Trains, Planes, Automobiles: Ugly Truth of Sharing a Seat

Avoiding the Awkwardness of Sitting with Strangers on Public Transportation

opinion-crowded-planeI travel quite a bit. Whether it’s by train to NYC, by bus to and from Pennsylvania, or by plane to and from different states, I have had more than my fair share of hazily staring out windows. My rear-end has some not-so-nice things to say about that. On most of my travels, I have had the un­welcomed company of strangers sitting so close to me I could smell the flavor gum they were chew­ing. I even offered a few of them a piece.

Some of my commutes began as early as 4:00 am and some have ended as late as 2:00 am. The last thing I dreamt of doing at those wee hours of the morning was having uncomfortable physical contact and intrusion of personal space from a complete stranger. Travelers like me understand the awkwardness in these sorts of en­counters and the utter disbelief at those doing it. I thought I’d share a few stories and offer my own advice to those being victimized-and those victimizing (pay close attention!).

Six hours to cow country: I took many road trips to see my boy­friend at his small college in the middle of Pennsylvania. My com­mute consisted of a train ride to Penn Station, an eight-block sprint to the Greyhound terminal, and asix hour bus trip with no televi­sion. The seats were extremely uncomfortable, but I perfected the technique of turning a sweatshirt into a pillow to provide myself with a headrest that wouldn’t leave the back of my neck sore. The most entertaining part of those bus rides were my fellow passen­gers. About 20 people were on ev­ery bus I’ve taken out to PA, and there were more than enough seats to accommodate us all.

Tip #1: Claim your seat…all of it…and your floor space. I’ve wo­ken up from many peaceful naps against the window to strange, large men in camouflaged jumper suits sitting on the aisle seat next to me. I’ve also had little kids crawl­ing under my seat and across the row like it was a McDonald’s play­ground. My most unforgettable memory was when an overweight middle-aged man in a hunting suit asked to sit next to me in the two-seater so he could talk to his wife in the three-seater across from us for the remaining four hours of the ride. If you find that you have done any of the above or worse, get yourself some common sense. I like my space, and I crave it even more when it is plentiful.

The Big Apple versus the Big- Headed: Since my freshman year, I’ve taken many day trips to NYC. I go there three times a week this semester for my internship, so I’ve learned to navigate my way through Penn Station. I just can’t wrap my head around how the hour and a half train commute turned into social hour for wanna-be politicians, born-again Christians, and successful business­men. I board a 6:49 am train, so I physically and mentally struggle to function at that hour. If staring out the win­dow with my iPod on isn’t enough to show that I’m in no mood to discuss Obama and Romney, let alone the weather or the train ride itself, I suppose I should plop my feet across the seat and make myself comfort­able.

Tip #2: Fake sleep and snore. I’ve done it, and it works. You most likely won’t see those people ever again. They can’t start a conversation if you are asleep. I usually add an over-exaggerated yawn when I awaken. It’s clutch! If you are one of the jabber jaws that chew my ear off, take notice of my drooping eye­lids. I am not batting my eyelash­es at you. I just want to nap.

A Plane in the Butt: Everyone loves a vacation, and the most an­ticipated part is arriving at your destination. On certain occasions, I’ve had to take several planes by myself. I love my window seats, so I usually end up in a three-seat­er with two other people. Ever see Bridesmaids? A glass of scotch would have done wonders on a few flights.

Tip #3: Make an extra sweat­shirt pillow. Apparently my shoul­ders are quite comfortable. Just ask my neighbors sound asleep on them. It may be even more interesting once they wake up, as if I care to know how pretty the clouds look. I’m more concerned about the drool on my sleeve. So if you have comfortable shoulders too, pack an extra sweatshirt for your seat buddy so you spare your­self a slobbered shirt. I can only tell those who take their catnaps on me to pack a pillow buddy or fly first class. The seats are plenty big enough for your lounging ne­cessities.

So what are my true feelings about my lone travels? Hate the commute, love the arrival. Don’t we all?