On both sides of Timmons sat riders referred to on commuter Web sites as "seat hogs." A man and woman occupied aisle seats with empty spots beside them but made no move to slide over and offer Timmons a seat.
"There is a self-centeredness about it. 'My space is more important than you,' " said Timmons, 37, a lawyer from the District. "It's epidemic" and reflects a lack of etiquette in Washington, said Timmons, who grew up in Vinita, Okla., population 6,000, where she said gentility prevailed.
As Washington's public transit network grows more congested, with Metro projecting "unmanageable" levels of saturation on its rail system by 2020, the phenomenon of people taking up more than their share of space is becoming increasingly touchy. (Washington Post)
One day last week, I was having a really bad day. Like, really bad. Boarding the Metro after work during the evening rush hour, there was a woman sitting on the train, with the last empty seat in the car next to her. Well, almost empty. Because on that seat was a really small shopping bag that she'd placed there.
Since I was already in a foul mood, this didn't do much to improve it. Like the people quoted in the article, Metro seat hogs are also a major pet peeve of mine. I mean, it's one thing to put a large bag on the seat if it's really heavy or can't fit in your lap. But something that small? Come on. Talk about hoggish.
So I pretended that I didn't see the bag, walked up to the seat, and slowly started to sit down right on top of it. The woman saw me, let out a small yelp, and quickly snatched the bag before my ass could crush whatever was inside of it. "Oh, sorry," I said. "I didn't see it there." She seemed slightly annoyed by my carelessness, but also at least seemed to recognize that she, too, had been in the wrong by taking up a whole seat with the bag. So I got my small measure of petty satisfaction.
For the record, I wasn't really going to sit on the bag. If she hadn't grabbed it, I would have "noticed it" at the last second, and asked her to move it.
As the ride went on, though, I grudgingly decided that I'd been more in the wrong than she was. Should she have had the bag in the seat during rush hour? No. Should I have just asked her to move it, instead of being a dick? Yeah, probably. And if I hadn't been having such a bad day and looking for someone to take it out on, I would have.
And what made me come to that conclusion was the realization that this situation wasn't too far removed from another ongoing Metro etiquette debate. The one about why people on the Metro won't give up their seats for the elderly/pregnant/handicapped/whatever. My response to that has always been, "Well, if you're elderly/pregnant/handicapped/whatever, and someone's in a priority seat, just ask them to move."
But for some reason, people don't feel they should have to do that. There's a sense that people in those seats should constantly be monitoring their surroundings to see if there's anyone who needs the seat more than they do. And in a perfect world, maybe they would be. But in the real world, people get lost in their thoughts, engrossed in a book, or are playing Bejeweled on their iPhone. They're usually not making a conscious decision to deny a elderly/pregnant/handicapped/whatever person a seat. They're usually just not paying attention. Which is hardly the worst crime one can be guilty of.
Similarly, it seems like a lot of the disgruntled people in the article could have lowered their blood pressure simply by asking people in aisle seats to let them into the window seats, or asking people with bags on the seats to move them. So what if they get annoyed? Annoying people on the Metro who deserve it is fun. Sure, you should make sure it's not someone who's likely to assault you. But otherwise, go nuts.
While I'm on the subject, there is a new form of irritating Metro behavior that I've encountered a couple of times recently, and I'm afraid it's starting to be a trend. And that is, passengers attempting to take your space when you're standing up on the train.
Last month, I was riding the Orange Line, standing right next to the doors. I knew I'd be fine for the next two stops (Farragut West and McPherson Square), because the platforms for those stations were on the opposite side of the train. Then this guy came up and said, "Excuse me," and gestured that he wanted to get past me.
I glanced backwards, thinking that maybe I'd dozed off or was suffering from blackouts, and we'd already passed those two stations, and he was trying to get off the train at Metro Center. But no, we were just then pulling into Farragut West.
"It's on that side," I said, nodding towards the platform.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I just want to get in there for when my stop comes up."
Since I was pretty sure that by "in there," he didn't mean he wanted to occupy the approximately two inches of space between me and the door, I realized that he was asking me to move so that he could be right next to the doors when they opened. Caught between not wanting to get into an argument, but also not wanting to oblige this stupid request, I turned sideways a bit, sort of allowing him in there. So it was me, him, and some other guy, crammed into that small space by the doors until we pulled into Metro Center. In retrospect, I wish I'd just refused.
I did refuse the next time something like this happened a couple of weeks later. Morning rush hour. Crowded train. Everyone was packed together, except there was this small pocket of space next to me. It wasn't much, but it at least allowed me enough room to hold my book up so I could read it. A woman standing near me--who, I should point out, already had more freedom of movement than a lot of passengers--noticed this and decided that she wanted that space for herself. But since she couldn't get by me, her only option was to push me into that empty space, freeing up the spot I was currently standing in.
"Sir?" she asked. (At least she was polite in her rudeness.) "Can I get you to...?" And at this point, she actually put her hands on my arms and attempted to physically guide me over into the crowd of people a couple of feet away.
I let her for a second, at first, thinking that maybe she was trying to get by me so she could get off the train at the next stop or something. Then I finally realized what she was doing, trying to move me over so that I'd have no extra space and she'd have it all.
I put the brakes on really fast. I stopped, backed up to where I'd been standing previously, said, "No, I'm good," and went back to my book. She didn't put up a fight, so I took that to mean that she knew she'd been in the wrong.
So I guess everything can be summed up into this: If someone's sitting, it's never not okay to ask them to move so you can get access to the empty seat next to them. If someone's standing, it's never not not okay to ask them to move, simply so you can occupy the space they're in.
But really, I expect these minor etiquette issues will all work themselves out in a few years, when D.C.'s gun laws have been so further watered down that it'll be legal to carry firearms onto the Metro. After the first several shootings following people being rude, we'll all be so afraid of each other, we'll constantly be on our best behavior, and the only ones who habitually misbehave will be tourists. Like these French teenagers I saw a few summers ago, who had taken their flip flops off and were lounging around, with their filthy, French feet resting on the seats, and everyone was just looking at them in complete disgust.
Oh, if we'd been carrying firearms that day...