is the biggest violation of bus etiquette possible, because the violators are no longer putting their physical presence in someone's face. They're putting their words there.* It's possible to ignore someone standing like a dick in front of the doors or swinging a backpack around like a wrecking ball. But ignoring someone talking at you is impossible. The words can't not be heard, can't not be understood, and before you know it, some asshole's inane thoughts are rattling around your brain without your permission.
"The rain's pretty wet today. This bus driver sure likes to make right turns. Brain medication tastes like vowels."
Every time I see this on the bus, my toes curl. It is dragging-a-cat-across-a-chalkboard excruciating for me to listen to someone else's awkward, kind of creepy small talk. Even when it's not me getting talked at. I've gotten off buses several blocks from where I need to be to escape a one-sided conversation about rain dampness that I wasn't even involved in.
Understand that I'm not making a full-throated defense of being shy or isolated. I am all in favor of meeting and talking to strangers in other settings -- at parties, at the bar, at the sex club. Those are appropriate venues, because everyone involved (presumably) wants to be there.
WHICH IS NOT THE CASE ON THE GODDAMNED BUS.
"My day went fine, young lady. It always went fine. That means I don't want to say anything more about it. I don't know you. No, I don't remember you from the club. The fuck room doesn't have lights on for a reason. Oh look, it's my stop."
*Triple there combo!