Charlie — that button-eyed, lopsided-grinning, porkpie-hat-wearing mascot of the MBTA — isn’t exactly an accurate pictorial representation of the majority of T riders. In fact, we’ve long thought one of the reasons Charlie looks so damn delighted (there’s something diabolical in that pointed wink) is because he pumps himself full of sedatives prior to a punishing day spent inside our subway tunnels.
There are times when we wish we could do the same. Lumbering delays, a stop on every corner on the B trains and none in Inman Square, and an infuriating inability to handle bad weather are among our many complaints about our ancient mass-transport system. But we’ve long resigned ourselves to that. What really puts us over the edge is the conduct of our fellow riders, and it’s recently gone beyond a run-of-the-mill ignorance of common courtesy. Because of several T assaults, flashings, and molestations, the MBTA just launched a public-service campaign to warn people that they’re being “watched,” and to encourage potential victims to file reports.
No surprise, then, that one person’s peaceful commute on the T is another person’s journey to the gaping maw of Hell. But we are romantic idealists at heart, and even at our most hopeless moments — ever tried attempting to enter the Kenmore station right before a Sox home game? — we believe the impossible is possible. Herein, a well-meant manual to encourage civility and etiquette on the T. When in doubt about whether to expose your private bits to the next throng of anonymous commuters, stop, breathe, refer to this handy cheat-sheet, and calmly ask yourself: what would Emily Post do? Right: keep that trench coat buttoned, pally.
1) Over-the-shoulder reading will not make you any new friends
If you think the person whose book/magazine/alternative newsweekly you’re reading, over their shoulder, doesn’t notice you’re doing it, you’re so clearly wrong. And while you might think you have every right to sigh in exasperation, roll your eyes, and tap your feet to the tune of a little punk-metal ditty you made up with the chorus “Slow readers piss their pants/Fast readers rule the world” when your neighbor takes four times as long as you did to read that one text-heavy page of a New Yorker profile you memorized 15 minutes ago, you don’t. Because it’s not yours.
2) Kindly refrain from excessive personal grooming
To be sure, not everyone looks like they were blessed with soft, glowing skin and a shining mane at 9 am — and we busy urban dwellers are excellent multi-taskers. But this doesn’t mean that it’s cool for you to use your seatmate’s shoulder as a makeshift vanity table while you set up shop and proceed to pluck, straighten, prime, and powder yourself into anchorwoman readiness. (Side note: not only is it awkward to observe you poking yourself in the eye with a mascara wand and curler, it’s dangerous. Both for your health and our cringe reflex.)
3) If you don’t take off your enormous backpack/large duffel bag/gargantuan laptop case/overstuffed knapsack/300-pound satchel, someone is going to get hurt
Is that bag yours? Yes, the one that looks like it’s filled to bursting with a couple of small human beings, 50 textbooks, and a tuba? Please, take it off and place your beloved burden gently on the floor between your feet — it’s going to be okay! There’s no other option, really. Kept on your shoulder or strapped to your back, you’re guaranteed to annoy — if not bruise or even maim — everyone within a few-inch radius. (Not to mention the precious standing room you’re taking up.) Our patience, like that thrift-store canvas tote crammed to the hilt with your smelly gym clothes that keeps poking us in the ribs, has worn unattractively thin. Experience the freedom of a T ride sans the weight of the world on your shoulders!