Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Urban Warfare

Each weekday morning I have the dubious pleasure of taking a commuter train to work. During peak times commuters are jammed on, forced into arbitrary and often uncomfortable proximity with complete strangers as is common with such systems all over the world . To be honest it is pretty unpleasant but it is preferable to put up with 15 minutes of being squashed like a sardine to spending an hour in traffic were I to try to drive my own car into the city. Anyway there are certain unwritten rules of etiquette involved in the use of crowded public transport services. Generally commuters put up with the discomfort stoically and do their best to afford others as much space and dignity as possible under the circumstances. Sadly there are some individuals who think only of their own comfort and act selfishly to put others at unnessecary distress. I am thinking of the gentleman who commandeers a pole that normally provides a safe handhold for two to three people, lying back against it preventing anyone else getting purchase. I am talking about the lady who stubbornly holds on to a comfortable standing space right in front of the door blocking others from entering or exiting even though there are spaces available further in.

This morning I had the misfortune to be stuck between two such people. In order to allow more people to get on I moved towards the middle of the train into a narrow corridor between two rows of seats. Yes there are seats but as I do not live near the end of the line I never have the pleasure of getting one. Anyway I was prevented from moving further into the train by a gentleman who was holding grimly on to a favoured standing spot. I could not move by him even though there was vacant space on the other side. Then a fairly large large lady sqeezed into me from the other side leaving me with no room whatsoever. With no space to balance my feet I toppled on to an individual sitting in one of the seats. I am sure they were discomfitted but they did have a seat after all so it is hard to feel too much sympathy. Despite my predicament the gentleman would not budge.

I suppose a sensible response would have been to ask him to move but my conversational skills are extremely limited at that hour of the morning and to tell the truth actually speaking to one of the total strangers you come into intimate contact with on a commuter train is kind of against the unspoken rules of etiquette. I have my own approach to dealing with these situations. While appearing to be polite and respectful I contrive to make my body as angular as possible. Elbows, thumbs and knuckles are called into play. Strange how a person who is quite happy to squash into your unguarded side is somewhat more reluctant to impale themselves on a jutting elbow. This morning I was particularly sneaky. I had a newspaper in my hand and by rolling it up tight I made a fairly good jabbing stick. Next I had to appear to hold the paper casually while in fact grasping it firmly and ensuring that the end of the paper pointed out one way and a pointy elbow jutted out the other. I didn't have a very pleasant journey it is true but I derive a certain satisfaction from knowing that neither the gentleman who had a newspaper poked into his ribs nor the lady who had an elbow jutting into her had either.

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