I LOVE TO SIT: How to Get a Seat On Public Transportation

I come bearing a listicle of all the ways I have successfully managed to get a seat on mass transit while only occasionally being a total d-bag.
Publish date:
November 13, 2012

The Daily Mail’s Antonia Hoyle has a right to be annoyed. At eight months pregnant, her due date drawing ever closer, she was baffled and not a little peeved to find that it wasn’t just the dudes on her bus not helping her out chivalry-style and offering her their seats -- but that women were just as guilty of avoiding all eye contact and keeping their asses firmly planted.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been pregnant, maybe it’s because my time as a New Yorker grinds my belief in the concept of basic decency into the ground on a daily basis. Maybe it’s because my power animal is the three-toed sloth, but my general reaction after reading about Hoyle’s experience wasn’t the “People are the worst, women need to support to each other” that it should have been. Instead it was a bit closer to “I understand I should be enraged but sitting is awesome.”

Not that I’m a Satan. I’ve totally been that broad who sees an uncomfortably pregnant woman and offers up my seat. But it’s not without a lot of self-righteous glaring at those around me, mentally bemoaning the fact that my mama raised me right. This is immediately followed by strategic scheming to return my posterior to its preferred position -- resting upon a flat surface.

I’m a daily commuter via mass transit, like a lot of folks. I travel about 45 minutes each way to work when everything is running smoothly and there are no track fires or emergency evacuation to the formation and uprising of rat kings. I’ve been doing it for 7 years. When I first visited New York prior to moving here, I actually remember getting off a train and telling a friend that I was never, ever getting on one again.

Trains and buses and the like -- they are tiny capsules of everything I hate. They are full of people you either don’t know all pressed up on you, or even worse -- people you know just well enough for it to be rude to keep your wearing your headphones in their presence, but categorically not well enough to sustain prolonged small talk with them.

On mass transit, at least in my experience, there are no guarantees that you’ll arrive at your destination without being accosted by aggressive, often mediocre breakdancers, an exposed penis, a mariachi band or someone who somehow, has gotten poop all over them and will not rest until they get poop on you.

One of the few joys of my commute? Sitting. It’s a lifelong passion. I am congenitally lazy. When I was a kid, my school went on a field trip to mills in Fall River. The staff tried to instill how horrible working conditions were in the mills, by making us act out a day in the life of a mill girl. I actually rebelled and started a house of ill repute. I was more eager to venture into a fictive version of the 19th century sex trade than face the idea of standing for a living.

I know, I’m the worst. I sit, and I eat bacon, and I prefer Scotch above all other things, and I still smoke cigarettes sometimes. You stand all day and drink water and will live to be 100. That is understood. It’s a quality of life issue, and I sit by my choice, while respecting your right to stand by yours.

Sadly, a ready and waiting, unsullied seat on a train or a bus does not always present itself. In fact, during rush hour, these spots are as rare as lute-playing unicorns. But I am here to reveal a secret truth: Just because there is no seat available immediately, this does not mean you have to reconcile yourself to an entire ride of non-sexy pole-clutchery. I come bearing a listicle of all the ways I have successfully managed to get a seat on mass transit while only occasionally being a total d-bag.

1.) Wear a Blousy Top

I have this one shirt that I bought while experiencing Anthropologie-Sale-Blindness. You know what I mean -- you get into Anthro’s sale section and after 400-dollar dress upon 400-dollar dress, all of the sudden this paisley print peasant blouse festooned with an eruption of muffin-top accentuating lace seems miiiiighty appealing now that it’s only 30 bucks. I have at least three of these.

One in particular, while being comfortable as balls, is also deeply billowy. I thought nothing of this, subscribing to the fashion philosophy of “I like it, I’m wearing it.” Until it first worked its magic. I wore it on the train and some guy was all, “Would you like to sit down ma’am?” The fact that he called me ma’am and assumed I was with child did not begin to faze me -- you know why? Because my ass was sitting.

Pro-tip: A billowy top may not be enough. I’ve tried this again with less immediate success, but find clutching the small of my back and then moaning has elicited positive results.

2.) Be So Drunk

There is nothing a commuter fears more than a potential puker on the train. My first year in New York, while fixated on an engaged guy with a fake front tooth and a ponytail, I overindulged in Powers whiskey in the extreme. Too drunk to remember cabs exist, I found myself wobbling all over the crowded train car on my way home that night. At the first sound of my dry heaves, the businessmen hogging a row of seats bolted, allowing me to settle in and puke into my purse as comfortably as possible. Would I come to regret this decision in the morning? Sure. But it did it matter in the moment? Absolutely not. Because my ass was sitting.

Pro-tip: This doesn’t have to be a late-night maneuver. I once employed the same tactic in the morning en route to work after suffering a bad allergic reaction to Vicodin. Fun fact: hurled in same purse.

3.) Stalking Shmalking

If you ride the same bus or train or tram to work every day at about the same time, you are probably seeing a lot of familiar faces. If you are a seat swooping weirdo warlock like me, you also know what stop they get off on, and take full advantage of that fact, positioning yourself directly in front of them the moment you get on the train. Sometimes regulars like to throw you, and say, get off a stop or two later, because life is wily and unpredictable. This is a risk you’ll have to take, but if you are a good read of people and really hone in on the most routine-driven, down-trodden of your commuter companions. Your ass will be sitting.

Pro-tip: Wear your headphones or earbuds while still standing to appear nonchalant and safely unapproachable. But don’t actually listen to anything, all the better to be ready for the swoop. Did that old guy 10 feet down the row mention meeting his lady friend at the next stop? You now have the advantage over other lurkers -- you’re welcome.

4.) Carry All of the Bags

For many of us, city living means leaving your home in the morning with an assortment of bags packed full of whatever frippery you may need throughout the day. Gym bags, works bags, yoga mats, bowling balls, a whole ham, 19 shoes -- there is no end to it, and it will destroy us. (If I hate anything more than standing, it is carrying things.)

Use this to your advantage. When getting on the train, appear baffled and overwhelmed by the load you’ve been compelled to bear. Trip a lot, buckle under the strain, hit someone gently in the temple with a corner of your valise. Eventually, your ass will be sitting.

Pro-tip: Worried you don’t have enough stuff? Bring a baby with you. Baby’s mother irritated at the idea of baby being pulled into one of your “cockamamie schemes?” Ask if you can borrow the fleet ship sized stroller they have parked in the hallway instead, or better yet, their dorky tandem bicycle. In a worst-case scenario, the family dog will suffice.

5.) Bring a Friend

It’s not always possible, but sometimes on the way home from a long day, I plan to meet up with my best friend on the train, with her joining me three stops in. By the time she arrives, my ass is already sitting. But I’m no cruel, unfeeling mistress. I don’t want my buddy to have to stand while I bask in all the hardened, plastic luxury the MTA has seen fit to provide. The solution here is a simple one, talk to your friend. Talk loudly. Ask her if she wants your spot -- when she refuses, fret about this decision, about how it’s not fair given “how things have been going for her lately.” Keep this up and before long, her ass will be sitting.

Pro-tip: The above can be loosely labeled as mass passive aggression, and if wielded properly, can ensure you and those you love with seats every time. Other forms of mass passive aggression include, weeping for no reason until someone feels bad for you, generalized mumbling about “selfishness” and “people having no manners.”

Finally, if you aren’t feeling really bold, and some eager beaver (ew) snipes a seat that was clearly yours, a fair amount of direct eye contact with much tongue clacking can shame even the most adept warlock.