It's really no secret that commuters want desperately to avoid each other, but how are we making it happen on planes, on trains and in carpool lane-designated automobiles? A Sociology graduate student at Yale University bought a bus ticket and racked up thousands of frequent rider miles to find out for us. She observed her fellow passengers and asked them questions to learn their tactics of total avoidance.
So...what did she learn after months and months of note-taking? First, there are the obvious strategies we commuters employ, such as checking our phones, pretending to sleep, going through our bags to avoid eye contact (hmm, where did I put my granola bar...), and doing the "lost in thought" thing were we're looking at each other but right past each other, if you know what I mean. There's also the ever-popular "hate stare" that can be thrown back at the "lost in thought" starer. Haven't we all been on the receiving end of a few of those after a long, tiring day? Man, if looks could kill.
But it doesn't stop there! No, commuters are very creative. Researcher Esther Kim saw commuters avoid each other by leaning against the window and stretching out their legs; filling the open seat next to them with multiple bags (thus making it not worth a fellow passenger's time to ask for the seat); offering up a blank stare that makes them look like a crazy person (no, really); putting a coat on the next seat; and finally, staking out some personal space by laying down across a number of seats. Will you dare wake your fellow passenger from a blissful nap? Go ahead, make his day.
The biggest way to look like a total weirdo is to sit right next to someone when many seats are open. Yes, this would be disconcerting to most people in a Stephen King or Mitt Romney kind of way. Pick your seat and take it. As far away from someone else as possible, please. And don't stare.
Where's the bad body odor, the arguing Southern tourists, and the iPods that are turned up so loudly one can hear the bass beat across a packed train car? Maybe that's a D.C. Metro thing. Thanks, I'll just stand.