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Wide White: The not-so-passive-aggressive bus rider

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The not-so-passive-aggressive bus rider

I've been riding a bus or train to work and other places for 4.5 years in the Twin Cities. I've lived in 3 different places during this time and have taken pretty much every type of route imaginable. I frequent both express buses carrying mostly office workers and local buses carrying a much more diverse group. I've taken every type of route at all hours that buses and trains run.

I often deal with passive-aggressiveness on the bus. Just yesterday I leaned my seat back, something I don't normally do except when I'm on 4 hours of sleep and nobody is sitting behind me. A woman sat down behind me shortly after that and opened up a newspaper, letting it rest on my head. After a few minutes of this - including page turns that swiped across my head - I started to think it was her passive-aggressive way of telling me she wanted me to sit my seat up. I just put on a hat so I didn't feel the newspaper, which I suppose was my passive-aggressive way of saying no.

But it's rare that I see any direct confrontation on a bus. Minnesota Nice tends to win out around here.

Today was a different day.

I get on the bus at its first stop of the day, so I always have a window seat. A few stops later as the bus fills up, someone usually takes up a seat next to me.

Bus seats are narrow. My estimate for the seat width of the bus I was on this morning was no wider than 36 inches, or 18 inches per person, and that's a generous estimate. By comparison, most coach airline seats are 17-18 inches wide per person.

I'm pushing 6'4". Leaning into windows and rubbing shoulders with my fellow passengers is a way of life on the bus. I normally sit in a seat that can be easily folded up to fit a wheelchair in its space. This seat offers at least 4-6 inches of extra leg room, which is a huge win for a tall guy. This seat also doesn't have two separate seat cushions, a fact that will matter in just a minute.

As the masses filed onto the bus this morning I began my daily wish that nobody would choose to sit next to me. This rarely works since I'm not overweight enough to dissuade people from sitting next to me. There's ample room in the seat next to me and being close to the front of the bus, it's usually taken quickly.

Sure enough, a guy about my size came hobbling onto the bus with crutches. I was in the first seat available to him, just 4 rows back and with plenty of leg room for him to stretch his bum leg. He plopped next to me - and I do mean "plopped."

There are three types of bus riders: 1.) those who maintain a space of at least 1 inch at all times between them and the person seated next to them, even if it means hanging off the edge of their seat, 2.) those who sit in the middle of their seat, unafraid to rub shoulders but attempting to make the best of the small space we're afforded, and 3.) those who think they own the entire seat and are being inconvenienced by needing to share it with anyone else.

This man fit the third category. His plop included mashing himself into my right leg, shoulder, and arm. "Great," I thought, "one of those guys..." But hey, the guy was on crutches and was probably just unsteady. No big deal, right?

As soon as the guy sat down, he slid away from me by about 4 inches, turned to me and said, "You're sitting on my seat."

Okay, this is a new one. In 4.5 years of riding the bus, nobody has ever said this before. I was about as jammed as I could be into the left side of the bus. My arm was resting on the window sill instead of the arm rest. If I mashed my body into the arm rest I could spare him a half-inch of my seat, maybe an inch if he's lucky. I could contort my body. I could...wait a minute, none of these are reasonable options. I was sitting squarely in my seat. I'd even shifted my legs to the left when he sat down so we they weren't invading any of his space.

I managed to respond with something like, "What do you mean?"

He was indignant and obviously upset. He pointed to the middle of the seat and repeated, "You're sitting on my seat!"

Part of the strap of the bag in my lap had fallen a couple of inches into his seat. I picked it up in case that was the offense and just responded with something like, "I'm sitting in my seat; I'm not sitting in your seat."

In a huff, he got up, spun around, and sat down in the seat behind me.

I started wondering whether the guy was right. Was I really taking up too much space? Had my broad shoulders gotten the best of me? Was there more to my 220 pounds than I thought?

I looked at the divider in the back rest that separated the two back cushions on the seat. My torso was definitely not invading his space. An argument could be made for my shoulders, but with 16-18 inches, that's a given for pretty much any passenger over 5'10". I double checked the cushion I was sitting on. It didn't have a divider since it was a solid cushion but again, I was squarely lined up in my seat. I started to wonder if the guy had assumed the seat cushion had a divider and because he couldn't see it, I must be taking up too much space.

Somewhere in the 3 seconds it took for this to run through my mind I heard him tell the woman in the seat behind me, "You're in my seat."

Ah, so that's how it goes. This guy just has issues. Okay, this could be interesting.

She sounded as confused as I had been and just responded, "What?"

He repeated, "You're sitting on my seat."

Unfortunately I couldn't tell you what happened after that as I didn't hear any words exchanged. He sounded exasperated with his last statement, as if he was the only person smart enough to figure out where people should be sitting and he was just going to have to give up on saving the rest of humanity that was packed onto that bus from their ignorance of proper bus seating.

All I could do was shake my head and keep on riding. At the next stop someone did sit next to me. They had ample room and in fact, we didn't even need to brush shoulders. Of course, it helped that she wasn't about the same size as me, wasn't wearing an over-sized coat and didn't have crutches.

I wanted to turn around as I got off the bus at my stop and just say, "I hope you have a better day," but I knew better. I could never have said that without a smug look that communicated something much different.

I'm just glad it took me 4.5 years of using mass transit to come across a guy like that.

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Blogger Reuben declared,

Oh, neat. That sounds like a great experience. I kind of miss my bus riding days....

1/27/2011 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

You wouldn't enjoy putting your seat back in front of me. I'd bang your seat with my knee until you turned around and then I'd tell you why.

There is absolutely no reason to do that on a bus or a plane. Ever.

It's almost as rude as talking on your mobile for more than the 5 seconds it takes to tell the person coming to get you that you're almost to the transit station.

1/27/2011 7:09 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Bill, there are probably a lot of things I wouldn't enjoy doing around you.

I rarely lean my seat back at all. I reserve it for cases where I'm feeling sick or tired and instances where either nobody's sitting behind me or the person behind me is small and won't be inconvenienced. I'm tall and have dealt with people leaning their seats back into my knees and I push back to let them know they've leaned too far. But if they aren't leaning into me they're not bothering me and there's no reason for me to care.

If I had my seat leaned back and wasn't touching you and you banged your knees into me for no reason other than the fact that you don't like the seat leaned back, I'd have a very different opinion about which of us is being rude.

1/27/2011 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

My knees touch the seats on MVTA coach buses unless I'm in the row you speak of (the handicapped row).

And as you know rarely am I not rude. ;-)

1/28/2011 6:25 AM  
Anonymous heather declared,

Yeah I'm thinking he may have had some MH issues. BUT I did have a good laugh at you explaining your story and trying to figure out how you could have been in his seat ;-)

Maybe because I'm small, I figure someone is tired or have had a bad day if they need more space or need to lean their seat back... rest away!

2/01/2011 10:27 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

"I figure someone is tired or have had a bad day if they need more space or need to lean their seat back... rest away!"

I need to remember that when it's the person in front of me leaning their seat back, because it's probably true more often than not. I tend to be more annoyed like Bill when I'm the one behind the seat that's laid down.

2/04/2011 11:16 AM  

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