Public Transportation: Where Civilized Society Goes To Die


I will begin here by admitting that, in writing this, I am somewhat bitter. Even when compared against my life of relatively zesty experiences with subways, buses, and the like, today was a day that will live in infamy. Within a 20 minute span, I witnessed/experienced the following three sins against humanity:

  • An older man who, upon deciding that the young man who rushed past a group of women to get on the train was unforgivably rude, decided to hurl insults and expletives at said young man for the next three stations. I will admit that, at least through the first station, I was mostly thinking, “Hey, you go, old guy. Stick it to him!” But by the end, it’s safe to say that the entire subway car wanted to just shoot the beet-red young guy with a tranquilizer dart or something to put him out of his misery.
  • A (handsome — why, God, why the handsome ones?), extremely normal-looking man who approached me on a platform to ask how much I paid for my sandals, insisting that it was “not for [him], but for his girlfriend.” Before I had time to properly assess the bizarre nature of the question or consider how much I actually paid, the man proceeded to reach down and TOUCH MY TOE to show me where she was “handicapped.” As I was reacting to his affront with a more-than-indignant “Hey, don’t do that,” he scuttled away like some perverted crab, presumably to go fervently masturbate to a Tom’s catalog.
  • A young woman seated across from me, openly picking her boogers/eye crusties and flicking them onto the floor with impunity, undeterred by the stone-cold look of “What the fuck is wrong with you?” that I was throwing her for a solid six stations.

And these indiscretions are far from a rarity. I can think of few rides I’ve taken on public transportation in which everyone was considerate, polite, and quiet. More often than not, the ride is a cacophony of people bleating on their cellphones, couples doing esophageal exams on one another with their tongues, messy eating, or just general impoliteness. How many times has someone pushed past someone else? Not given their seat up to an elderly or handicapped person? Let a door slam in someone’s face behind them? The answer is all. the. goddamn. time. People just devolve into a pack of rabid hyenas on subways and buses, as though whatever behavior they’re so brazenly exhibiting within the confines of this moving vehicle does not count on the outside world.

No one’s perfect. We’ve all done things we wished we hadn’t in the company of strangers — been too short with someone, left a mess, talked too loudly — none of us can truly judge. But we should all be making a collective effort to at least pretend to be human beings with one another while on the train. The thing is, most of the people you see being unbelievable messes while on public transport are totally normal, cool, collected people in their day-to-day lives. There is just something about that urine-and-cleaning products smell that makes even the most dignified citizens turn into malicious baboons that are only too happy to push someone else out of the way to secure a spot on the car as the train closes its doors.

Yet while these acts are clearly unacceptable, that doesn’t mean we have to spend our morning commutes in stoic silence, either. Applying makeup, eating a light, mess-free snack, quietly talking to someone else — these are all acceptable public transportation behaviors. I am not a person with a particularly sensitive or small personal bubble; I can hang. But as someone who has seen a young man eat an entire box of takeout curry in a crowded subway car on a 90-degree day, I can confirm that remaining within reasonable boundaries with these activities is an uphill battle. We do not realize the depths to which the human soul can sink until we see them in a bad mood on a bus ride.

I come to you humbly, dear reader. I ask you to come forth and share your horror stories about public transportation in the comments section, so that we might all lick our wounds together. It is up to each of us to move forward into a brighter, more considerate future, in which a busy train ride is no longer something to be so roundly feared and reviled. I believe that, together, we can one day live in a world in which all people, big and small, rich and poor, can say to themselves “Hey. Some poor, unfortunate soul is going to be pancaked into my armpit on the ride to work today. Maybe I should put on some deodorant this morning.”

Thank you for your time.

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image – Pedro Simoes