A Modern Survival Guide Interlude
This is the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook for navigating and interacting with the modern world. And this is an interlude, an article that talks about a tip for modern living. This isn’t a philosophical insight, or a deep discussion of human impulses, or an explanation of some major phenomenon; it’s just something people might want to know. And one thing everyone ought to know is how to ride a subway.
So let’s start with an assumption: if you live anywhere near a city with proper public transportation (and no, not all cities qualify), you will at some point ride a light rail system. These may go by many names — metro, subway, underground, trams, etc. — but for the purposes of this article I’ll refer to all of these as “subway,” and the guidance for riding on these systems is basically the same.
All subway systems should be treated with respect, as should their riders. Let that be your starting point — dealing with a subway system is all about interacting with a very large, very dangerous mechanical device and the borderline insane individuals who are riding it. With that point firmly in mind, here are thirteen rules for riding the subway:
- Don’t crowd the doors. Most subways get very busy during rush hour, and crowding the doors trying to get on the train doesn’t help anyone. People have to get off the train before new riders can get on; that’s just physics. When the train pulls up, form up on either side of the door you want to go through, not directly in front of it. If you’re on the train, stuck by the door, and people have to edge around you to get out, step out of the train and into the front of the queue on either side of the doors. Your situation will not worsen; you’ll still be stuck standing somewhere on the train, worst case.
- Let the old/disabled/pregnant people sit down. Subways have designated seats for old people, people with disabilities, and pregnant women. For the love of Jeff, let them sit in those seats. I know, this may require making eye contact with another human being to determine whether they fall into one of those groups. Grin and bear it. For that matter, if you’re in a normal seat and there’s a person who needs to sit down near you, give them the seat. This is good behavior, good karma, and sooner or later you will be one of those people, so training society in this behavior helps you in the long run.
- Keep your music to yourself. Don’t sing along with your favorite rapper. Don’t blast your music out in public. Wear earphones, and respect other people’s eardrums. Nobody wants to hear your music at any point on the train, especially not during rush hour, and if you play it loud enough for other people to hear then you are being an asshole. As per normal, don’t be an asshole.
- Watch your feet. Subways are lurching, shifting environments. This prompts people to move around to try to keep their balance if they’re standing. If that’s you, it is polite to watch where you’re putting your feet. No one wants to be stomped on, and stepping on people can cause altercations. When in doubt, stand at an angle to the direction the train is moving in order to brace yourself.
- Hold on to something. Subway trains move around quite a bit, and change velocity very quickly. If you’re standing and you don’t hang on to something, you will move around quite a bit too. A good rule is one hand for the train, one hand for yourself.
- Check and double check your train. Most subway systems operate multiple lines going through the same stations, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gotten on the wrong train by accident. Always check to make sure you’re getting on the right train.
- Mind the gap. Stay away from the edge of the platform unless you have a very good reason to be there. Trains are large, metal, and perfectly capable of crushing you into paste even at low speed. Don’t get in their way.
- Scoot over. If you’re sitting in an aisle seat and there’s no one beside you, you don’t get to monopolize both seats. Don’t be surprised or upset if someone asks you to move so they can access the window seat.¹ In fact, it’s easier to just scoot over most of the time.
- Mind your luggage. Subways get crowded, especially at rush hour. Keep track of your luggage and keep it out of other people’s way. Backpacks should be removed and placed at your feet in any congested situation; otherwise you’ll just end up swinging your bag into someone’s face by accident.
- Respect the space. Yes, I know you’re in a public space and you don’t own any of the stuff around you, and therefore you have no reason to care about any of it if you hold the myopic philosophy that only stuff you own matters. But please do not litter, stick gum on the seats, spill your food, or otherwise perpetrate a mess. Again, if you start with the dictum “don’t be an asshole,” you can’t go far wrong.
- Don’t solicit. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to hear about your church, your cult, your political opinion, or your urgent need for bus money while they’re on the subway. Keep yourself to yourself. Also don’t hit on people, that should go without saying.²
- Watch your children. Keep track of your kids. Subway trains are not playgrounds, and children can be seriously injured or, at the very least, annoy the hell out of other adults if unattended. Children should not be allowed to do pullups on the handrails or play tag down the aisle. They most definitely should not be given food or drink on the subway.³
- Be pleasant. Everyone on a subway is in it together. Try to be pleasant, with the understanding that the more pleasant people there are on a train, the happier that train will be overall.
Riding the subway can be a good experience or a horrible one, and a lot of that is down to how good we are to one another. So be good, for goodness’ sake!
¹Addendum for the men on the train: quit your manspreading, please. Put your knees together like a gentleman. All you’re proving with manspreading is that you are so desperate for validation in life that you think claiming multiple seats on the subway is an expression of personal power. It’s a desperate cry for attention and respect, and you should be ashamed of yourself for allowing your pride to sink that low.
²Unless they are obviously into it. Some people may have met the love of their life on the subway, I don’t know.
³PS — A word on pets, which many Americans treat like children. Unless your pet is a service animal, please do not take them on the subway. I’m sure little Snookums is perfectly well behaved (actually, I’m not really sure about that), but even well-behaved dogs have a tendency to poop in unexpected places. Nobody, absolutely nobody, wants to deal with your pet’s poop. And they will poop. It will happen, sooner or later. And it will be the most disgusting thing ever for the people on that train. This isn’t even touching your cat, your ferret, or your emotional support turkey either. Keep them all off the train.