Friday, February 19, 2010

Commuter, Interrupted

It happened! The pattern was broken yesterday! And it made for an uncomfortable experience. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a commuting "buddy" I had found. For a number of consecutive weeks, the two of us arranged our seats in the same pattern. I proposed that our behavior helped create personalized spaces for each of us as it helped define a recognizable boundary in the public sphere. Yesterday, an interloper took my buddy's seat.

I boarded the LIRR train at my usual time, and took my "regular" seat. While I was settling in, an unknown woman took the seat in front of me, which is where my buddy normally positions himself. I think he was definitely surprised because he actually made eye contact with me when he came up the aisle and found that someone else had already grabbed "his" seat. His eyes widened slightly as he processed the situation—the seat behind me would have likely been his second choice based on my observations regarding our preferred seating patterns, but that was also already occupied. So he claimed a three-seater row for himself, taking the window seat. And he was not comfortable, especially after another commuter took the aisle seat in the row. He shuffled and fidgeted a great deal, and didn't seem to know what to do with his bag. [Right: The woman who broke the pattern.]

Now, of course, these seats aren't "ours." There's no reserved seating on public transportation. (Though, perhaps there should be? Would you pay more for a seat?) But my commuting buddy's behavior confirms for me the attachment we develop to particular places and arrangements and the difficulty we have adjusting to these types of changes. The woman who broke the pattern (sounds a bit like a title for a film noir, no?) sat in front of me again today, but my regular commuting buddy was nowhere to be found. I wonder if he went in search of a new seat or if he'll be back on Monday. 

It may seem silly, but these are the ways we make a place for ourselves in the world. I know you have them, so share below the places where you have a favorite seat.


  1. I'm a bit on the obsessive side when it comes to favorite seats.

    In Starbucks and other coffee shops, I much prefer being against a wall. A corner is ideal, and a corner by a window is gravy.

    On a train or subway, I want no one next to me, and I particularly don't like to be back-to-back with someone with long hair (probably because I once wrote a monograph on head lice).

    In movie theatres, I like having the seat next to me for my stuff, with no one directly in front or behind me.

    In theatre-theatres, aisle seats are my faves.

    In restaurants, I love booths.

    On airplanes, well, who can afford to pay for an ideal seat on an airplane?

  2. Hi Wendy. I think we're all a bit obsessive about favorite seats to tell the truth. And your extensive list demonstrates that we take the practice everywhere with us. Thanks for sharing!