There is a very structured train seating selection system that guides a traveller’s preference that you will notice if you pay attention. The first seats to get snapped up are the two-person bench window seats, followed by the three-person window seats. Then the isle position of the three-person seats are the favourite, followed by the aisle of the two-person seats and finally the most dreaded of all is the middle position of the three-person seats. There is always an awkward unspoken exchange when it comes time for the filling of the middle position over the issue of whether the aisle sitter on the three-person-bench should move over and become the middle sitter or stand up and force the newcomer to take the worst seat of all.
On the train today I was sitting by the window on one of the three-person benches by myself on my way to a work meeting. I had my eye on the slowly filling carriage around me and felt a familiar creeping sense that very soon someone would have to sit on the aisle and then right next to me. The consolation is that the weekly peak times have a lower ratio of weird/frightening to normal travellers. (Here’s a tip: the peak weird/frightening people time is Saturday afternoon out in the western suburbs when a hoard of bogan families go to shopping centres. Some children from these families travel in small groups without supervision – these are the worst. You can spot them by their terrible grammar and diction observed during loudly told stories such as “me old lady’s new boyfriend tried to smash me in the face roight? But me ‘n’ me mates smashed his head in ‘n’ that and he didn’t know what hit him. And now he’s in lock up ‘n’ that ay?”)
Sure enough it was my turn to share my seat when a young guy approached. He looked normal at first but most socially-retarded folks usually do at first glance. I had a big jacket in the middle of the seat because when I left the house it was about 23 degrees and I thought it was going to be a lovely day but the man on the radio said it was grey and chilly. I didn’t know how to digest this conflicting information. The radio weatherman would know the truth but I could see that it was nice outside. So I grabbed one of those jackets where the hooded liner zips out, just for days like this when the weather and the weatherman don’t agree. I zipped out the liner and modified my jacket to its clever in-between mode and faced this gamble of a day.
My jacket was sitting beside me on the train when this genius came along and sat on it. I assumed he obviously overshot the isle seat in his attempt to perform a regular sitting action. I said “sorry mate”, out of some kind of ingrained habit, as if it were my fault this guy sat on my jacket that was a mile away from where he was supposed to land. I moved my jacket onto my lap just in time for him to slide his skinny butt over right next to me, instead of where normal people sit. To make himself even more comfortable he then spread his legs out as if he had balls the size of rockmelons that demanded prime real estate. After about ten minutes of not knowing what to do, I rested in the fact that according to the preference system, sooner or later, someone else would have to sit next to him or force him to the aisle and then he would realise how much space he was taking up, or he would at least just bother people trying to walk past in the aisle.
Oh great a large lady looking for a spare seat, my luck was improving! I was dismayed as she was forced to squeeze in between his knee and the armrest. Unsettled, she looked down at his leg spread situation and looked over at me with raised eyebrows as if to say “correct me if I’m wrong but is this guy a fully functioning moron?” I shot back a knowing nod combined with a semi eye roll to signal, “this guy is crazy run for your life”.
Occasionally I would look over in his direction and wriggle violently and I saw that he was listening to an iPod. I couldn’t hear it nor decide what music a person like this would enjoy. Kindly he cranked the volume up in what I decided was a passive-aggressive statement: “I’m ignoring you two, even though you are both involuntarily groping my knees.” The tinny iPod overflow I could now hear seemed to be an aggressive mix of Bollywood and trance music playing so loud that if I pulled the noise machine out of his ears and told him to move over (or force open the doors and throw him out of the train) all he would have been able to hear was a distant ringing noise and the faint sound of badly choreographed dancing, so why bother.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t have a problem with Indian culture or anything; it’s just that I once accidentally watched a Bollywood movie at the cinema. I thought it was a joke at first. Hilarious that without introducing any characters or plot points about fifty people came out of nowhere and started singing and dancing! It’s obviously not a musical, I thought, because it’s so terrible, however it’s a great send-up of one. When they were still singing and doing something that resembled dancing twenty minutes later and no one else in the entire theatre was laughing, I sneaked out quietly with a bad Bollywood taste in my mouth. With just enough time to get my money back and see a real movie where a heap of stuff gets blown up.
So here we sat, the larger lady the wide-sitter and I, all on our way to work. Two out of the three of us were following the train seat rules but the wide-sitter was not going to participate in any social norms. Perhaps if my balls were as big as his, I’d have pulled India Dance 2000 out of train-moron’s ears and lecture him on the finer points of public transport etiquette and on sitting more like a lady. But if I did that I wouldn’t have had time to write this blog about it. You’re welcome.
Have you had a similar public transport experience? I’d love to hear your story.
PETE CAMPBELL is a Creative: Writer/Producer based from Australia, now based in LA. He has worked on projects for McDonalds, So You Think You Can Dance, Nikon, TEN, The Waratahs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sydney Opera House, Bankwest, HP, Gumtree, Kijiji Taiwan and a stack more.