You’re reading a good book. Or maybe you’re texting your group chat (because you contain multitudes) about The Bachelor results. Either way, you want a seat on the subway during rush hour, lest you be condemned to spend your hour-long commute guessing the precise time to let go of a pole—if you can even reach one—to search for that GIF, guzzle that thermos of coffee or turn a page. Welcome to a full-scale war in a car packed with people who all want the same thing and will violate all standards of human behavior to get it.
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The competition begins on the platform. Prepare to stand as perilously close to the edge as possible, and get ready: If you aren’t tensed like Usain Bolt at the starting blocks—only much slower, more sleep-deprived and weighed down with a bulging tote—just forget about winning a seat (or even that choice strip of territory where you can press your back against a door, rather than committing accidental, unwanted frottage with a stranger or face-planting into a backpack). Once the train arrives, the twisted adult version of musical chairs springs into action—but in this game, the soundtrack is a busker or SoundCloud rapper mercilessly drowning out the podcast you’re trying to listen to.
Carrying groceries? Sorry, you’re too slow. Engrossed in your Instagram feed or that The Great British Bake-Off episode you downloaded from Netflix? You just lost that forward-facing seat with plenty of legroom to a clueless tourist who’s only traveling from Chambers to Canal, even though you’ve been standing since the Franklin Avenue stop in Crown Heights. Once I hobbled onto a crowded train in a leg brace, only to have a man dart toward a seat and look me dead in the eye as he took out his New York Times crossword. Listen, if you can make it into a seat here, you can make it into a seat anywhere.