The first hour or so of the Tuesday after Memorial Day is never a fun one. Most folks heading into work or school are feeling the effects, literally or figuratively, of the first three-day weekend in a few months. Trains are crowded; tensions are high; patience is thin. It would be, in other words, a good day for a smooth ride.
Alas, for me, it was not quite to be. My ride into work was a quick one on the Q train, but as it frequently is, the Manhattan-bound trains leaving 7th Ave. in Brooklyn at 8:30 in the morning was packed to the gills. We had enough room in the car to board, and after Atlantic Ave., enough riders got out that we had room to breath as well. Everything was fine except for this one guy who kept bumping into us because he had on a backpack. Even with no room in the car and straphangers jostling for just enough space, this guy carried on, oblivious to the world around him.
An inability to figure out the right approach for a backpack seems to be an epidemic. On my ride home last night, on an much emptier B train, a guy sitting across from me had his backpack splayed across the two empty seats next to him. He might have been willing to move had anyone asked, but New Yorkers tend to avoid those types of subway confrontations like the plague.
I’ve always believed that the proper place for a backpack, especially on a crowded train, is down low. Hold it between your legs; keep at your feet. People take up significantly less space down in the lower extremity areas than they do at the midsection and shoulders. It’s harder to bump people if you’re standing over your backpack, and you allow other riders the space to navigate around you without any of the jockeying for position that takes place while dealing with a backpack to the head or neck. I think of it as common courtesy.
The packpack issue though is just one of many we face on our daily rides. The door-blockers, the panhandlers, the preachers, the breakdancers (who can get violent), the candyhawkers — we deal with it every day. Some are mere annoyances; others are a threat to our space and, potentially, our well-being. My short list doesn’t include the more sinister elements like the gropers and the flashers that women have to confront as well.
A few days ago, I posed this idea to Twitter and I want to present it here: What are the things that annoy you the most about a subway ride? I may put together a little bracket challenge. Do you find yourself getting irrationally angry at people eating on the train or those who insist on pole-hugging? What about those grooming and clipping their nails in a crowded subway car? Pick one; pick ’em all.