Friday, March 19, 2010

Common Courtesy?

Lately, whenever I get on the subway it is pretty jammed. Just as it arrives, before boarding, I sigh slightly with dismay as I gaze at the standees beginning to swell the aisle, and I wonder whether there is enough room for me to get on or am I better off waiting for the next train. For me, anyway, the pressure to be on time is building, as my subway ride arrival needs to be in sync with the next available ferry. Depending on the time of day, missing the ferry could add anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to my commute.

When the already crowded train comes into my station, I try to position myself in the best place for successful boarding. That means getting fairly close to the edge of the platform and recalling about where the train stops, so that I am near an opening door. Everyone moves in slowly. There is surprisingly little pushing or jostling. People are really quite polite, a definite plus.

But here's my gripe. Even on a crowded train, people tend to congregate near the door. You may be straining to board, only to see that actually the aisle is not completely filled, and that if people would move down away from the doors, quite a few more people could board. I have started to follow others' lead on this. If I see people blocking the aisle, preventing more riders from getting on, I will ask in a loud but respectful voice: "Would you please move down so that the rest of us can get on." I have seen others do this, too, but it always seems to startle everyone a bit, as if you're not supposed to make such public demands of others in New York City. Standing there, you get his queasy feeling that maybe you shouldn't have spoken up. Too bad we have to do it at all. What is it, anyway, about subways that prompts people to herd so habitually at the entrances? Below are five possible reasons:

1. I need to be near the door because, after all, I don't want to be stuck in the middle of the aisle when it's time to get off.
2. The farther I get from the door, the more congested it feels.
3. Sheer obliviousness. There is a fair amount of that in New York.
4. Why should I move down. No one else is doing it.
5. As long as I'm on, that's all that matters. Let those other poor schmoes wait for the next train.

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