The Anthropology of Subway Riders

Over at The Urban Ethnographer, we find this superb post about riding the subway that will be familiar to anyone who does so on a regular basis. What I love is the taxonomy of riders, including the "packers":

People carry large bulky items with them. In all fairness, though, packers need to be distinguished from folks for whom the subway is their main method of transportation and who really have no other option for transporting bulky items. The term packer is therefore reserved for those people with super large backpacks they refuse to take off when they board the train. If you encounter a packer, you would be best advised to practice defensive maneuvers. I have been hit by a large backpack, and it's quite a weapon. Recently, I witnessed a packer on the train whose backpack was easily 50 pounds or so. In turning around, she easily cleared a swath of passengers from her vicinity. They were not happy, and she met their protests with protests of her own.

I also really liked the "pole huggers", as these idiots really aggravate me:

The folks don't want to share pole space with you--they don't care if you fall down or into other riders when the train stops suddenly because you had nothing to hold onto. These folks can be identified by their possessive nature toward the pole: They will crook an arm or elbow--sometimes even both arms--around the pole, or lean against it, and effectively block anyone else from using it for support and stability. Pole huggers will relent as more people crowd around them and reach for the pole. Securing a place at a pole is simply a matter of showing the pole hugger you do not recognize their ownership of the pole.


I would add one other--the surfers:

Surfers. These are tourists who think mass transit is the Epcot Monorail at Disney. They will stand in the middle of the aisle and act as if they are surfing--because no one has ever thought of doing this before. They will then crash into people as the train stops suddenly or goes around a sharp bend.

More like this

Pole huggers will relent as more people crowd around them and reach for the pole. Securing a place at a pole is simply a matter of showing the pole hugger you do not recognize their ownership of the pole.

So, people who strive to stake out their own territory on public transportation, but are ultimately willing to share without a fight, are really that aggravating to you? It seems to me that you have more of a problem with the fact that you are stuck on public transportation than with the actual company you share on it, and are just blaming someone (who doesn't travel exactly the way you do) for your frustration.

Wow, Nobody sure is grouchy. Maybe a more precise term is "pole hogger"? There is a way to use a pole without making it hard for other people to use it as well. This is especially important in my case, as I'm too short to use the overhead straps.

I usually ride the bus rather than the subway, but I see the same things. Why people don't remove their large backpacks when they board is an enduring mystery.

Also, why don't people who sit in the handicapped seats but don't have physical issues give up their spaces when people who obviously need them get on?

Packers are fun to mess with. A bit of string tied to their pack and any solid object, funnier still if it another packer, can cause all sorts of humor and mayhem to ensue. For an interesting variation use the press of the crowd to look a bit of line between the back of the pack and the back of their jeans. Releasing their shoulder straps the pack falls back and tips them over. Failing that it continues in an arc and knocks their feet out from under them. Mean and antisocial, possibly evil, but fun to watch.

I'll admit to surfing on the rare occasions I have to use the tube in London. In my defence, a) I've got good balance and I've never stumbled yet, and b) it's less intimidating for an agoraphobe than joining the crush at a pole or standing in someone's lap to reach the straps. If I'm tired or otherwise impaired, I'll suck it up and strap-hang.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 04 Aug 2010 #permalink

Surfing should only be done when there are so few people standing that you *won't* crash into them! Otherwise it's no fun as you have people to break your fall if you stumble and so you are not risking being thrown across the train >:(

Grr people.

Grrljock: I wish they'd put in MORE poles, as a huge number of us can't REACH the straps, or at least can't reach them comfortably.

By Katherine (not verified) on 04 Aug 2010 #permalink

geez, if city living is as aggravating as you guys're describing it, thank goodness i'm a rural small-townie then. how can y'all stand such conditions on a regular basis?

and Art, are you serious about messing with other people's belongings and clothes so as to screw them up, purely for your own entertainment? if so, you sure use good grammar and spelling for a twelve-year-old. behavior like that makes me reconsider my long, staunch opposition to spanking.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 05 Aug 2010 #permalink