Home View from Underground Subway etiquette, or why is this man sitting on the floor of the 1 train using his laptop?

Subway etiquette, or why is this man sitting on the floor of the 1 train using his laptop?

by Benjamin Kabak

Why is this man sitting on the floor of a 1 train with his laptop open?

Earlier this week, amidst the brouhaha of the mayoral campaign, the above image hit the Internet, and it immediately created a stir. Why is this man sitting in front of a door on an obviously crowded 1 train while working on his laptop? The doors will inevitably open, and he will inevitably be the one sitting on the floor as though everyone can just walk around him.

The comments on Reddit were not kind, and then the subject of the photo showed up to defend himself. From there, it got ugly. His response was equally as galling as the public shaming that ensued ahead of it:

Some background: I’m wrapping up my PhD thesis. In parallel, I started a new job, my wife went back to school, and we have a new baby (second kid). My wife and I generally sleep 3-4 hours on a good night. Rest of the time is work, work, work, weekends included, with the exception of one free weeknight a week each of us gets in order to preserve some meager amount of sanity.

This means I could either get some work done on the subway or reduce the aforementioned amount of sleep even further. (BTW, at this specific instant I am reviewing the latest comments my adviser gave to my method section.) Usually I manage to get a sit but I got delayed at daycare this morning, hence this pitiful situation. I apologize for inconveniencing you- personally, I did not feel that the train was so packed (the aisle was quite empty). I switched to a sit at 72nd St.

Anyhow, have a good day and I hope poor sods such as myself will be your greatest sources of consternation in life. And to all of the worried parties, the subway floor is relatively clean (you discover this when your toddler throws a temper tantrum on it…). As far as I can see my pants are fine.

So who’s worse: the people who refuse to ask him to move or the obnoxiously holier-than-thou response to the obnoxiously holier-than-thou actions? It’s a tough call, but I can’t say this guy’s reasoning rings anything more than hollow. Millions of people ride the subway to and from work, and millions of people have busy lives, families and obligations. New Yorkers like to say the world revolves around them, but this guy is putting it into practice. He’s sitting on the subway floor of one of the crowded train lines in the city at rush hour, and as the picture was apparently taken outside, he did this from at least 125th St. down to 72nd St. It’s not considerate, but I’m not the final arbiter of subway manners. What say you?

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Todd Schultz September 10, 2013 - 11:56 pm

This guy is a tool. He’s being blatantly inconsiderate.

LP September 11, 2013 - 12:06 am


It’s a little annoying and he’s going to get kneed in the shoulder for his troubles, but if the train isn’t totally jampacked, for me this just isn’t the end of the world.

Todd Schultz September 11, 2013 - 2:12 am

If he’s that engrossed in this laptop, you know he’s not getting up when those doors open behind him. People trying to exit will have to maneuver around him and those entering the train won’t be able to see him until they’re on top of him. His “I’m so busy” excuse is horseshit. He’s trying to excuse being a self-centered ass in a crowded city and he needs to get over himself. He’s too busy? Boo-fucking-hoo. He needs to off Reddit and manage his time better.

Brandon September 11, 2013 - 8:09 am

I dont know the 1 train, but theres places with long stretches of platforms on one side of the train or the other.

Tower18 September 11, 2013 - 10:28 am

Very true. It needn’t be 125th St depicted in the photo. Could be anywhere north of Dyckman St. And if so, from 242 St all the way to 96 St, the doors open on one side only. If he was on the other side, he’s not in the way of a soul. He is taking up too much room though.

Yeah he’s being an idiot, but he may not have been quite as in the way as it appears. Still doesn’t excuse the behavior though.

llqbtt September 11, 2013 - 10:36 am

My guess is the Harlem Valley viaduct, and perhaps even south of a buck 25

Daniel Howard September 16, 2013 - 7:23 pm

Amen! This dude is an eccentric creating a minor inconvenience on a not-packed train. If the car were at crush capacity then he would be a ginormous asshole and probably receive multiple blows to the head. In other words, this is a problem which solves itself. Some people (like this blog?) maybe have more time on their hands than useful content.


Kevin P. September 11, 2013 - 12:26 am

Much ado about not much of anything. What troubles me more is that a man working on his PhD thesis apparently doesn’t know how to write the word “seat.”

Chris C September 11, 2013 - 3:21 am

Strange use of the term ‘pitiful situation’

I can think of far, far more people in situations that do deserve pity but this isn’t one of them.

Eric September 11, 2013 - 3:49 am

He grew up in a non-English-speaking country.

Billy G September 11, 2013 - 3:10 pm

Actually, by his use of the word ‘sod’, I’d infer one of the following two possibilities:

1. He actually grew up in the UK, the origin and home of the English language.

2. He learned English from a British English teacher.

I’m leaning toward #1.

Also, he’s doing what any New Yawker should be doing by maximizing his time. That picture is a still capture, frozen in time. You don’t know what level of disruption he may have caused or not.

Lynn Somerstein September 11, 2013 - 7:30 am

Clearly it’s all about him. This guy needs a reality check and an introduction to common courtesy and safety rules- he is endangering the other passengers, not just inconveniencing them.

patrick March 9, 2015 - 2:40 pm

I think that this is an example of the general attitude here in NYC. If you can get away with it, just go ahead and do it. If the bum can sleep layed out on the bench taking up 4 spots, then I am going to sit rather than stand. If you are upset about it enough to cause a ruckus, then by all means confront me and start screaming so I can record you and put you on youtube. Morals don’t exist here, politeness doesn’t exist. Two months after moving here I no longer looked up at women, gave up my seat, or waited for another human being. Welcome to the colony, prepare to be treated like ants people. Yeah Future!!!!

John September 11, 2013 - 7:36 am

If I had entered the train at that door and saw him there, sheesh, the tongue-lashing he would have received from me.

Jonathan September 11, 2013 - 8:07 am

I know the photo subject and his family and he’s not exaggerating. If we were on the subway together I think I would suggest that he not sit on the floor however.

Seth September 11, 2013 - 8:25 am

Lots of people are busy, lots of people have newborns who don’t sleep, lots of people don’t get time to relax. That’s not an excuse to inconvenience others and make a spectacle of yourself.

In the NY I grew up in he’d have been kicked half to death inside of five minutes. His survival to become a minor media celebrity is progress for NY, I guess.

lawhawk September 11, 2013 - 9:24 am

Everyone is busy. People are always rushing to their destinations. People take the subway. No one would be complaining if he was doing this from a proper seat, but he’s taken up key space in the middle of a car near the doors. It makes it tough for others to get on or off, and can slow down the train route by increasing dwell times at stations where people from that car have to squeeze in around him. That makes a whole lot of people late for getting to their destinations, including those on trains that follow the one he’s on.

That makes his presence tough to swallow, even with his rationalization.

Now imagine if there was some kind of emergency on the train. His actions could potentially bring harm to himself and others.

Inconsiderate. So say we all.

SEAN September 11, 2013 - 9:48 am

Inconsiderate. So say we all.
True, but that’s all it is & nothing more.

R2 September 11, 2013 - 9:49 am

Meh. Could be worse. It could be “showtime” for instance. I’d only take offense if he complained about being kicked around when folks board or depart the train.

Simon September 11, 2013 - 10:11 am

I love it when people demand sympathy for their personal choices. No one’s forcing him to get a Ph.D., have two kids, or sit on the floor in the subway.

Mad Park September 12, 2013 - 9:01 pm

Thanks you Simon. When will we learn NOT to bite off more than we can chew?

Gorski September 11, 2013 - 10:18 am

If the aisle was “quite empty” he should have sat there and annoyed a lot fewer people.

Eric September 11, 2013 - 10:25 am

When I’m going through a doorway and somebody is coming in the other direction, I usually wait for them before I enter. But sometimes I’m in a hurry and rush through the door first. I try to be polite and deferential to people most of the time, and in return, I expect that occasionally they will make room for me, when I really need it.

I think that is exactly the situation here. This PhD student likely saves half an hour of work and thus sleep each way, and probably inconveniences people for no more than a couple seconds at each stop. If he caused so much trouble, why didn’t they ask him to move? Also, this isn’t exactly a permanent situation. Anyone who doesn’t understand why new parents should receive extra consideration should see the following cartoon: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2002-07-31/ 🙂

There are many other types of people who take up more than “their share” of space on the subway. Obese people – do you tell them to lose weight? Moderately disabled people – do you tell them to limp on crutches rather than bring their wheelchairs on board? Airport travelers – do you yell at them for bringing suitcases? If you do – well, let’s just say I find your behavior much more distasteful than the PhD student’s.

llqbtt September 11, 2013 - 10:34 am

The correct word in the Ph D candidate’s response is s e a t ,not sit, I got a ‘seat’ at 72 St. This appears twice. This will help in the Ph D part however, since the chap has clearly bitten off more than he can chew in his life, he’s probably got a lot more to worry about than sitting on the floor in the middle of a subway car.

Oh, and dear sir, a MacBook Air would be a much better work tool in this circumstance! That laptop of yours looks big and clunky. Take that first pay check and celebrate!

And lastly…sitting on the train floor in light colored pants?…yeesh!

Billy G September 11, 2013 - 3:12 pm

I also understand that “git” is spelt ‘g-i-t’

He’s obviously typing slang. It’s no more annoying than texter kiddies.

Eric September 12, 2013 - 3:23 am

No, he’s a biology PhD and English is his second language. I suspect “sit” and “seat” sound the same in his accent. So it’s an actual grammatical error, but quite excusable.

Margaret September 11, 2013 - 12:01 pm

His response swayed me… I don’t see how this is any worse than a parent with a ginormous stroller blocking space in front of the doors… fighting the irritation at their overuse of space and in-the-way-ness and slow roadblockiness up the stairs is just part of my day. Think to myself, man, this person is annoying for me to be around, but I bet the inconvenience is a lot heavier for them than for me.

Miles Bader September 13, 2013 - 6:40 pm

Er, sure it’s no worse than an SUV-stroller, but that’s pretty faint praise!

To be honest though, I don’t think it’s a huge deal. This guy is a douchebag, that’s clear, but in the end it’s a self-correcting situation: if the train’s not so crowded, people can deal (maybe he’ll get a few kicks and knees to the head); if the train’s crowded, on the other hand, this guy and his laptop will get what’s coming to them, and it’s very likely he won’t try it again…

Spendmore Wastemore September 11, 2013 - 12:35 pm

Yeah, he’s a bit of a tool.
Also a bit of a masochist. Floor of a subway car? 2-4 hours of sleep, for less than, eh, seven figures?
But he doesn’t bother me. His basic problem is he’s overworked so much he’s lost (or maybe never had) a clue or perspective.

What does bother me is the poor, dear homeless guy who pulled a knife on the streetside bookseller (himself probably one step away from homeless) and helped himself to a few books. Cops were not interested.

Or the other homeless guy casing out the 18-24 women through the Starbucks window. Daylight, too many witnesses, he’ll have to wait for a better opportunity if one shows up while his drugs are working.

Or the violent career criminal which yet another “charitable” organization had housed in Union Square, a place full of those conditioned never to interfere with a crime in progress. Sorry Jeff Babbitt, your life was less important than the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services’s desire to house felons in a target-rich environment.

Those people bother me. A somewhat annoying, overworked taxpayer applying himself to work even harder and properly raise a family is not what’s wrong with this town… unless he gets political and works to put the cops back in the station house and more punks carrying weapons on the streets. Then he’s a problem.

#grumble #hellinabasket

John-2 September 11, 2013 - 1:19 pm

End door. If he’s going to sit down on the floor to use his laptop, at least he could have positioned himself at one of the ends of the car instead of in the middle (and judging from the light coming into the train, it’s either around 125th or north of Dyckman. Either way, assuming he’s not getting off at Columbia, that’s a long ride down to Midtown for people trying to enter and exit the car to have their way blocked by a guy in front of the door).

Robert LaMarca September 11, 2013 - 2:27 pm

seriously… is it really worth all this attention?

Charles September 11, 2013 - 4:41 pm

Honestly, although I think it would be hard to be genuinely productive in this situation, it doesn’t bother me, as long as he lets people step over him to get on and off.

Jimb0 September 11, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Here’s hoping his Ph.D. thesis doesn’t involve studying [sit]ting in [seat]s.

If Ph.D. candidates can’t write using basic english, where is the world headed?

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 8:43 pm

In very good directions. Hi. My Ph.D. class included plenty of people with less than perfect English, some of whom make lots of mistakes in early drafts of their papers. The quality of the math in their papers is no worse than that of native Anglophones and some of them have published in very good journals and have multiple top universities fighting over them.

Beebo September 11, 2013 - 6:14 pm

Inconsiderate, but — this weekend a bunch of guys transporting a kitchen table and chairs. Needless to say, they were seated in their chairs with the table on its four legs, between the left & right doors. They’d look exactly the same if we walked into their kitchen.

Thus suggesting — everything in degrees.

Howard September 11, 2013 - 8:11 pm

Can you actually get anything done while riding the subway? I mean it moves alot and well, it can be difficult at times I think.

Alon Levy September 11, 2013 - 8:51 pm

I’ve written papers on my laptop riding the subway. But in a seat.

Spiderpig September 12, 2013 - 8:35 am

I just considered, why wouldn’t he be leaning against the door if he was on the side that doesn’t open for many stations? It makes me think he is on the opening side. But at the the time this picture was taken, the car was not very crowded.

Bklyn September 12, 2013 - 2:30 pm

Ah, the self absorbed. Gotta love them. What would this city be without them? I have news for this knucklehead. We’re all busy and we all have pressure on us. It doesn’t give any of us the right to behave like him.

If I was on the train, I would ask him nicely to get up. If he didn’t, I would ask him again. If he didn’t, I’d pick him up by the collar on his shirt and throw him off the train.

Neil September 17, 2013 - 10:10 pm

I have a strong feeling that this guy isn’t all too stupid and is sitting on the side of the car where the doors don’t open (most of the time only the doors on one side open). This is further backed up by the fact that the woman behind him is casually leaning on the door. Yes, there are signs specifically prohibiting that, but has any New Yorker in history ever bothered to read those signs and obey their commands? I think not. In any case, I wouldn’t sit on the floor. I’d either not use my laptop at all or move around between cars to find a seat.

Joe Shmo September 22, 2013 - 12:41 am

eh…to me, I can somewhat identify with this a bit.

I have a rare condition where I am missing a minor connective bone in both my feet. Its sort of like a connecting rod between the ball and the Achilles Heel that’s supposed to develop within the first few years…apparently, I never did.

Its minor, but I have major pains if I stand for more than a few minutes, and have gotten my foot infected once from the severity of the stress on my bones. I couldnt leave my apartment for weeks… Ever since that episode, I make sure to give my feet breaks if I am standing up too long.

Sometimes, I need to be able to sit. Yet, since I’m in my early 20’s, I get very odd and obnoxious stares, especially if someone elderly is nearby and I do not give up my seat. And yes, I occasionally do sit on the floor when the pain gets too great.

People are too quick to judge others. We’re supposed to live in a more tolerant society, but it seems to be that we live in a society tolerant only when something is utterly apparent, and extra intolerant otherwise.


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