On the subway, the law of supply and demand is fully in effect: the fewer seats available, the more desirable they are.
I get on the 4/5 after work at Bowling Green, which is the first uptown stop in Manhattan. There are always a few stragglers from lower Brooklyn on it, but most of the seats are empty. Some people still rush into the train, of course, but the majority of us take our time. I usually nonchalantly nab a seat if I’m planning to read, but if I’m going to play my Nintendo DS and don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder to see how terrible I am at Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, I stay standing.
Plenty of other people stay standing at that stop, too, but at Wall Street, the train fills up a little more, and you start to see riders get a little anxious about their lack of choices. They want to sit, but they don’t want to try to squeeze in between the oversize lady with her five bags and the guy with his legs unnecessarily spread three feet apart. People try to look casual, but they’re secretly sneaking looks up and down the entire train to see if there’s anything worth making a move on.
At Fulton Street, there’s no time for pretending. Women rush into the train and plunk down with no regard for how huge their assets are and how small the seat space is. Men who would normally open doors for little old ladies practically push them out of the way. Pregnant women are left clutching their stomachs and fanning themselves with their hands as everyone looks at each other, hoping someone else will volunteer to give up his or her seat first.
I feel very smug about getting to choose whether or not I’ll sit, and I’ll admit that I like to mess with the people who have to stand. I’ve found that if I take off my headphones and turn off my iPod right as we enter Grand Central, the woman standing in front of me will breathe a sigh of relief and grab my seat as soon as I stand. I hate that. So when I want to have a little fun, I’ll take my headphones off as we enter the station before Grand Central, which is Union Square. And Union Square is a full 28 blocks away from Grand Central. Which means that after I take my headphones off and the woman in front of me prepares herself mentally for the joy of sitting down on the crowded train, I’ll make her stand waiting for another five minutes until I actually get off. And if there’s a lot of train traffic or a track fire or anything to slow us down, that five minutes can turn into ten or fifteen. You can imagine how this delights me.
(also posted to Examiner)