My name is Ricardo. I am a door hoverer. You may recognize me from essentially every train you have ever been on. It usually looks like this: Train doors open, people flow out, you move to step in – but you can’t. There is somebody in your way. You squeeze by, knocking into him intentionally but not so overtly that its an obvious reaction to his transgression. (He doesn’t notice; he’s listening to Radiohead or something) Then you forget about him. But he never noticed you.
A recent AM New York feature asked some experts to peer more closely into the habits and tendencies of some public transportation’s more annoying riders. Much of the discussion in the end was focused not on what subway riders do, but where they stand and how they sit. Corner seekers share space with Wanderers and Pole Hogs, Pole Avoiders repeatedly knock into fellow riders. Wide Sitters offer their genitals to the breeze at the expense of their neighbors. And they all get on each other’s nerves. That’s the important part.
But the truth of it all is this: The way people position themselves on a subway train is one of the most clear and accurate views into human nature. Consider what subway riding actually is: Hundreds of people, strangers to each other, agree, for the sake of their livelihoods, to squeeze into underground tubes of metal for extended periods twice a day, five days a week. That’s a crazy prospect, and it’s entirely real.
So I can’t blame the corner seekers for seeking refuge away from the throng of a crowd they can’t actually avoid. Nor can I fault the Wanderers for not being able to stay in one spot. Wide sitters are just trying to make their own space in an environment that is designed to strip them of it. These are all pure and human tendencies, and should be above the scrutiny of psychologists and and etiquette school founders.
When I enter a train, venturing deeper into the train tends to be last on my list of ambitions. Why would anyone actually want to surround themselves with the bodies of others when they aren’t forced to? Sure, the more altruistic of us will consider the needs of those she has yet to meet and relocate accordingly – but people like that are better-suited for sainthood, not the L train. In reality, if you really care about fellow train riders, the best thing that you can do is not take the train. You’d free up a lot of space, after all.
At its heart, subway riding is a microcosm of society. Riders (citizens) enter into a joint-stock company (read: society/the train car) and agree to surrender, to a certain degree, their liberty (or comfort, or personal space) in order that they may enjoy the rewards of that society (getting to work or wherever). The more disagreeable subway riders resemble the fringe-livers of society, those who subvert, either intentionally or otherwise, the culture that confines them. It is for these reasons that the Wanderers and Pole Hogs should be respected, not maligned. They offer us a view into a world unconstrained by mores and protocol.
If being a door hoverer is wrong, then I owe it to society not to be right.