…on a day when I was absent. I can never figure out the etiquette on city buses. I was on the bus yesterday and a very uncomfortable situation arose. The way I see it, this is the type of situation that only a caring, sensitive fellow like me would even perceive as uncomfortable. The majority of people are probably too inconsiderate to even realise that this is an issue. But I digress.
The issue I refer to is that I still don’t have a set-in-stone code for where to sit when boarding a bus. Obviously, the seats marked as “priority seating” are for cripples, hags, geezers and the like, so I avoid those. As long as it’s not a particularly crowded bus, however, there’s still a wide array of seating choices even after eliminating the priority seating area.
The only consistent pattern I have when it comes to choosing where to sit on a bus, when given the choice, is that I usually avoid the double window seats. Of course, like everything I say, there’s a good reason for this. The reason is that it’s a lose-lose situation. First of all, it’s always more pleasant to have a seat to yourself than to share it with a stranger. Therefore, if I get on the bus and the double window seats each have one person in them while the rows of seats towards the back of the bus are relatively free, I will almost always choose to sit in one of the longer rows of seats in the back of the bus so that the people in the double seats can have as much space as they want. Plus, there’s always that instantaneous panic that manifests itself immediately before sitting right next to a stranger on public transportation. What if he or she emits a foul stench? What if he or she has luggage? Do you offer to let the stranger put some of his or her luggage down by your feet if he or she has too many bags to fit on his or her own side of the double seat? What if he or she is drunk? What if he or she is eating a messy food? It could spill on you. What if he or she is someone you have once met but don’t recognise? Not saying hello will surely come back to haunt you at some point in the future. Any of these things — or a combination thereof — could easily happen to you if you sit in a double seat.
The second reason not to sit in a double seat is that if you’re sitting in the seat closest to the window and someone sits down in the seat adjacent to the aisle, you have no choice but to awkwardly excuse yourself when you need to get off. One of two things can happen, both of which are mildly uncomfortable. One possibility is that you politely excuse yourself and squeeze past the person. This is awkward for both of you. The other possibility is that you politely excuse yourself and the person stands up and moves into the aisle to provide you with an easier pathway. This is also unpleasant because it arouses guilt in you for slightly inconveniencing the stranger so that you could get off the bus.
Now let’s consider the possibility that you are sitting in the seat by the aisle, rather than the one by the window. The same problems arise, except this time in reverse. If somebody is already sitting by the window when you sit down by the aisle, then you will at some point have to let the person through so that he or she can get off the bus at his or her stop. It’s unpleasant for you because if you stand up, you’re being accommodating to an unusual degree. On the other hand, if you don’t stand up you’re being an asshole. You lose no matter what.
The only way to avoid unpleasantness when sitting in a double seat is not to have anyone sit next to you for the entire duration of your trip. This is precisely why I never sit in a double seat if given the choice.
Even if there is nobody in any of the double seats, I will take a seat in one of the longer rows in the back of the bus or, depending on which bus I’m on, in one of the single seats on the driver side of the bus because someone could eventually sit next to me if I sat in a double seat. Of course, if there are double seats that already have one person in them, I will not sit in them if there are other seats available because I don’t want to have to let the person past me when it is his or her stop.
The only time I will sit in a double seat is if there are no other seats available and there is nobody standing on the bus. If there is one person standing and one seat available in a double seat, I will not sit in that double seat. However, if there is one seat available in a double seat and nobody else is standing, I will take the available seat because I am even more of an obstruction to people trying to get off the bus standing in the aisle than I am while sitting in a seat.
Now, you may ask yourself why I don’t simply always sit in the single seats on the driver side of the bus. The reason is almost completely irrational, based mostly on my own experiences, but I tend to avoid those seats because when a lunatic boards the bus he or she inevitably hangs out around the front of the bus, which is where the single seats are located. The bus I most often take is very popular with lunatics. On a related note, I should mention that I actually only take buses very rarely, since the subway is adequate most of the time. There are only a few buses I take with any degree of regularity, since the subway really is faster and more convenient most of the time (incidentally, I do have a set of battle-tested, iron-clad rules for seating in subways, with separate editions for both MTA and PATH trains). For some reason, I have never been on a bus with a lunatic in the back. They always hang out in the front because they like to harass the driver. That’s not to say that lunatics don’t harass passengers — they certainly do — but in my experience, their primary target is usually the driver. If the driver ignores them that’s when they harass the passengers. But they stick near to the driver to prod him or her every so often for a response they find satisfying or to criticize the MTA, give advice on route changes, suggest shortcuts, recite a shopping list, ask for directions, complain about the VA or to mess with the railing thing by the MetroCard reader.
Anyway, if I’m on a bus that doesn’t get very many lunatics I actually do try to sit in the single seats on the driver side. During morning and evening rush hour as well as the time when schools are getting out there are usually no lunatics on my usual bus, so it’s worth it to take a single seat.
I got onto a bus yesterday just a few minutes before 3:00 PM and I was the only passenger. Though it was, in fact, close to school closing time I went straight for the back of the bus. I knew that the stop immediately after the one that I got on at was right in front of an elementary school. I figured that there would be many parents and children waiting for the bus. I estimated that there would be a number of duos of one adult and one child, so I figured that they would quite nicely fill up the double seats by the windows. It must have been 2:59 PM or something and school hadn’t quite let out yet because only one trio got on the bus. It was what appeared to be a mother and two very young kids. I guessed they must have been first graders or something. I was proud of myself for sitting in the back since I assumed the two kids and the mother would take a double seat and either one single seat or one seat from another double seat. Instead, the two kids got on board the bus and immediately ran to precisely where I, the only other passenger on the entire bus was sitting and sat down across from me. It was a minute or two before the mother came after them since it seemed she was having trouble with her MetroCard. She came back and sat down next to the two kids, who were sitting in the row of three seats directly across from me. I was sitting in the seat farthest towards the back in the three seat row opposite from them.
I was pissed off. Of course, I wasn’t pissed off at the kids so much as I was pissed off at myself, for what seemed to a be a total lack of foresight. Of course, groups of three people would want to take a three-seat row to themselves. There were three rows of three seats on the bus, but one of them was the collapsible row of three seats that has straps to secure a wheelchair in place, which I always try to avoid sitting in, when possible. One of them was the row I was sitting in and the last was now occupied by the two kids and the woman who I took to be their mother.
That wasn’t the end of my failure though. I had agonized before leaving my landfill over whether to bring a book to read on the bus. Generally, I always bring a book to read when I anticipate taking the subway. The reason is that when someone comes on the train asking for money to pay for their rent, lunch or insulin, it’s much easier to pretend you didn’t notice their request if you’ve got your face buried in a book or newspaper. It’s possible, though unlikely, that you could be so deeply engrossed in your book or newspaper that you didn’t notice the guy talking about how he lost his fingers in a bomb explosion and if you don’t have any money to give him then at least show him a smile. If you have a book or newspaper, then for all anybody else knows, you could simply have your attention focused very narrowly. If you’re just blankly staring at the floor though you end up looking like an uncaring miser.
I didn’t have any sort of bag with me yesterday though, so before leaving I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to bring a book and just carry it in my hands the entire time I was out, especially since it’s a relatively short bus ride. Moreover, I didn’t want to bring a bag for the sole purpose of carrying my book, a book that I didn’t even have much desire to read, whose only value was its capability to make it look like I was distracted.
I regretted that decision immensely as I sat there, trying vainly to avoid eye contact with the two first-graders sitting across from me while disguising the considerable effort that it took to do so.
There are windows behind the three-seat rows. For the sixty seconds or so between the time I initially sat down on the bus and the time the children got on the bus I had been happily looking out the window immediately across from me, watching the familiar scenery of my neighbourhood drift by, proud of myself for my excellent choice of seat for the additional reason that it had an unrivaled view, adding to its value as a relatively shielded area from lunatics.
Once the children and their mother got on the bus, however, I could no longer stare straight blankly ahead, as I had hoped to be able to do for my entire ride. Staring straight ahead would force me to make eye contact with one of the small children. 3D children are not to my liking. 2D is all fine and good but 3D children pose 3D risks, so the last thing in the world that I wanted to do was make eye contact with a 3D first-grader, especially in the presence of this woman who I took to be its mother. Looking slightly to my left was the second first-grader. Looking even more to my left, but still not so far so as to make my neck turn in an obviously unnatural position to the observers across from me, was the mother. I certainly didn’t want to make eye contact with her either. She was stout and fearsomely protective in both appearance and deed. Looking to my right would have been unnatural as well, since there are no windows in that direction, only a row of seats perpendicular to our three-seat rows. My only choice was to crane my neck in an obviously strained manner to look out the next window over, which was in the middle of the bus. I stared for a while in that direction, but I could feel that to an observer, it was quite obvious that I was trying very, very hard not to look in the direction of the trio across from me.
I rolled up my sleeve dramatically and looked at my watch. I wear a high-tech, waterproof-up-to-200-meters, digital watch with a stopwatch, world clock and date display. It doesn’t take long to read a digital watch. It takes even less time to read mine, due its undeniable superiority over all other watches. I pretended like I had an analog watch though and furrowed my eyebrows as though I had forgotten how to tell time. I held that position for as long as seemed believable. Since I was looking at my watch while doing so, I can say that it only felt believable for about two seconds, after which any idiot could have read the time on their watch. I rolled my sleeve back down with less dramatic emphasis than when I had rolled it up.
I looked at the ground. The aisle is actually very narrow, unlike in my little drawing down there, so looking at the ground requires you to tilt your head pretty significantly downwards. I realised that this was also unnatural-looking and twisted my body around awkwardly to resume looking out the window up in the middle of the bus.
After what felt like an endless nightmare but was actually only the time it took to pass by one stop the mother took out two bananas, one for each of the kids. This bothered me even more somehow. Here I was, inhibiting their banana-eating plans. Who did I think I was?
I couldn’t get up and sit somewhere else though. If I did that it would be obvious that the only reason I was getting up was because I was uncomfortable sitting so near to children, and that would be downright unusual. Being a very usual sort of person, I knew I had to stay seated exactly where I was until it was my stop. Only an unusual person would get up before the bus had arrived at his or her stop. Only an exceedingly unusual person would get up and switch seats before the bus had arrived at his or her stop. I had to bear it with good will, so to speak.
At the next stop a mother, father and little girl, about the same age as the two that were already on the bus, boarded. Again, the mother and father seemed to have some trouble getting their MetroCards to work. Or perhaps they were paying with exact change and had to count it out? I was too mortified to notice how they paid at the time. In any case, the little girl bolted to the back of the bus and sat down in the seat furthest to the driver side in the row of seats against the back of the bus, perpendicular to the two rows of three seats each that the trio and I were sitting in. Having successfully paid, the mother and father followed about a minute later. The situation was now thus, where the three Wendells represent children, the two June Cleavers represent mothers and the one Ward Cleaver represents the father:
There are windows behind me, the gardevoir, as well as behind the trio across from me. There are no windows behind the newcomers. The new girl starts looking out the window that I’m sitting in front of. From another perspective, she was looking directly at me. Things had gone from bad to worse.
At this point, I couldn’t even look down at the floor now, since the father, represented in the diagram by Ward Cleaver, was leaning very far forward in his seat so that he could make eye contact with his daughter while he tried to get her attention. Had I tried to look down towards the floor of the bus it would have just looked as though I was staring at the father. My only choice was to continue looking towards the front of the bus, which probably made me look like I was trying too hard to not to make eye contact with them.
As though things couldn’t get any worse, the newly arrived mother extracts a banana from her bag and gives it to her daughter. The father, for his part, produces a muffin from his bag and passes it to the mother who hands it to the girl, who proceeds to tear it to bits and make a mess of the place. In general, I think that people who eat in public who don’t have an actual medical reason to do so (eg. hypoglycemia) are in the wrong and should be encouraged to eat in designated places, such as restaurants, cafeterias or in their own homes. Children, however, can’t be expected to be that considerate, especially not children as young as these, so my frustration wasn’t directed at the children. To some extent, it would have been proper to be angry at the parents who, in each case, were the ones to produce the foods the children then ate. But I wasn’t even angry at them either. I was just angry at myself for ending up in such a situation.
I had already told myself I would not get up or switch seats. That would be too unusual. I had to bear it. So I spent the rest of the bus ride alternating between looking out the window and checking my watch every thirty seconds. Nobody else ended up getting on the bus. It really wouldn’t have been so bad if the bus were actually crowded, as I had expected it to be based on the time of day.
I think that part of what made this situation so agonizing was the mysterious way in which it was the kids themselves who chose to sit right next time, rather than the parents. When I was a first grader there was no fucking way I’d sit next to a stranger on a bus as long as I could avoid it. I would sit in the seat closest to the window in a double seat and have the adult I was with sit in the aisle seat. I wouldn’t have to sit next to any scary strangers that way. But those kids yesterday must have had some kind of a complex. I mean, I’m not even a typical stranger; I’m funny-looking. If given the choice, I’d never sit next to, across from or even on the same bus as me. All the more so if I was a little girl in first grade with a delicious muffin that I didn’t want stolen.
All in all, I blame society for this development.