Home View from Underground Photo: On the matter of subway seat etiquette

Photo: On the matter of subway seat etiquette

by Benjamin Kabak

On the way home from Yankee Stadium on Friday night, I had the chance to enjoy one of those quintessential subway experiences, and the photo above was my surreptitious attempt to capture the moment in all of its glory. The woman who has decided to take up three subway seats was not sleeping when I snapped the photo. She was putzing around with her iPod while shouting across the car to her traveling companions.

From Yankee Stadium until I got off at Nevins St., this woman sat splayed across three seats. As other riders came and went, many in search of a seat on a relatively crowded train, she would not move. At various points, she had both feet up on the seats, and when someone would approach about the empty seat, she would glower at them and then laugh as they went off elsewhere in search of a sit.

I wondered how it came to this. Why do people think they can hog seats? Where are our manners underground? Where was the cop to give this woman a summons for her rude behavior? No one had the audacity to say anything. We, like the woman next to her in my photo, just stared and pursed our lips. It was an utter breach of underground etiquette.

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Andrew May 15, 2012 - 4:20 pm

Sadly, nothing about any of this is surprising. There are people who want to live in society and those who don’t care. These people litter, blast music in their cars (at a level where it is too loud for those outside of the car), don’t pick up after their dogs, and yet somehow have no problem letting the rest of the world know when they believe others are in violation of etiquette.

Andrew May 15, 2012 - 10:19 pm

I agree, and not only because we have the same name.

publicadmin031568 May 15, 2012 - 4:35 pm

take it from who it comes….

John-2 May 15, 2012 - 4:43 pm

It’s kind of a companion issue to the broken window theory or (from a subway angle) going after turnstile jumpers. If you don’t enforce the rules when they’re brazenly violated here — when the car’s seating is full, as opposed to ticketing someone on an empty subway car at 2 in the morning — you’re going to get more violations in the future.

It may not send the system back to the dark days of the 1970s-early 80s, but it would be the same lack of concern/enforcement that allowed the tagging epidemic to spread 40 years ago.

Kid Twist May 15, 2012 - 4:49 pm

She actually did two things that drive me up a wall. She had her legs on the bench — bad enough. But I also absolutely hate it when people yell across the car at each other instead of sitting adjacent and talking relatively quietly.

AK May 15, 2012 - 5:08 pm

These people know that all they have to do is indicate that they might just be a little unstable and it’s enough to deter anyone from confronting them. Most people don’t want to take the risk that they’re completely insane and violent. Most are just jerks, but you never know when they might be a nutjob with a knife (or worse). Sucks, but it works. Definitely need more enforcement on the trains.

Spendmore Wastemore May 15, 2012 - 9:56 pm

Yeah, but the dangerous one don’t advertise so clearly, they’d rather get people by surprise.

Just for the ** of it, 2-3 people could sit on the edge of the seat she’s playing occupy MTA with. “You sure that’s your leg? How’d it get onto our seat.”

Good photo.

E May 15, 2012 - 8:22 pm

Did anyone ask her to move? That would be a good place to start if one needs a seat.

mark May 15, 2012 - 9:25 pm

“when someone would approach about the empty seat, she would glower at them and then laugh as they went off elsewhere in search of a sit.”

John Doe May 15, 2012 - 10:34 pm

That’s what Tasers were made for, i bet she would have complied after a shock or two!!

Marsha May 16, 2012 - 10:01 am

I love this website.

Bolwerk May 16, 2012 - 3:26 pm

I really just feel sorry for people who do that about as often as I feel annoyed by it. It’s one thing when it’s some fat, lazy cow, but it’s another thing when it’s a clearly downtrodden homeless person who smells like piss.

Though anybody not in the latter condition who puts their feet up deserves a severe beating.

Matthias May 16, 2012 - 8:45 am

Who even wants to sit there after her feet have been all over it? I also can’t stand parents who let their kids stand on the seat to look out the window. This is why I never sit down on the subway anymore.

You have to be careful about confronting rude people. When someone is hogging seats, blocking doors, etc. it’s usually an indication that they’re an a&&hole. (One door-blocker yelled at exiting customers to stop jostling him, to which one helpfully suggested that he not block the doorway. His response: a loud curse and a swing at the guy.) Unfortunately, until cops start enforcing the rules, this virtually guarantees that they get away with it.

Andrew May 16, 2012 - 8:57 am

So what does it take to get the cops to do their job?

pete May 16, 2012 - 9:15 am

Put your feet up between the hours of 9 PM and 6 AM and you’ll be hauled off the train. http://gothamist.com/2010/01/2.....rs_usi.php

nycpat May 16, 2012 - 10:12 am

Ticket quotas. It takes ticket quotas to get cops to do their job.

Jim D. May 16, 2012 - 12:07 pm

It takes having enough cops to increase the likelihood that this young woman and others like her would be ticketed for this behavior. Social pressure from fellow passengers can no longer be counted on when the average citizen fears being attacked for speaking up and cannot count on others coming to their aid.

Older and Wiser May 16, 2012 - 7:18 pm

Let me guess. This happened on the 4 train, where a critical mass of the underclass sets the behavioral rules during non-rush hours. In that juristiction, it’s the polite, considerate middle claSS riders who are out of step, and who had better watch their Ps and Qs.

Just one of many reason’s middle class east siders can’t wait for the SAS to enter service. And why the last thing they they would ever want to see would be a SAS phase two that linked up with the 4 train at 125th street.

Al D May 16, 2012 - 9:45 am

Part of the urban landscape…

The Cobalt Devil May 16, 2012 - 10:33 am

One of the many reasons why I’m leaving NYC. An absolute lack of any kind of etiquette when New Yorkers come together. I’ve had tatted-up gang members say “please” and “thank you” when riding the LA subway/light rail. One rough-looking dude on the Gold Line to East LA started chatting me up and recommended a restaurant to me. He could not have been nicer. I took his advice and had a great lunch.

There are many in NYC (and sadly, it’s usually the young ladies) who take a perverse pleasure in being nasty and confrontational. Oh well, moot point for me. I’m outta here in three weeks.

Grim Loxz May 16, 2012 - 3:11 pm

I think I’m right behind you Cobalt…

Bolwerk May 16, 2012 - 3:28 pm

The difference between LA and NYC: in NYC, the gang members are the least polite. In LA, they’re the most. :-O

The Cobalt Devil May 17, 2012 - 9:51 am

Seriously though, as a native NYer, it was surreal. This tatted-up, shaved-headed dude looked liked he’d cut your throat to look at you. Then he turns around, says “good morning” and asks me where I’m from! This was the week the Gold Line extension into East Los Angeles opened, and I guess the riders were all happy to have a new train in the ‘hood for the first time in 50 years.

Anyhew, when he finds out I’m visiting from NYC, he’s all like “cool, man” and asks if I like tacos. When i reply yes, he recommends a great taco joint at the Mariachi Plaza station (I kid you not) and when I get off at that stop he says “welcome to LA man” in that gorgeous East LA accent. I practically skipped off the train with a big smile on my face, and went to the taco joint. It was awesome.

In my 35+ years of riding NYC subways and buses, I’ve barely had anyone crack a smile at me, never mind open up a full discussion.

Matthias May 17, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Wow, that’s a great story. I wonder if that’s typical. There are plenty of friendly people on the train uptown (Harlem, Washington Heights) but West Coasters do have the reputation for being more chill.

jj May 16, 2012 - 4:19 pm

the great unwashed

Daniel Howard May 16, 2012 - 7:33 pm

Subway riders know to give the mentally disturbed their space.

UESider May 16, 2012 - 8:54 pm

people that do things like this either have a screw loose or a chip on their shoulder. its a power issue, not an etiquette problem.

the police cant be at every corner to nab nonsense like this, at least, i would not favor increasing payroll to have enough beat cops to ticket every spitting, annoying person.

my daily commute experience is similar but quite worse…
the 2/3 coming through Brooklyn picks up a heavy set, unhappy bunch that tend to sit every other seat and overhang mightily on each side. this leaves almost every other seat empty with only enough space for the most waft and undiscriminating of types

its nearly infuriating to see a car full of empty seats under the glare of 30 seated and hostile seated passengers

i once attempted to squeeze into a seat only to have the two characters on each side scoot together a bit to further narrow the gap as i started to sit.

i’ve actually started going to work later to avoid this crowd.

Phantom May 16, 2012 - 9:14 pm

This behavior makes anyone angry, buton my ( R train centered ) travels I don’t see i that often.
Anyone doing this should be arrested of course.

Mistral May 20, 2012 - 4:37 pm

Living in the Bronx, you get a lot of this type of person and I’ve learned that usually if you have the audacity to actually oppose them they typically back off. I’ve plopped right down next to this kind of asshole plenty of times; after all, if they don’t care that you can’t sit, I don’t care if I sit on their foot. 🙂


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