Mitch had a bad train ride, and he isn’t at all impressed.
As far as people who move away from home for uni go, I’m quite fortunate. My hometown, with my family, friends and all that, is only a short, 2.5 hr train ride away which makes it very easy to go back for a weekend or so. I used to drive it, but a combination of my meagre finances and the sad fact of rising petrol costs [makes you wonder why we even invaded Iraq in the first place...] made the $3.90 student train fare seem very appealing.
So the other day, I was on a train to Sydney. I’d been at a birthday party the night before, and I hadn’t had heaps of sleep. I’d planned to catch up on a few hours worth on the train. So I plonked myself down in an empty seat, nestled my bag at my feet with the strap around my leg to foil any potential thieves [a VERY real consideration, given that the rail line goes straight through the Central Coast], inflated my super-cool neck pillow that gives me heaps of mad street cred and set my phone alarm to wake me 5 minutes before we arrived.
Here’s where the rant component of this post comes in. After about half an hour, I was woken up. I’m not sure if it was the noise of denim settling onto vinyl, or the shifted position of the seat padding under added weight, or just that sixth sense that tells you something’s a bit off. Whatever the external sensory perception, though, the fact was: somebody had sat down next to me.
But hey, that’s OK. This twenty-something almost-hippy, with his three-quarter cargo shorts and his messy half-dreadlocks and his leather sandals and his somewhat worried expression that said he hadn’t quite perfected the proper hippie ethos of taking life as it comes, hakuna matata, etc. – he’s perfectly entitled to sit next to me. It’s a free seat, after all; the guy’s gotta sit somewhere.
And then it hit me. It wasn’t like he’d sat there because all the other seats were taken, and the train was packed and otherwise he’d be standing with his face pressed into a strangers nipples being tickled on the chin by strands of unkempt chest hair. No, the situation wasn’t like that at all. There were about a dozen other TOTALLY FREE SEATS! And by seat, I don’t mean “single seat” next to somebody else; I mean the whole bench area, the rows of two! There were, count them, a DOZEN, just in our section of the carriage.
In such circumstances, what kind of weirdo sits down next to somebody else? Isn’t it just the first rule of unwritten law of public transport etiquette, that [barring disability or age or anything], when riding alone you always take the most empty seating area? And if a completely empty space opens up as the bus/train empties, the aisle-most sitter gets up and moves to occupy that space, giving both himself and his seating partner a spot to themselves. I honestly felt like this was an unwritten rule; it’s one I’ve abided ever since my first days on the schoolbus, albiet it was then subservient to the more pressing concern that you really didn’t want to sit next to those Hunter Christian College kids.
Not only that, but somebody who’s obviously sleeping. I mean, as a general rule, I don’t like to sleep when I’m on a train or a bus or ferry or tram or any form of public transport if there’s someone sitting next to me – what if I roll over and wind up resting my head against them? What if I wind up impinging on their personal space in my not-fully-conscious state [which I am liable to do]? But most of all, I just find it a bit weird to be doing what [for me] is fundamentally a solo activity in such close physical proximity to another person that I’ve never met. And given the choice, if somebody is already sleeping, I’ll try and find another free seat so as not to disturb them.
“It’s like pinching half of someone else’s dodgy little sausage sandwich, when there’s a full roast lamb sitting on a table not five metres away.”
I looked around at my fellow commuters; had they seen this horrible travesty of train etiquette? I can’t help but feel that they had; one or two caught my eye as I looked quizzically around, and shyly glanced away. It was as if we’d all been having tea with the Queen, and suddenly, somebody had loudly and blatantly broken wind without apologising, or even acknowledging that they’d done it, and everyone was just trying to keep up the polite chit-chat to cover over the sheer awkwardness of the social transgression. They knew that my “new friend” was in the wrong, but they weren’t going to get involved. Bunch of Pontius Pilates, the lot of them. I scowled at their traitorous faces, with their traitorous blank stares straight ahead, maintaining their traitorous plausible deniability. They were no help.
After that, I tried to get back to sleep. I honestly and truly did. But it was just too…unsettling. Why on earth had this odd man decided to sit next to me when he could’ve had far, far more room? Why would he cram his bag into the already limited legroom provided, and occupy far more of the shared armrest than was rightfully his [forcing me to awkwardly rest my right arm sort of...diagonally across my torso and thigh] and invade the little personal bubble I’d created, when there was a plethora of perfectly good alternatives?! It’s like pinching half of someone else’s dodgy little sausage sandwich, when there’s a full roast lamb sitting on a table not five metres away.
Well, I couldn’t get up and move, could I? To do that, I would’ve had to ask him to get up, then shuffle awkwardly out past him, and then go and sit in another seat a few metres away, and that would’ve been just plain weird. I still wouldn’t have been able to sleep, knowing that this bizarre character with his strange fetish for sitting next to people who don’t want to be disturbed was sitting there, possibly watching me, waiting for his chance to move and take the new seat next to me. In hindsight, I should’ve gotten up at one of the stations and pretended I was getting off the train, but instead moved to the next carriage and found a new seat there…but I didn’t really think of that. In my defence, you weren’t there; you honestly don’t know how unsettling this was at the time, and how much it impaired my ability to think rationally.
In the end, I just spent the last hour and a half sitting next to this bizarre character. By the end, I hated everything about him. What kind of an idiot wears dark, aviators while inside a train? That’s poncier than David Beckham’s haircut. Why was he turning his head to look at things just slightly more than the average person? Why was he sitting just a little bit too far forward on his seat?* All these things and more, I noticed and detested. After all, I spent the next hour and a half before changing trains exhausted but unable to sleep, with nothing better to do than be consumed by a seething ball of loathing.
The point of this all is, George Costanza’s right. I think we can all agree that, living in such close proximity to other people, using common amenities such as public transport, we need to have certain rules, certain codes that govern our behaviour. It’s basic stuff, but it’s fundamental. Stuff like not picking your nose in public, not swearing loudly in front of young families, walking on the left-hand-side of the footpath, or taking the farthest-away urinal [despite a few documented inefficiencies with this]. Knowing how to select your seat on a bus or train is a requirement that’s right up there, and one that’s generally adhered to. It’s just unfortunate that people like that clown on the 8:48 to Sydney seek to damage this fundamental piece of the social fabric. Frankly, gaol is simply too good for anarchists like these.
*It only occurs to me now I’m seeing this written down that the guy might actually have been tripping on goofballs. It would certainly explain a lot.
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