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A Public Transportation Etiquette Primer

Americans don’t like community. In fact, given the opportunity, they’ll destroy it quicker than Nancy Pelosi can change her wig (cf. Wal-Mart, Mega-churches, the Reservation system, etc).  It stands to reason then, that ever since ole Dwight D. “Greatest Generation” Eisenhower cut the ribbon on the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, the automobile has been the favored mode of transport par excellence.

Mass transit – common sentiment opines – is for poor people, drunks, punk kids, suckers, and drunk poor kids. Why subject yourself to the company of others when you — good-smelling mover/shaker that you are — could mumble and swear to yourself about other people just like that Vietnam vet on the bus but in the privacy of your own car? Right?

Well reader, I’m here to tell you “only kind of.” It’s all in how you look at it, how you respond to a given scenario while utilizing public transportation. In fact, more widespread use of public transportation could offer Americans a much-needed lesson in community if we only take the time to think politely about issues in mass transit.

To that end, I would like to provide a short etiquette primer based upon the author’s personal experience with Chicago’s elevated train system (The EL). Allow me to offer several scenarios, their typical response, and then the community-building solution.

1) Regarding the old, bearded homeless man actively urinating upon himself and the surrounding area.

Typically, this sort of behavior is met with an incredulous question-statement. For instance, a young man with his buxom date sitting in the seat opposite the man might ask-state to the entire train car, “Are you pissing yourself. (?)” Then upon reflection, the young man will respond rhetorically: “You dirty old man, you’re pissing yourself!” Then, raising his voice to address the crowd: “I can’t believe it! This guy is freaking pissing himself! Let’s get out of here!”

Instead, consider a concise, polite alternative. “Pardon me, sir, it appears that you are micturating upon both yourself and the immediate area. Until you have resolved this issue, my steady and I will step over the pool of your waste and into the neighboring car. Have a fine day!”

2) Confronting the irate female passenger whose buttocks one has just grazed.

This is a delicate issue for males. Frequently, when met with an incensed glare, a male passenger will avert his eyes, adjust the settings on his portable music device, or meet the stare and attempt seduction.

Instead, create a false dilemma. For instance, “Pardon me, Miss. I dropped a quarter and quite accidentally brushed my hand across your rump.” Another option is to respond with a hearty “Good game.” This approach, however, is not for the faint of heart.

3) Responding to a gentleman who has stripped himself completely naked and may be having a medical emergency.

Surprisingly, this situation is frequently overlooked or disregarded by mass transit passengers. Quite often, an unwitting EL rider will find him or herself being glared at by a train car’s entire constituency only to glance down to find that he or she is standing beside the gentleman who has stripped himself naked and may be having a medical emergency. Typically, the oblivious patron, will step aside with a wrinkle of the nose and adjust their ubiquitous portable music device.

The polite solution to this scenario is remarkably simple. The man who has stripped himself naked and may be having a medical emergency is, in fact, both naked and having a medical emergency. The courteous public transit patron should take the opportunity to inform the conductor.

Whatever the case may be, a careful, courteous response to the myriad issues raised by utilizing public transportation should encourage us to get out of those cars, back onto the rail ties, and back into some good old fashioned face-to-face contact with others. Until then, mind your P’s and Q’s!

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