Seizing the Plastic Throne of Power and Other Public Transit Strategem


With all of the university researchers here in Pittsburgh, it's surprising that more anthropologists don't take advantage of the hotbed of human study that trundles along our city streets daily...

Public Transit.

Really, the PAT buses are a microcosm of human behavior, ripe for examination!

So today, let's put on our pith helmets, fill our canteens, and wind our way along these roadway research meccas to observe one of the most complex of bus commute rituals:

The strange and wondrous Commuter Seating Hierarchy.

No, it just wouldn't be a proper examination of bus culture without analyzing the rider's deep-rooted and majestic struggle for individualism and self-expression through seat selection.

Yet, for all of its subtleties, the unspoken law for PAT regulars is a surprisingly simple one:

The more space you can take up, the higher your social importance in the community.

This is what we will call the individual's "Ride-Time Status" or "RTS."

Now, there are several observable ways riders can raise their RTS. The most popular involves positioning as much of the body as possible in a direction perpendicular to the way the bus designers actually intended passengers to sit.

For instance, if a seat lines the side of the bus, serious riders looking to increase their RTS will sit in that chair facing forward.

And for already forward-facing seats, riders cause envy and display their leadership skills by avoiding the provided backrest.

Watch, as that rider on the left leans instead against the window side of the bus! Note how this is done at a carefully-calculated 90-degree turn, with legs splayed into a wide V across a second seat and into the aisle.

This commands not only the maximum amount of space, but displays a flagrant disregard for personal safety. It says to other members of the Public Transit Community, "I am strong and invincible! See my crotch! Fear me!"

Now, if a rider is accompanied by members of one's personal social group, a savvy rider will never sit directly next to anyone he or she is actually with.

No, instead, these RTS social climbers will leave at least one seat between themselves and members of their immediate social group, for maximum bus seating power retention.

See the indifference of that passenger there along the side? Note the use of headphones and iPod, for additional sensory isolation?

The message is, "Yeah, I know you. But I could do without you, too. Remember that the next time you eat the last Krispy Kreme."

Lying down sleeping is a less common but cleverly subtle way of capturing a sizable share of personal space. It is designed to prompt curiosity about the rider's exciting, exhausting life. This this technique improves the Ride-Time Status by 20%.

The RTS is further elevated because of the rider's keen disinterest in remaining alert enough to get off at the right stop. The symbolism here is: "Wow! He's so cool, he doesn't even care if he wakes up in the middle of Carrick!"

RTS can also be elevated by using carry-on items as an extension of the body. This marks territory and, at the same time, enforces individualism and authority. In this case, bookbags are used in the same way astronauts plant flags, or cats spray shrubbery.

Lastly, the chief dynamic in Commuter Seating Hierarchy is the rule that a seat, at all times, is negotiable.

Notice how this college student on the left is scoping out a place more preferably located near the front of the bus. As one commuter vacates, the college student slips in for the kill.

Ah, but even seated, his play is not yet done! Watch as another opportunity opens up-- the coveted front-bus single-seater-- the college student once more plots for that prize...

Oh no! He has just been intercepted by the businessman with newspaper! And in an attempt to return to his previous place, the college student now finds a spry senior in his former seat.

He now must make the entire remaining two minutes of his journey standing-- degraded, and very much alone.

I hope you enjoyed our adventure today into the wilds of urban commuter society. For those of you intrigued enough by this ruthless yet beautiful world to plan your own journey, know this.

For every seat, every pole, every handgrip and every wheel-well, you must prepare yourself for epic battle.

Yes, mass transit is survival of the fittest. And grabbing that ten mnute piece of infamy-- that plastic throne of honor-- involves not only fortitude, but lightning-speed agility and a teeth-clenching expression of determination.

Stare them down, my friends. Show no fear. Because public transit is not just an environmentally-sound ride; it's social stratagem.

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13 comments:

ReformingGeek said...

People are hilarious. I don't get to use it down here but when I travel, I love to watch the antics, while fighting for my own place of course!

Nooter said...

(squeak-eee) (squeak)

JD said...

I lived in tokyo for many years and developed an optimal subway seating strategy. my nemesis was the sharp elbowed old lady.

Jenn Thorson said...

Reforming Geek- It really is astounding the things you see when you take the time to look!

Nooter-- That was the finest impression of a bus with bad brakes that has ever been posted on Cabbages. Thank you! :)

JD- Some things are universal. We have those sharp elbowed old ladies here, too!

Karen said...

I find myself foiled by the pregnant lady, usually because she has passed every other possible seat. It takes a certain kind of scum to ignore a hugely pregnant woman who is going to have to pole-hold for the 15 minute ride to West Seattle. She is ALWAYS on that damn bus with me, and we're now trapped in a terrible cycle of seat vs. pole. Once she has the kid, I have a feeling it's going to be EVEN WORSE.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

I lived in Tokyo for a few years too and the public transit there is incredibly civilized--if you don't count all the businessmen with their comic book porn, that is.

Hey, I left you a little something on my blog. I don't know if you're into that sort of thing, but you deserve the shout out.

Janna said...

I am so glad I live out in the country, near cows and skunks and bacteria and other godforsaken creatures that have never seen public transit.

I doubt I would fit in very well in the public transit world.
I'd probably be the "weird lady on the bus" who is covered in cat hair and smells vaguely of tacos, muttering incomprehensibly to herself. Maybe I could tie knots in my hair and draw tic-tac-toe designs on my face with permanent marker. Would that guarantee me some personal space?

Alpha Whale said...

Those with a increased RTS would have to include those on their phones. Not merely content to isolate themselves through silence or their iPods, they wish to draw attention to their isolation by loudly speaking or arguing into their 'tellular cellophones' with little to no actual conversation line. The ever popular "I'm on the bus" takes a fair amount of testosterone: bringing attention to one's self while proclaiming one's ability to state the obvious and impose upon those surrounding.

Damn them.

Adullamite said...

Phones, iPods, gossiping women, yobs, schoolkids, folk who fill a seat, who eat smelly foods, in fact everybody on a bus annoys me!

I'm so glad I don't use them often. At least I know it is universal!

Chat Blanc said...

fabulous study in human/bus culture! Personally I'd use the carry-on method. It forms a nice barrier to insure I have my necessary personal space perimeter protected! :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Karen- It'll be interesting to see how this little duel progresses!

Prefers- That just might work, as that niche isn't fully filled yet in my area-- at least not the tacos and tic-tac-toe face!

AlphaWhale- It's true regarding the cell phones. I hadn't included them because when I rode mass transit daily, it just wasn't as common, but now-- oh, yes.

Adullamite- Indeed it is-- so many things like this cross the barriers of distance and nation!

Chat Blanc- I don't blame you, really. Sometime I will have to tell you all about "The Jeopardy Guy" who I used to ride with each morning. OH MY.

Folks, I'll try to be around visiting blogs again early this week. I haven't been online much because my dad's been visiting and I've been Tour Girl. :) I feel all out of touch and behind!

Greg said...

I've been away (I hope you had a great Christmas!!) - has something happened to your car?

Jenn Thorson said...

Greg- No, the car is fine, thanks! :) Hope you had a great Christmas yourself!