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Seven should-be habits of highly effective T-riding people

Keep your hands on the pole and not on your neighbor’s ass, bucko.
By SHARON STEEL  |  May 2, 2008


Smells like T spirit!
Boston’s mass-transit system dates back to 1631, when sailboats ferried passengers from Chelsea to Charlestown. In the subsequent 377 years, service has become a teeny bit faster — but at a price that has put the MBTA in debt to a tune of more than $8 billion. With transportation issues getting renewed scrutiny under the Patrick administration, Phoenix staffers fanned out to kick the T’s tires.

• The trolley Svengali: Why Dan Grabauskas might actually fix the T — if he can keep his job. By Adam Reilly.
• Trouble 'round the bend? MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010. By David S. Bernstein
• Seven habits of highly effective T-riders: Keep your hands on the pole and not on your neighbor’s ass, bucko. By Sharon Steel.
• The T and the Tube: London’s Underground is seething with danger. Boston’s T has cuckoo juice. By James Parker.
• Underground art: Reviewing the MBTA’s subterranean aesthetic. By Mike Miliard.
A sinking feeling: Leaky MBTA tunnels have been seeping Boston’s groundwater for years. Can a new plan prevent potential catastrophe? By David S. Bernstein
• State of hock: If the MBTA wasn't in debt, these items would be at the top of its new wish list. By Jason Notte.
• The Phoenix editorial: Is the MBTA on track?

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!

1  |  2  |  next >
  • Underground art
    Reviewing the MBTA’s subterranean aesthetic
  • The trolley Svengali
    Why Dan Grabauskas might actually fix the T — if he can keep his job
  • Trouble 'round the bend?
    MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010.
  • More more >
  Topics: News Features , Charlie Card , Culture and Lifestyle , Etiquette and Manners ,  More more >
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Seven should-be habits of highly effective T-riding people
I ask people nicely before I make ignorant people give up their seats for people who need it more than them. I shouldn't have to ask them! A teenager refused a seat to an elderly man and threatened me one time. An undercover policewoman arrested him on the spot for terroristic threats. The inconsiderate punk got more than what he deserved. Some people learn the hard way indeed!
By sean on 05/02/2008 at 12:28:18
Seven should-be habits of highly effective T-riding people
You forgot one of my favorites. Men who sit down with their legs spread so wide apart that they intimidate anyone from taking the seats next to them. The seats are narrow, deal with it, and keep your knees together.
By smithy on 05/02/2008 at 12:32:56
Seven should-be habits of highly effective T-riding people
I loved this article! So witty and fun.
By Natty on 05/04/2008 at 1:40:01

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