May
29

A backpack bump and other subway annoyances

By
Courtesy is contagious, but it doesn't start with the guy on the right wearing his backpack on a packed train. (Photo via flickr user Runs With Scissors)

Courtesy is contagious, but it doesn’t start with the guy on the right wearing his backpack on a packed train. (Photo via flickr user Runs With Scissors)

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.



50 Responses to “A backpack bump and other subway annoyances”

  1. Jake S says:

    Door standers. MOVE IN TO THE MIDDLE OF THE CAR, I PROMISE YOU WON’T MISS YOUR STOP.

  2. Josh H says:

    I get frustrated at the oblivious or just plain inconsiderate person. Sadly this takes many forms. The most irksome for me is that person who pushes to get onto the train before a half dozen other people but then clamps onto the pole right at the door and plants their feet firmly in place as if there were not people behind also trying to get on the train. Don’t tell me you didn’t see us because you passed us on the platform to board first.

  3. Rebecca says:

    The other day I was on the subway when a woman across from me got on, chewing & cracking her gum, LOUDLY. I have no idea if I am the only one annoyed that much by that…

    I also hate it when people wear headphones but then play their music so loudly you can hear it anyway.

    • Stephen - NYC says:

      Rebecca,
      I don’t know about the gum cracking as I haven’t heard it to the point of wanting to scream, but I’m with you about the headphones and their loudness levels. I wear my headphones so I don’t hear all the earbuds letting the ‘music’ escape. I like to think that music I am playing is not escaping my headphones (and yes, they cover my ears, but do not enclose them).

  4. Ace says:

    Hard to choose from my list of grievance. When people take more than one seat and they’re really not entitled to – most of them do it with their legs. I try to condense my stuff, this way it doesn’t get in anyone’s way. In regards to doors, maybe MTA should remove doorway poles to keep exits clear. Oh and spikes at the doors! >-) (wishful thinking)

  5. Todd says:

    Obliviousness as a whole is my biggest pet-peeve. How people can ride mass-transit and still operate in their own little worlds boggles my mind. My favorite examples are:

    1. The person who will fight through while people are trying to exit the train, then park themselves in the door, blocking others from entering or exiting.

    2. People who play on their phones and tablets while walking, especially on stairs. Nothing makes me want to kick someone more than watching them slowly meander down a flight of steps while they wait for their feed to refresh.

    • SEAN says:

      2. People who play on their phones and tablets while walking, especially on stairs.

      What you are witnessing is programing. What I Meen by that is, some people feel a need to always be atached to there smart phones & tablets no matter where they are. If they don’t have it on them, they are lost in more ways than one. Put another way, the technology programs the person instead of the other way around.

  6. London Llama says:

    People going the wrong way round the one-way system. There is an ENTRY STAIR and an EXIT STAIR and all the people going the opposite direction should be a clue that YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! I tend to reinforce this message by deliberately not looking up and bodychecking the person slowing everyone down by their inability to follow clear signs.

    Also people who stop in the narrow platform entrance arch. Though that is a result of bad station/signage design, so I can’t entirely blame them.

    • Marsha says:

      I wish those kind of staircases existed in Manhattan. I always appreciate Brooklyn subway stops for those staircases even if there are a few contrarians.

    • Chuck says:

      A word of advice. Be careful when dispensing this form of subway justice. Many people do this sort of stuff not because they are clueless, but rather because they don’t care. And unfortunately, there are those always-angry individuals that are looking for a fight.

      I purposely did not get out of the way of someone in a similar situation and was physically assaulted for it. I thank god he wasn’t carrying a knife or anything because given his abnormal rage, I don’t think it would have mattered to him.

      In the end, you’re probably making yourself feel better, but you’re not going to change people. There will always be assholes on the subway. It’s not worth it. Best thing you can do is take a deep breath and SERENITY NOW.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Yeah, it’s usually a good idea not to provoke people if you can avoid it.

        But sometimes I can’t help myself. When I get out at Bedford Avenue L going toward Manhattan, I wait for the door to open and then leap out yelling semi-coherently “GET OUTTA THE WAY BLAHAHAH” and pop my eyes out like a crazy person to make everyone blocking the door back off. Works every time. Then, I don’t think those corn-fed hipsters are gonna do anything, and I’m probably providing a public service to the whole car!

  7. asar says:

    I hate people who stand in front of doors!i remember my dad and i got on @ the barclays center stop, and this guy woulD’nt even let us on! We gotOff at brooklyn mueseum, and the barely let us out because he was standing in front of the doors he later then gave my dad an attitude about it

  8. TTF says:

    I hate the people that come on talking to the whole car.

    My favorite (sarcasm) was some guy yelling about being a veteran and how he killed people and kids with his thumb. Thinking he was something special just because he was a vet, as if he was the only one on the train.

    It is shameful to use your service like that.

    Same goes for people using the fact that they have children to get over on people with special seats or parking spaces or cutting the line etc.

    Regarding the backpack, I agree. Take them off boarding the train.

  9. Marsha says:

    People who start going in the car before everyone has exited. The train is not going to leave without you, people. The doorperson can see when everyone’s in.

  10. Erik says:

    People who play games on their phones with the volume on high.

    People who lean against the vertical poles with the whole of their back/buttcrack.

    And of course, those who don’t know how to properly hold their bags or other belongings on a crowded train.

    • SEAN says:

      People who play games on their phones with the volume on high.

      Talk about Angry Birds!

      People who lean against the vertical poles with the whole of their back/buttcrack.

      Sounds distasteful.
      And of course, those who don’t know how to properly hold their bags or other belongings on a crowded train.

      It’s easy if you know how.

  11. Eric McClure says:

    Among straphangers: Feet on seats.

    Train operators: Not holding a train for a few seconds when another train is arriving across the platform. Nothing worse than getting to Jay Street on a late-night A train only to have the F train doors close as you’re dashing across the platform.

  12. BoerumBum says:

    Here’s my top 5:

    1) Doorblockers – Moving to the center of the car is better for everyone, even the offender. When you’re blocking the door, you need to deal with people trying to get past you at every stop. When you’re in the center of the car, it’s not as frequent.

    2) Polehuggers – I’ve seen poles accomodate the needs of half a dozen or more riders, and I’ve seen one person denying everyone else access to stability by wrapping body parts suchs as arms & legs (if we’re lucky) around the whole pole. Come on people… at best, that’s inconsiderate, at worst, it’s just plain disgusting.

    3) Quickboarders – Like doorblockers, these people just make things more difficult for everyone (themselves included) by entering the train before everyone exits. Oftentimes, they even get indignant that suddenly there’s a flood of people trying to get by them.

    4) Backpackers – Ben covered this one, and it’s actually fairly low on my list, because it’s often possible to navigate around the offending apparel. Still, on a crowded train, tuck that bag between your legs. It’s easy, and usually reduces the extra space the bag occupies to zero.

    5) Seatblockers – These people boggle the mind. On a crowded train, they stand in front of open seats, not allowing anyone to pass them, but not taking the seat themselves. They’re like mad goalies trying to reduce the total capacity of the train.

  13. BoerumBum says:

    It should be noted that I often am silently annoyed when there’s a stroller or bike blocking part of the train car, but I don’t know a better way to deal with these, so I really can’t blame the person, unless they’re especially obnoxious about blocking a key part of the car (like the entire door) in a train with room enough for them to get out of the way better.

    • D.R. Graham says:

      The most considerate thing to do is to board at the back of the train. The most crowded areas tend to be the middle then front especially based on the exits on a particular line. Boarding with a stroller or bike at the least crowded area of the train is the best compromise. Even though strollers are supposed to be closed and kids carried, it’s very difficult to do considering the accessibility of the system and even NYCT knows this which is why the ad campaigns regarding the strollers have slowed. They were controversial even though it was for safety reasons.

  14. MH says:

    I can go on and on and on with this topic, my pet peeve is when on like there’s two people sitting down and the middle spot is empty and a heavy set person tries to sit there like it’s going to be comfortable for everyone in the area. (Happens almost every rush hour). Me personally, I like to sit in corners or end seats to avoid being squeeze.

    I also understand why people stand in front of doors. I’m guilty of that. It’s much more easier to be by the door than to be on top of people and have people on top of you.

    Also, the lady that carries a baby around asking for change (possibly panhandling.) Well maybe panhandlers in general they’re annoying. Along with the people who “just want to be heard.”

    • Stephen - NYC says:

      MH,
      You are correct.
      Let’s face it, we’re all getting bigger as we get older and I know I’m not the thin one, but just because the MTA has a bucket carved out of the bench seat, doesn’t mean one has to squeeze in. And I’m with you too about sitting at the corners and end seats. My #7 train ride is always filled with angst about who is going to squeeze in between me at the edge and the person 2 seats away. Some days we all win when it’s not my clone, other days we all lose as someone attempts to settle in. And if I would be the third person, I just stand. I let someone else squeeze in.

    • D.R. Graham says:

      But this argument depends on which door will be opening. If only one side of the train will experience the door opening for several stops then that’s understandable but if it’s at the door that is frequently opening then it’s a problem and shouldn’t be done. I never had a problem with someone standing in the door way as long as they completely got off the train when the doors opened and if they were the first to get on moved all the way in and by the time everyone got on the doorway was clear then that’s fair game.

  15. ALex says:

    My top peeve is definitely people playing music on their phone’s crappy little speaker. Get some damn headphones. They sound much better and aren’t obnoxious to everyone else, so long as they’re decent quality (i.e., not the stock iPhone earbuds) and/or the volume isn’t up too loud.

    As for the backpacks, putting them down on the floor isn’t always possible if the train is extremely crowded. Side sling, under arm, etc are fine, so long as the person is aware of their surroundings and making an effort not to be a jerk (unlike the guy in the picture at the top of this post).

    • Tower18 says:

      These people aren’t listening to the music, they’re broadcasting their coolness and “taste”…so appeals to sound quality will go nowhere. I once rode for ~25 minutes on a G train with a girl playing the same song over and over on repeat while she pretended to sleep (waking up each time to replay the song).

      • ALex says:

        You make a good point. There’s certainly a type to those who do it. It’s just puzzling to me that someone is more concerned with broadcasting their “taste” or intentionally agitating others than they are about hearing good-quality sound.

    • D.R. Graham says:

      No one is saying to place the bags on the floor. The floor is disgusting and we all know that but they should be held to the side at least (in hand). Not on the back.

  16. Tal F says:

    Standing by the door and refusing to move is inexcusable. Taking more than one seat should definitely be avoided during crowded times. Pole-hugging, eating, grooming, etc. and all these other behaviors are also behaviors that would be impolite on the street or in a public park (except eating). But I have to part ways with you when it comes to the backpack.

    We are commuting, after all, and sometimes when you commute you need to take stuff with you. I can barely stand having the bottoms of my shoes touch the disgusting subway floor, let alone a backpack. Plus having to continually take off and put back on a backpack can be an inconvenience, and to be able to carry one’s backpack in the normal manner is not an unreasonable demand.

    The real party at fault here is the MTA. If trains get so crowded to the point that one can’t even wear a backpack without disturbing other passengers, then it is clearly time for a service upgrade. This could mean more/longer trains, or it could mean a parallel service offered at a premium price (see Cap’n Transit on this topic). Either way, I do not think the fellow commuter is to blame.

    • Gorski says:

      Then at the very least you should flip the bag around so that it is in front of you rather than behind you.

      The thing that annoys me most about folks wearing a backpack is that they turn and whack the person standing behind them (or press into them constantly). Wear the bag in front of you while you are on the train and not only do you not have to worry about hitting other people, you don’t have to worry about people stealing stuff from your pack.

    • Stephen - NYC says:

      Tal F,
      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing that the MTA should increase service so that trains aren’t as crowded as they are now. But we know that’s not going to happen.
      So, as Gorski says, turn it around.
      And, as for putting it on the floor, it’s a backpack, not your pillow, unless you’re camping on the Appalachian Trail and are just visiting New York City. In that case, well, I’ve got nothing. :-)
      I carry a backpack all the time, and I take it off when I see the train coming and put it on the floor when I get in the car. When I get out, I put it back on to either transfer to another train or head to my destination. Not too much of a problem.

    • D.R. Graham says:

      No this very much is the commuter’s fault. Longer trains aren’t possible. That would involve a very expensive lengthening of platforms that would run into the billions. Plus it wouldn’t solve anything. Your theory is based on even loading aboard trains. Most people board in the middle followed by the front so the problem would still remain the same. When most people enter the station and walk to the platform in most cases the entrance or stairs lead to the middle of the platform and for some reason most people are done as soon as they get there as opposed to moving along the platform. Times Square is a perfect example on the 1/2/3.

      But that’s besides the point. The point is no one is saying place the bag on the floor. What was stated was for everyone to hold their bags down low by their legs or in between where the impact is lessened. Average backpacks take up half the size of a person. That’s valuable real estate down in the subways. Multiply that number by 12. That’s how many people get left standing on the platform average per car because of backpacks being worn on backs during rush hour crowding. Now the problem gets compounded when the next train arrives. Having someone clueless about the bulge on their back is one thing. But it impacts boarding and the ability to board a train and in essence causing compounding delays. In NYCT every second and every inch of space counts.

  17. Peter says:

    My top two are people who stand in the door and don’t move aside to let people on/off, and people who rush into a car before others have had a chance to disembark. These aren’t the two WORST offenses — I can think of more ridiculous/gross behavior, such as music blasters, nail clippers and messy eaters — but it seems to me they are the two most prevalent types of rudeness.

    And, unlike someone who is playing music or dropping crumbs, the door blocker is actually impeding efficient operation of the train. Instead of just annoying a few people who happen to be near him, people who complicate the boarding process are potentially slowing down the trip for everybody on the train.

  18. lawhawk says:

    In no particular order:

    Door blockers.
    People who try to enter car before people can even exit.
    People who have headphones turned up so loud that everyone hears your music anyways.
    People who don’t make room/seat for someone who’s pregnant or handicapped, or with young kids. Even worse – those who rush in/out of train and bump into these folks without bothering to apologize.
    Pole huggers.

  19. Pat L says:

    Door-blocking is the one that really gets to me. I can understand on a crowded car there’s sometimes nowhere to go, but the people who just board and immediately plant their feet six inches inside the car are maddening.

    Outside the train itself, people who stop at the top of the subway entrance because they’re on their phone and suddenly realize they’re going to lose reception. It’s not as malicious, but I wish people would think ahead.

  20. Eric Brasure says:

    Doorblockers. No question. It is completely antisocial behavior.

    Related: If I am forced to block the door (extremely crowded car with just enough room to board but not enough room to move in) I step OUT of the car and step to the side to allow passengers to exit.

    Related: people on the platform that don’t stand to the side to allow passengers to exit.

    Gumchewing, eating, nail-clipping, begging, dancing… I can overlook all of this. Just respect the doors. Respect the doors.

    • zk says:

      Definitely doorblocking is #1 offense.
      I can handle almost all the other crap — the clueless, or worse, willful disrespect for everyone by doorblockers is what drives me crazy. It’s actually WORSE now with the wider doors since that extra room allows the doorblockers to rationalize their antisocial behavior.

      Another big one is utter failure to grasp the concept that PERSONAL SPACE IS DYNAMIC, NOT STATIC. At 10pm on an empty train, your personal space could be huge — imagine you are the only one on a bench and someone chooses the seat directly next to you; kinda creepy, right? But at 8am on that same bench, your personal space is much smaller. Huge purses and backpacks, women whipping their hair around and hitting me in the EYES, people who feel their right to continue reading a tablet or newspaper trumps my right to…not have a tablet/newspaper and inch from my forehead. 30 people just got on the train = time to put the book down.

      Jerks who do not offer their seats to nearby elderly people. If I see an elderly person 10 feet away, I will start a relay of shoulder-taps to flag them down and give them my seat. I hate when people pretend not to notice or ignore them. (I sometimes get misty-eyed for decades past when guys used to give me their seats just for being female, but I know those days ain’t coming back.)

      Also people who sit next to me wearing germy medical scrubs. You took off the gloves, mask and hair caps at the hospital, why stop at the scrubs? Sooooooo nasty.

  21. david f says:

    all of the above

  22. Tsuyoshi says:

    Doorblockers!

    The worst thing is, they actually slow down the train for everyone. The sooner everyone is finished exiting and entering the train, the sooner the train can continue. The doorways are wide enough for two people to pass through simultaneously, but not when there are two people standing on either side of the doorway.

    A distant second is people who hold the doors. They’re saving one person a few minutes, and cumulatively costing 500 people an hour.

    Musical performers are pretty annoying too, but I usually wear earplugs on the train anyway.

  23. SEAN says:

    Music blasting & the religious crap are the ones that are at the top of my anoyance list.

    When I travel to the city & points beyond, I often use my backpack to carry such items as food & other nessessities. Being visually challenged, I try to be mindful of where my bag is at all times & not ware it on the subway, but at times the backpack issue cant be avoided. When this issue arises, all one needs to do is say excuse me. I almost never have this issue on the railroads or on busses.

    On the railroads the problem focuses on laptops, book readers & the amusing sounds from text messaging on smart phones. These last few groups don’t bother me so much, infact the sound effects often make me chuckle as I try to figgure out where the sound is coming from.

  24. Russell says:

    “Alright, Showtime, ladies and gentleman, what time is it? … Showtime!”

    Ensue loud music and aerial kicks six inches from my head.

  25. Stephen - NYC says:

    I know this website is about Subways, but this backpack problem exists on the buses too. I see people (not just school kids) doing the same thing all the time. And if you think it’s crowded in a train car, well, it’s bad in a bus too.
    The noise & backpacks are two of the common issues between trains and buses. I just wanted to point it out.

  26. Kevin Walsh says:

    Noisemakers. The Mariachi Brothers, the accordion players, the Gospel Guys, the break dancers, the bucket drummers, the boom box guys… get rid of them all. But you can’t.

  27. John says:

    Everyone seems to be saying that doorblockers are the most annoying, and they most certainly are when they don’t move when the doors open. If someone is standing in front of the door, but moves during times when the train is in the station, that doesn’t bother me at all. The pole hogging, taking up two seats, and nail clipping are far, far worse, in my opinion, because they signify a much deeper social inconsideration. How would you have dealt with this situation, one in which I had to deal with at 6:20am yesterday morning?

    I was on an uptown C train and this woman (I might not be able to call her that because of how she was acting) got on board. She looked to be in her twenties, but was carrying a huge teddy bear. She sat down, threw her things all over the bench, and began yelling loudly about how tired she was. Over, and over. Then she took out a bag of chili-lime flavored sunflower seeds and began shoving them by the handful in her mouth, making sure to spit every seed onto the floor. She continued to whine about how tired she was, and did this for most of the trip, I would say 14 to 59 St. Finally, she sprawled herself horizontally on the bench, kicking her legs in the air in front of the doorway. At around 72 St, a passenger got on with a bag and hit her flailing legs. She screamed, “You hit me with your bag!” and demanded an apology. The guy said sorry, and she glared at him until I got off at 110.

    People in this city are astounding sometimes.

  28. Duke says:

    I’m going to have to go with panhandlers/performers as being the key annoyance. Nothing like having your otherwise peaceful train ride interrupted by people who want your money.

    I find it interesting that rushing onto the train before everyone gets off is a pet peeve. This is one thing I would never have thought to complain about and I really would have no business doing so, because I am frequently guilty of it myself – specifically, if the train is at the point where there are a few seats available but not enough for everyone getting on. Then, it’s like playing musical chairs: first person to reach the seat gets to sit. If the train is empty or packed, then I won’t bother because I gain nothing by doing so.

  29. Ken says:

    This is a good forum to ask this. I sometimes have to go to band practice after work, so I have to lug my bass guitar on the sometimes crowded train with me during rush hour. I hate to do it, but really don’t have much of a choice. I do try to be as respectful as I can, keeping it as out of the way as possible. Is it generally considered an annoyance with people carrying guitars with them?

    • Andrew says:

      The mere fact that you’re asking suggests that it’s not a problem.

      Most inconsiderate people don’t stop to think about whether they’re being inconsiderate – they just don’t care. (I had to climb over a stroller to get off the train today. If you absolutely must bring your stroller onto the subway during rush hour, and you simply cannot fold it up to reduce its footprint, then you can at least rotate it so it doesn’t block the entire aisle.)

      • Miles Bader says:

        One super annoying variant I sometimes run into is the mega-stroller-door-blocker who bring their SUV-sized strollers onto the train—and then stop immediately as soon as they’ve boarded, with this … thing… smack-dab in the middle of the doorway (and people behind them still waiting to get on).

        Once I saw two of these idiots together, who parked themselves and their mega-strollers in the doorway and started to chat… gahhhhh

  30. Ken says:

    Another thing I’ve been noticing is women’s big bags they keep hanging off a shoulder. The kind of bags you might take to the beach. They’re wide enough that they have the same effect as backpacks, extending back as far as some backpacks.

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