Monday, August 13, 2007

Subway Train Pet Peeves

As I type this on Wednesday afternoon (will probably add to it later), I’m a nice air-conditioned office, after spending a hellish morning riding the subway to work, the result of a freak morning thunderstorm that lasted from 6:00 to 7:30. Perfect timing to wreak havoc on NYC transportation: flooded highways and subway stations. Dozens of people didn’t make it in this morning or came hours late. My train was sardine city all the way, uncomfortably packed. People not from here think that’s normal – it’s rarely that crowded. There are varying levels of discomfort on a subway – today was 10 on a scale of 10.

It got me thinking about the grating things people do on subways, the sort of things for which, if I had carte blanche, I would love to take a swing at these people for indulging. I’ll list these things by subject matter and expound a bit on each. Suffice to say, if you’ve ever ridden on a subway, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you indulge in any of these practices, fuck you. Our society tends to kiss too much ass when it comes to bad manners in public – it’s only fear of incarceration that keeps me from alleviating the situation.

The “Outside L Seat” Pig. Some subway cars, the benches are not laid out straight against the side of the car. Some have an L shape, with three seats against the wall and two seats perpendicular to them, one of them a window seat, one of them aisle. Both seats have their benefits. The window seat makes for a good ride, especially above ground. Since my stop is the last on the N Train, I consider that the prime seat to get when I step on a Queens-bound train. The aisle seat, you can turn sideways a little and let your legs loosen up. You can also get up and out pretty easily.

The “Outside L Seat” Pig is a person who purposely sits on that outside seat for no obvious reason, and will not move for anyone, especially when the train gets crowded, and that inside window seat will often remain empty while this pig sits there, totally oblivious of the wall of people around him/her. The usual M.O. of this person is he’s getting off at a near-by major stop and wants to be able to get out in a hurry – in his paranoid mind, if he sits in the inner window seat, he’ll never make it to the door. (After 20 years of subway riding, I think I’ve only seen two situations where someone didn’t make it to the door in time, both concerning small children pitching fits and grabbing onto hand rails.)

I’ve also heard people say they do this for medical reasons – they have bad knees or legs. To which I say, if you’re that far gone that you can’t sit comfortably with your knees bent for half an hour, you shouldn’t be on a subway train, crowded or otherwise. You should probably be in a wheelchair. I’ve heard tall people say they get that outside seat because their legs are too long to fit comfortably in the more cramped inside seat. Could be. But I’ve seen guys who are easily 6’ 4” sit comfortably in those inside seats. So try again.

It’s just a prickly, selfish thing to do, and I see this literally every day on the train. My only pleasure in this scenario is to stand right over the person, stare down at him, too, with a look that says, “Buddy, I would stick a shiv in you if I could get away with it.” And god forbid if you actually say “excuse me” and make them move so you can take the window seat. The person will heave a sigh as if to say, “OK, you pussy, I’ll shift my legs so you can have your precious window seat.” Again, in a more correct society, it would be totally kosher to pick up someone like this by the ears and chuck him off the train.

The Door Jammers. Similar to the “Outside L Seat” Pigs, the Door Jammers are deeply neurotic people who believe they will never make it off the train unless they position themselves right by the subway car door. Doesn’t matter if there is 10 feet of open space on either side of them. Or if packs of people will come through the door at a major stop. These people will cling to the pole like they were on a heaving fishing boat in the North Atlantic. New York is crammed with this sort of obvious, low-level neurosis. Again, with the excuses: “But I’m too short to reach up to the top rail, I need to hang on to a pole.” In most cars, there are two poles in the middle of a car numerous people can hang onto. Again, you’ll hear all sorts of excuses, when for once I’d just like to hear, “I’m a deeply neurotic person who feels an over-powering need to stand by the door, no matter how rude or inconsiderate this becomes when the train gets crowded.”

The Rail Sitters. When you enter a subway car, there are four rails, on each side of the doors, so that people who pile in but can’t get a seat will have something to hold onto when the train starts moving. That’s the only purpose of these rails. Yet, you will constantly see pigs trying to use those rails as informal seats: The Rail Sitters. Never mind that they’re hanging their generally bloated asses in the faces of the person in the seat. You’ll get a lot of Rail Leaners, too, who will lean their entire body against that rail, uncomfortably close to the person sitting, basically invading that person’s space. If you don’t grasp how inherently rude the act is, try it, and if you have even a morsel of shame, you’ll immediately sense how wrong this is.

For years, I’d do nothing when this happened, and I was that person getting leaned on. I’ve toyed with the idea of carrying a lighter, giving it a little flick and heating up the offending arse. These days, I just lean my body out so the person can feel the pressure of my body pressing against his, making sure I’m staring straight at the person, and if he wants to get stupid, let’s get stupid. I cut slack when a train is crowded, but wouldn’t you know it, I usually encounter this problem when the train isn’t anywhere near crowded enough to justify that sort of behavior. I’ve got a real problem with people who do something incredibly rude, you somehow demonstrate to them that it’s incredibly rude, and they’re so fucking stupid that they think they’ve done nothing wrong, and you’re the one instigating the situation. Welcome to New York, in other words! (That’s a nice summation of the 718 prick mentality I so often reference, right there.)

The Café Car People. Without fail, this is the one I see most on trains: people eating or drinking despite the fact that they are in tight quarters. And it’s against the rules to have an open container of liquid on the train, something I’ve never seen enforced. Sometimes eating isn’t so bad, just someone nibbling on a bagel. But far more often than not, it’s someone eating hot, aromatic food, or crunchy food like chips or other bagged junk food, while they have a person on either side of them. I don’t know what kind of slob you have to be not to recognize how off this is. I don’t know what sensual pleasure can be divined eating while you have two people crammed in against you, and one or more standing over you. The tight physical quarters alone would dissuade me from eating.

Much worse are the drinkers. Not the fact that they’re drinking – the fact that everyone around them is on spill alert, and I have been spilled on once, by a dingus who left his full coffee cup on a seat while the train lurched into motion. Many times I will step on a subway car with sticky coffee and soda stains on the floor, spread out like dried blood puddles after a shooting. Even worse, is the garbage: empty coffee containers, cans, plastic soda and water bottles. That’s another thing with Café Car People: they tend to litter like crazy. Again, why schlubbs like this are openly tolerated in our society when they should be catching a beating, I don’t know. Every time I see someone eating or drinking on a subway, crowded or not, I visualize a giant red X over that person.

The “I’m Littering to Keep a Blue-Collar Worker Employed” People. Along with the café car people are those who will purposely litter, under the guise that if they don’t litter, one of those guys who picks up garbage on trains for a living will be out of work. This is one of those ghetto NYC mind fucks I’ve been seeing since I set foot in the place. How dumb you have to be to believe in and practice this … it scares me too much to acknowledge. This truly is a ghetto thing – I’ve actually heard people expound on their theory a number of times over the years, and you can bet over-hearing this was like being privy to a conversation between Einstein and Galileo. One of the most annoying aspects of train riding is the constant litter, the worst being food wrappers, empty drink containers and those fucking awful free newspapers that get handed out at every train station. Those free papers are the mark of a douche bag – every time I see someone reading one of those things, I think “asshole.” Their main purpose in society is to create subway litter; the writing is negligible and much better covered in daily newspapers that cost anywhere from a whopping 25 cents to a dollar.

Suffice to say, if I had a dime for every time I saw some douche throw down garbage on the floor or street as if it were second nature, I’d be a few thousand dollars richer. And you can forget a confrontation on this one, because I’ll most likely be dealing with someone who has tied in racial and ethnic components to their slovenliness and will take my disgust with their awful habit as a racist attack. It aint. I just don’t like slobs who drag down everyone else with their ass-backwards bullshit. You take care of what should be easily remedied situations like litter and graffiti, then you’d see how little difference there could be between ritzy neighborhoods and ghettos in the city. (Frankly, I’ve been in a few ghetto ‘hoods in the Bronx that would put any wealthy Manhattan neighborhood to shame in terms of physical beauty … save too many people who live there don’t give a shit about anything, and this has somehow been deemed cool in their Addams Family world.)

The Little Big Men. Another old-time favorite: small men who take up more space on a subway seat than guys two or three times their size. Usually small Hispanic or Asian guys, but I’ve almost as often seen white and black guys do the same. Since their shoulders and upper bodies are small, they spread their legs out as if they were expecting a bull moose to mount them. Whereas someone like me will keep his legs together and pull his arms in so there’s room enough for other people to sit (I’m cognizant of this as I’m bigger than your average person), these guys expand their (always) little chickenshit bodies to take up as much room as possible. And you’ll get the straight-ahead “I don’t care about anybody or anything” stare from them as a wall of standing, tired people will not ask him to move, because the guy always puts out little psychopath vibes.

(I’ve heard guys say they have to spread their legs out because they have balls and a penis. Right. Unless you have softball-size gonads and a perpetually erect 10-inch dick, I aint buying it. And if that were true, you should be riding around in limos as you’ll be a porn star.)

Even worse, is when one of the Little Big Men will wedge himself in a tight-squeeze seat next to me. (I opt for those outside rail seats, so I can hang a bit or my body over the rail and make enough room so someone can sit next to me. Yeah, I’m that big. Which isn’t saying much – subway seats are designed so that if you’re bigger than about 5’ 8” and 165 pounds, you’re taking up more than one seat. Thank god for those bench seats even though, again, pricks like Little Big Men will take up too much space and make it a hard sit or stand for people around them.)

Understand that as a man, you should know never to wedge yourself into a seat. It’s a chickenshit thing for a guy to do, unless he’s aged or infirmed. I don’t mind women doing this, because often their frames are such that they can squeeze in comfortably under the frames of two larger guys, and everybody’s happy. But every now and then, and this is often the curse of the college-educated white male subway rider (who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground in terms of city etiquette), a guy will try to wedge himself into one of those seats, and thus make himself and those on each side of him desperately uncomfortable. Big women are pretty bad on this front, too – they seem to think they’re thinner than they are. Bottom line, if it looks like a tight squeeze, don’t sit down. I’ve forgone sitting thousands of times at this point in my life because I recognized doing so would be less comfortable than standing.

But the Little Big Man bodies are so petite that they can fit into those tight squeezes. And what’s the first thing they do? Spread out their boyish chicken legs so that they’re wedged uncomfortably close to the legs of the two much larger guys on either side of him. This is the kind of move I’d pull on a woman if I was crass and wanted to come on to her, sliding my leg uncomfortably close to hers and leaving it there so she could feel the force of it against her leg. Believe it or not, it’s a fairly intimate thing to do, especially in public. Why the Little Big Men do this all the time to other guys, I don’t know, and I’d like to say it’s latent homosexuality that they publicly seek this kind of physical contact with other men, but I honestly think it’s that these guys are so senseless that they think this is normal. (I abhor physical contact on a subway train; every sane person does. People like the Little Big Men are not sane.)

My gut reaction to this is to spread my leg out about 1/10th as wide as Little Big Man has his, to demonstrate just how fucking stupid he’s acting. Sometimes I do that. Usually, I just will my leg to be rock solid – I place all my weight on, so this little prick can feel that I’m not budging. Little Big Men will also often take the opportunity of any lurch in the subway car’s motion to increase their leg space – again, this aint happening when I place my leg as if I were setting a pick in basketball.

I know what’s wrong with Little Big Men – they have attitudes about being short and physically unsubstantial beings. I don’t know how they think being a childish slob on a subway train will enhance their machismo. If you’re a real man, you make room. Sometimes (pregnant ladies, the aged, the infirmed), you get up. To not have this attitude is to not understand the essence of city life: shared space requires consideration. You learn that, you’ll do fine in the city with very few stories regarding “dealing with wackos” (although we all have those stories). Don’t, and chances are you’re going to get sucked into dozens of meaningless confrontations that one day could turn from unpleasant to lethal.

(As a sidenote, I don’t understand why people in seats freak out every time a blind person gets on, offering up their seats as if a pregnant 85-year-old nun on crutches has just entered the train. Blind people have bad eyes. Usually, it looks like their legs are working just fine. Nothing wrong with their legs! Why do they need to sit? They’re blind. Their entire world is blurred or darkness. Looks the same whether you’re sitting or standing. I don’t get it. Ditto women pushing baby carriages. The baby has a seat. The woman isn’t carrying that extra 30 lbs. she had when carrying the kid.)


The list goes on. You got to love those little pricks who scratch senseless tags into the windows, thus ruining the view for anyone with a window seat. Why is this tolerated? Why is it in any way considered culturally acceptable? It proves or signifies nothing but a person who wants everyone else to feel as bad about life as he does. And I think if you peel away the layers of self deception, that’s the root of all these subway issues: people want to share their god-awful neuroses with everyone around them and put forth some form of territoriality. We all do in a sense, but when your territoriality affects the person next to you, you’re lacking some key form of empathy. Again, the key to city life is empathy, although you’ll rarely hear anyone admit that, or even understand why it is.

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