This is not about the recent and disastrous changes to Wellington’s bus systems, although I’m not a fan. This is about my possibly weird personal code of conduct on public transport.
Being on buses has been exacerbating my anxiety recently. Much of the time I spend on buses is spent doing the following:
- Worrying that I’ll catch diseases from being in a confined space with lots of people
- Worrying that I/my ridiculous quantity of bags am/is in someone’s way
- Worrying that I’ll be late because the bus is inching through traffic
- Worrying that I’ll pick up the smell of tobacco smoke from the passenger next to/in front of/behind me or formerly in my seat
- Wishing I’d walked/run instead
- Being annoyed that people are sitting on aisle seats when the window seats are unoccupied
- Being annoyed that people are taking up an entire seat for belongings that could easily be accommodated on their lap
- Being annoyed that people are standing when there are seats available, thus making it more difficult for people to access said seats and to get on and off the bus
- Reading (this is my favourite).
Today, for various reasons, I ended up taking several buses. Thankfully, my anxiety was triggered much less than it has been in recent days.
One of the problems with the changes in bus services has been insufficient bus capacity for people travelling on certain routes at certain times. For the first time in memory on my route home from town, a bus bypassed my stop because it was properly full. No worries, another one was due shortly. And miraculously it arrived as scheduled, and was not full. A few of the people who got on at my stop chose to stand by the rear exit (see point 8 above), and I could see that there were a few seats at the back, so I excused myself past the standees and hastened thither. I swiftly assessed the situation and perceived that a couple was occupying the two seats at one side of the long back row, the next three seats were empty, and a lone passenger occupied the window seat on the other side.
What would you do?
My thought process was as follows:
- Sitting right up next to the couple would seem to unnecessarily impose myself on their couplespace
- Taking the middle of the three remaining seats would make the rest of the back row seem less accessible to others, and would force another couple who might hypothetically join us to separate
- Taking the seat next to the lone passenger was the most considerate choice.
Seriously, have I missed something? I want to know.
Anyway, I sat down next to the lone window-seat-occupant, and it’s just possible that the side of my leg or my bag (I only had one bag! Those who know me will be impressed) might have touched her. I know that Kiwis are big on personal space but I’m sure I would have noticed if I were the only one of us to accept accidental touching as a necessary accessory to peak use of public transportation. Anyway.
“Jesus!” She exclaimed.
“Where?” I responded. We looked each other in the eye for a long moment.
“Not you, that’s for sure,” she finally said, and commenced an opprobrious tirade, in short exhorting me to stick to my own seat*.
“It’s. A. Bus,” I pointed out. “This is my seat, that is yours.” In my view we were both contained appropriately within our seats.
Her rant continued. I endeavoured to tune it out and to read my book, but was distracted by the salient points that I was a bitch, she had cancer, I was welcome to it, the last thing she needed was someone sitting on her. Also, I was a bitch.
Knowing that her feelings were nothing to do with me, and wagering that any olive branch of sympathy I might proffer would be steadfastly refused (I know what it’s like to cling to one’s own hurt and anger), I held my peace. Eventually she elbowed the air in front of me, got up, excused herself, explained that she didn’t want to sit next to such a bitch, and barged forward to stand near the rear exit (see point 8 above), whence she performed a sustained demonstration of the raised middle finger in my general direction.
The people seated nearby were very nice and asked if I was ok and such, saying I didn’t deserve that at all, and concurring with my estimation that it was nothing to do with me.
Unfortunately my rules of personal public transport etiquette required me to move into her vacated seat (see point 4 above), it was the least I could do as I had unwittingly facilitated further standee congestion as per point 7.
And I was a little rattled and I did almost cry but not quite, and I did fleetingly think that maybe I could have defused the situation with sympathy, because I do believe I understand how she felt to some extent. But I’m focusing on the fact that I withstood the episode an estimated 50% better than I would have a day ago, and a good 100% better than I would have the day before that, and it’s amazing how much better I feel after yesterday.
*I’m not sure why I’ve started writing like a Wodeshousian translation of Propertius. I blame my friend Little James.