A young mother boarded the train, holding the hand of a toddler who was pulling her arm energetically and looking ready to bolt. I stood up and offered my seat. The mom quietly thanked me, sat, and plopped the boy on her lap, tightly wrapping both arms around him.
At the next stop, the conductor hit the breaks and I veered forward, stopping myself just before I smashed into the young man standing in the aisle alongside me.
Okay- I may be a bit sub par in coordination and balance. Plus I also worry about safety more than the average gal. But I always follow the valuable instructions I found on SEPTA’s website regarding safe train travel and I hold on tight to a pole or seat rail and I also keep my feet shoulder width apart with knees slightly bent.
Clumsy or not, I am a competent and safety conscious commuter.
If I were in a car, of course, the rules would be different. I’d be expected to wear a seat belt and that energetic toddler would be harnessed into a federally approved safety seat.
I do abhor the train. But it is not because of how deeply I hate having to stand in a moving vehicle.
The reason I despise the train is because the rules are different there, and I don’t mean the rules about seat belts. It is the rules of human interaction that differ and that lead to my disappointment in fellow travelers, every single day.
The woman with the toddler walked past four rows of seats before reaching me. She passed 16 seats, whose occupants kept their eyes straight ahead. Burly men in work coveralls, professional women in business attire, and students in school uniforms, all avoided eye contact with a woman who seriously needed a seat.
Eyes straight ahead is the rule, not the exception, on the rush hour train. People move like worker ants through the turnstiles, file into the train from the platform, and with their eyes glued to the morning newspaper or to the bright screen of a smart phone, they completely ignore everyone around them.
I have stood on the train, without a seat to give, alongside a very pregnant woman, an elderly woman with a cane, and another mother and child, while others sat with eyes straight ahead.
The Urban Dictionary calls this phenomenon Tube-face, named for the London subway system, the Tube. The fact that this is an international phenomenon, and not unique to Philly and South Jersey, makes me worry more.
But I am not accepting the Tube-face status quo. I will be the change I want to see on the train and I am making it my mission to model and exemplify good old-fashioned common courtesy.
“Achoo,” the woman sitting in front of me sneezed loudly. Both instinctively and purposely, I replied with a heartfelt “Bless you!” I was the only rider in the car to speak. But the sneezer, seated inches in front of me, did not reply. But since she and I have similar commute times, we will share a train again, sooner or later and cold season is coming. In time, I will break her down.
“Excuse me,” I said when I accidentally bumped a seated man with my purse as I walked down the aisle. He did not respond. I considered hitting him again with my purse, so I could apologize again. Maybe next time.
Thankfully, during this crusade to bring manners to the Tube-faced commuters, I have also witnessed a splash of courtesy. I have seen mannered folk offer their seats to those in need. And exiting the PATCO station last night, the man in front of me lingered to hold the door.
And once, a teenager even offered his seat to me! On the El train, I was swaying as I held on tight to a pole, knees bent, of course. “Ma’am,” he said politely, “would you like to sit here?”
Once safely seated, I smiled at the young man. But he did not respond, eyes forward. I realized, with disappointment, that he may not have abandoned his seat for the sake of manners alone.
Instead, he may have given up his seat in the simple hope that I would not fall on him.
But clumsy or not, I will continue to spread manners and courtesy on public transit! So look for me on your area trains, buses, and trolleys!!
But for your own safety, be prepared to offer me your seat!
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