Saturday, February 26, 2011

Market-Frankford Line

In the summer of 2010, I worked in North Philadelphia, as a mental health therapist. When I graduated in 2008 with my Master’s Degree, I was just certain that I was immediately going to have a private practice in fashionable office in Rittenhouse Square. I was going to help rich people with privileged problems, and they were going to pay me a lot to do it. Unfortunately, my career out of graduate school began at 56th and Chestnut in West Philly, and then transitioned to a couple different jobs in North Philly, particularly one job in Kensington. So, there may have been some slight deviations from my original plan. Rittenhouse Square... Kensington... It's all Philly, right?

My daily commute to my job in Kensington involved taking the Broad Street subway to City Hall, and then transferring to the Market-Frankford line. My stop for work was Allegheny Avenue. Not only was that a sketchy stop, but so were the four stops before it. One day I had to leave work early to go back into Center City for an appointment. I boarded the train at Allegheny and took note that there were only about two other people in the car. Next stop: Somerset. The next thing I knew, someone was sitting next to me. Before I continue, let me clarify what "next to me" actually means. I don't mean "next to me," as in the-seat-next-to-me-that-is-actually-across-the-aisle-- I mean "next to me," as in the seat that is physically attached to mine.

Here is a depiction of what was transpiring. Please be understanding, as I have limited computer skills, so I'm doing the best with what I have. The rose represents me, as I was sitting at the window seat. The rainstorm represents the guy who sat next to me.

There is an unsaid, universal public transportation rule: Unless there are NO available seats, or you unexpectedly spot your BFF already sitting on the train/bus, you do not sit in a seat that puts you in physical proximity with the person adjacent to you. Ever. In life.

So as the train pulls out of Somerset station, I am acutely aware of my seat-neighbor. My first thought was that what probably happened was that I had been daydreaming and did not notice that 973 people boarded the train at Somerset, filling up all of the seats in the car. That was probably what had happened. I was sitting in the first seat of the car, so they must all be behind me. There was most likely only one available seat left, which was next to me. I turned around to check, desperately wanting to confirm this belief-- but no, the train was still empty. So there we were-- my new buddy and I-- sitting side-by-side on an empty train car, surrounded by perfectly good, unoccupied seats. It was at this point that he asked me, in broken English, for a date. I politely rejected him, but then I started to get really mad. He continued to nonchalantly sit next to me as if there was nothing socially unacceptable or awkward about this situation. As I continued to glance at him in my peripheral vision, he began to appear smug and satisfied, sitting comfortably my space, cramping my style. I couldn't take it anymore. I wasn't going to continue to sit there, but I also wasn't to create a conflict on an empty train car going through North Philly.

It was the perfect time for a fake phone call. I discreetly checked to ensure that my phone was on "silent" mode. The last thing you want is for the phone to ring when you're talking on a fake phone call. I picked up my phone and began chatting with no one. Once again, my expectations were too high-- I was expecting that the stranger would realize that not only had he intruded on my space to begin with, but now he was really pushing the boundaries of my privacy, as I was taking a phone call and there were 38,037 other available seats on the train. I was wrong. My neighbor did not flinch. This guy had no boundaries. He didn't know the first thing about interpreting social cues. Suddenly it began to feel as though I was infringing on his space, ruining his train ride. What was happening, here? "Excuse me," I said, as I awkwardly got up, intending to take myself, my fake phone call, and all of my belongings to another seat. He didn't even get up. Didn't even move an inch so that I could squeeze by. I had to half-climb over him to get to the aisle. I chose a seat in the back of the car where I could keep an eye on the back of his head. I was fuming. I watched as he moved over a few inches and happily took my old seat. He seriously moved over and claimed the window seat. At this point I was so flustered that I couldn't even finish my fake phone call.

What angered me off the most was that he had won and I had lost. I had entered into a delusional competition, which I often do, in which I was the only one participating. Even the other person doesn't know they are in a competition with me, I fully expect them to behave in a way that allows me to win.

How disrespectful.