Miss Conduct Rocks!

So, Robin Abrahams, who writes the Miss Conduct advice column for the The Boston Globe, has been reading Shapely Prose (and occasionally commenting — you might have seen her) for a while now. Squee! We love us some advice columnists around here. (Carolyn Hax, are you out there? Call us!)

Robin e-mailed this morning to let me know about her latest blog post, in which she addresses an issue that seems to come up in every advice column, ever: fat people having the NERVE to take a seat on public transportation, even if it means THEIR FAT TOUCHES OTHER PEOPLE!

In her e-mail, Robin says:

It was really doing the column that opened my eyes to fat hatred. Seriously. There are three groups who, whenever I dare to suggest that they might be human and have feelings, I get hate mail about it: fat people, Muslims, and smokers. How dare I give aid and sympathy to the enemy (sigh …)

I don’t even know where to start with that one. “Sigh…” is about right.

So, Robin has thrown the fatties-on-transit question out to her readers, with the following ground rules:

1. No hating on fat people. If you think people shouldn’t sit in seats that are too small for them, say so. But do so with civility. None of this “But if we treat overweight people with dignity, they will have no motivation to lose weight, and will continue to be fat at me!” idiocy that comes up every time I mention courtesy to the overweight.

2. No hating on me because I’m not fat, or because I’m only recently starting to think about the issue of prejudice against the overweight. Nobody figures all of life out overnight.

3. No saying “Subways and buses should have bigger seats.” Yes, they probably should, but they’re not going to anytime soon. (And airplanes? Fuggedaboutit. That’s the least of the airline industry’s problems.) It’s easy to behave well in a hypothetical well-engineered future. I’m interested in how people deal with the imperfect present.

1 and 3 seem incredibly wise (not to mention refreshing) to me, since those are certainly the two responses most likely to derail any real discussion of “the imperfect present.” And 2 just reminds me how delightful this here community is, because my first thought was, “Huh? You actually need to put that in writing?” And then I remembered there are plenty of fat people out there who think of thin women strictly as “skinny bitches” who need to “eat a sandwich” — they just don’t hang out here.

Sigh.

Anyway. Robin asks that people e-mail their responses to her (missconduct at globe dot com), but this subject is open for discussion here, too, and I can’t wait to see what Shapelings have to say.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take.

Seating on public transportation is first-come, first-served. Period. Everyone pays the same ticket price, which guarantees nothing but some physical space on some train or bus that will come along that day. It doesn’t guarantee you a seat, or a spot on the next train, and it sure doesn’t guarantee you a comfortable ride.

People come in different shapes and sizes, and some of those people are too big to fit into one of the tiny molded butt rectangles that ostensibly constitutes a single seat. Some people, you’ll note, are also too tall to keep their legs out of the way of standing passengers (or, if standing, to keep their armpits out of the faces of shorter standing passengers, ahem). Some people have groceries or packages or bookbags that take up extra space, despite all the signs exhorting people to please make such items magically disappear for the duration of the ride. Some women have big pregnant bellies. Some people have wheelchairs that take up more than a “single” seat, while the rest of us stand around using our legs like suckers. Some people fit perfectly into the butt molds in summer, but when puffer coat season comes around, take up twice as much space as usual.

All this diversity might cause problems if public transit riders were paying for a comfortable seat. But we’re not. We’re paying for the cheapest possible ride from point A to point B, which will sometimes involve having multiple seats to spread out on and plenty of breathing space, but at other times will involve being packed cheek by jowl with a squirming, stinking, ill-mannered mass of humanity — and quite possibly some barf or poop in a corner somewhere.

This is the situation. And for my money, about 95 percent of subway etiquette questions arise from people failing to accept that this is the situation. Y’all, seriously, how much did that transit ticket set you back? Be real.

Now, on to specific advice. As I said above, we’re dealing with a first-come, first-served operation. Which means, if a fat person gets on the train or bus when there is enough seating available to accommodate his or her ass? The fat person has a right to sit. Even if this means taking up two “single” seats. The butt molds are there to discourage people from selfishly spreading out and denying other people actual available space — not to serve as some sort of “You must be this thin to deserve to sit” sign. That means if you get on a train and see a fat person taking up two seats, those seats are gone, period, just as they would be if two thin people had gotten there before you, and you have no right to bitch. This is not a matter of people taking up “more space than they deserve” and certainly not “more space than they paid for.” This is a matter of human beings taking up exactly as much space as they need, because that much seating happened to be available when they got on the train. Lucky them, poor you.

However.

If there is only one butt mold available between two other people, and you know you’re too fat to fit in it? Don’t fucking sit there. You’re not going to be comfortable, and you’re going to make two other people uncomfortable. Common sense and common courtesy demand that you stand, just like all the other poor slobs who got on when the vehicle was already full.

Note that I’m not talking about fat people with invisible disabilities, who might really need to sit. (If that’s the case, then you’re going to have to explain that to people and ask for a seat. And they might very well be hateful about it, which fucking sucks, but this is public transportation we’re talking about, not tea with the queen.) I’m talking about people — and I’ve been one of them, dozens of times — who really want to sit, and thus find the siren call of that one empty seat well nigh irresistible, even knowing that for their purposes, it might as well be a full seat. In that case? Resist it. Lucky them, poor you.

It’s that simple, people. If a fat person got there before you, a thin person? Your bad luck. And if two thin people got there before you, a fat person? Your bad luck. Welcome to mass transit.

But wait, I’m not done. Quite frankly, I have trouble believing that the scenario the letter-writer describes — in which fatties “insist on squeezing themselves into subway and bus seats that are too small for them” — is really all that common. At least if we’re talking about squeezing themselves between two already seated people, not just into any given butt mold. Like I said, I certainly know the temptation to take an empty seat, even when you know it’s not enough for you, but I’ve never done it, because I have a brain in my head. And I’ve been riding public transportation regularly for 12 years, in two different cities, and have never once had a fat person squish in next to me when it obviously wasn’t gonna work. So I have to believe one of two things is going on here:

  1. The letter-writer is just talking about people who have the gall to take up more than one butt mold at a time when more than one is available — which, dude, GET OVER IT. They got there first, and wishing isn’t gonna make their asses smaller.
  2. The letter-writer had or witnessed this experience once or twice (or maybe imagined it), and then fat-hate fueled his or her indignation about THIS WIDESPREAD, TERRIBLE PROBLEM.

I would not be at all surprised if it were the latter. Like the now-proverbial “fat person I totally saw with 5 kids and a grocery cart full of junk food” and the “fat person who made my airplane ride SOOOO uncomfortable,” this Fatty Who Takes up too Much Subway Space has achieved mythical — in every sense of the word — status in recent years. And as always, it’s almost certainly much more about stereotypes of fat people — they have no idea they’re fat and other people are grossed out by it, and since they clearly have no self-regard, you can’t expect them to show basic respect for other people! — than about the reality of getting around in a world that happens to include fat people.

As far as that reality goes? Suck it the hell up or take a cab. Seriously.

143 thoughts on “Miss Conduct Rocks!

  1. Ohh. Kate. Perfect answer. Really.

    My limbs have never “landed” on anyone, as the fatties’ limbs in the letter did. I’d call it more of a gelatinous oozing or spreading. Not landing. Def’nally not landing.

  2. It’s definitely fat hate. Because public transportation sucks. You are already mad at it before you even get on. Someone has to be your target. That’s an easy one. All of society seems to be on your side on that one.

    What I would like to know is: when you get on a completely empty bus, and sit in a back seat, why on earth does the man getting on at the next stop look around the empty bus plus one and decide to sit right next to you? Why?

    Surely if I were a man, that man would sit fourteen miles away. Perhaps I should wear my man suit on PT from now on.

  3. You know, some days I hate *every single person* on the bus. Other days, I’m all, “Yay, public transport!” The funny thing is I was just re-visiting a couple of my bus pet peeves in my blog yesterday.

    Which leads me to believe I’m kind of pissy and entitled-feeling some days, and it’s kind of random when it happens, and it really has nothing to do with the type of people on the bus any given day, whether they’re fat, thin, tall, pregnant, carrying ginormous backpacks, in wheel chairs, smelling like pee, etc. I’m just a grumpy biatch some mornings.

  4. Kate, I’m not sure whether I love you more for
    Some people have wheelchairs that take up more than a “single” seat, while the rest of us stand around using our legs like suckers (LMAO!)

    or

    Note that I’m not talking about fat people with invisible disabilities, who might really need to sit. (If that’s the case, then you’re going to have to explain that to people and ask for a seat. And they might very well be hateful about it, which fucking sucks, but this is public transportation we’re talking about, not tea with the queen.) (Sad but true.)

    Either way, you’re today’s hero.

    And Hilary, I know exactly what you mean about hating everyone on public transportation. I have days where I hate everyone on the planet and wish they would collectively get hit by a giant truck. I, too, am a grumpy biatch some mornings (and afternoons!). :)

  5. I once had to ride the full-to-the-brim Dog from Chicago to Denver next to a smelly, smelly man who wanted to cuddle. But, like you say, you get what you pay for.

    I think your p.t. etiquette should be posted everywhere.

  6. You’re absolutely right about the bus etiquette. Mostly, riding the bus, and being crammed in like a sardine with that many other people just sucks, never mind what size the individual people are.
    What seems to be way more common on the bus than the “fat person squeezing themselves in to a seat that’s too small” is the men who feel the need to spread their legs as far apart as they can, even when there is someone sitting on either side. I believe I have seen this termed the “phantom penis” phenomenon. Which still makes me giggle, when I am not glaring in frustration at said men.

  7. If we’re going to quibble over who takes up the most space on the bus, then we really need to start blaming the men on public transit. Before anybody starts flaming me for being a man hater, let me say that it has been proven by social researchers (West and Zimmerman, “Doing Gender”) that men tend to take up more physical space than women do. It’s just a fact that I am putting out there. Men tend to sit with their legs spread wide, their arms thrust out at their sides, which in the case of public transit often leads to them taking more than their fair share of that little two-person bench we’re sitting on. Conversely, women tend to sit with their legs closer together, their arms folded in their lap, taking up as little space as possible.

    So before any transit rider goes off on fat passengers who probably make up no more than 15% of the population (maybe more people than that have a BMI in the overweight category, but I know plenty of people categorized as overweight who can still fit in the bus’s molded plastic seats), consider all of the men (about 50% of the population) who (probably unknowingly) take up more than their fair share of space on the bus.

    And of course fat people should get a seat! Being skinny already affords some people so many advantages in life. They shouldn’t get to claim bus-sitting privileges as their own, too.

    What if a big, huge, muscular body builder has a seat next to you? No doubt he or she is going to take up more than one seat. Is somebody going to ask that person to move?

    I guess my overall point is that I agree with Kate. There are so many other types of people who take up a lot of space on the bus that it isn’t right to just blame fat people.

  8. Quite frankly, I have trouble believing that the scenario the letter-writer describes — in which fatties “insist on squeezing themselves into subway and bus seats that are too small for them” — is really all that common.

    Speaking as a person who has ridden the NYC subway pretty much daily since I was 14 (and I’m now 23), I can say that I have often seen people squeeze into a space that can not fit them, but I have never experienced an OMGFATPERSON trying to do this (though I would imagine that there is an arguement out there that if there is any space a person can not fit into, said person is fat).

    Me personally, I am currently priveledged not to face this problem very often, but in high school, unless I got onto a nerely empty train, I never sat down out of the sheer terror that my ass was too big so as not to squash my fellow passengers. I didn’t want to experience the heavy sigh and the eye roll that I was certain I would face; I couldn’t even live with the thought of someone thinking that I might be too fat to sit. So I stood for four years.

    Now I mostly take the bus to work where I am forced to confront the butt molds (excellent name for them btw) much more frequently than I did on the subway (as the majority of NYC subways just have long benches, without a visible seat divider) and I struggle to remind myself that I am not a failure if my leg slightly encroaches on the next space; that, in fact, I would not be a failure if I took up the whole two-seat bench. Because, hard as I may find it to believe sometimes, I have the right to take up space; I have the right to exist outside of the area others have designated is appropriate for me.

    As usual, this is an excellent post. I predict tons of comments :-D

    And bravo to MissConduct as well :) I was not familiar with her before this post, but will try to make her part of my daily browsing now!

  9. Kate I’m going to disagree with you on the first come, first served idea because there is a major case in which it doesn’t work- those with disabilities.

    Personal experience from Minneapolis is that the first-come, first-served mindset is prevelant there and reaches to the clearly marked handicapped seating. I just loved the month in the summer (ie less crammed trains) where I was on crutches and couldn’t get a seat because some asshat wouldn’t move for the visibly handicapped chick. I was incredibly grateful for the lovely Metro Transit cop who ripped people a new one on one of my afternoon trips home so I could get a seat. Of course I also had to deal with busses everyday too and the comments from people about “why can’t you just sit in the back?” were ripe considering that the aisle wasn’t wide enough for me to maneuver down.

    So honestly I’m of the first come first served except in the case of the marked handicapped seating mindset.

    That said- I’m so glad to be back in LA. Mass transit here is quite different than Minneapolis. After being in MSP, I believe my other rule re fat people on mass transit is: You people getting on the train can f*ing wait for the passengers to get off first. Don’t body slam the fat chick because you’re inconvienced that she’s in your way when shes the first person off the train (something I never experienced in LA but happened often in MSP. Towards the end I took to “accidentally” hitting people back as hard as possible).

  10. What seems to be way more common on the bus than the “fat person squeezing themselves in to a seat that’s too small” is the men who feel the need to spread their legs as far apart as they can, even when there is someone sitting on either side. I believe I have seen this termed the “phantom penis” phenomenon. Which still makes me giggle, when I am not glaring in frustration at said men.

    That is probably my number one seating pet peeve! It’s like, dude, there are in fact other people in the world aside from yourself.

    And phantom penis makes my life :-D

  11. Ehem, “the phrase phantom penis makes my life.” Should I ever define my life by phantom penises (penisi?) I know I will be in trouble.

  12. Do they think they’re getting better air circulation that way? Because I’m sure that the keeping their legs togther during that half hour on the bus is really going to overheat their testes so much that they’ll be sterile in the future.

    Yes I am also a phantom penis hater.

  13. So honestly I’m of the first come first served except in the case of the marked handicapped seating mindset.

    Oh, absolutely. I took that as a given, rather than making the post even longer by explicitly acknowledging it. And I know people are terrible about giving up their seats for people with disabilities, visible and invisible — not to mention elderly people and preggos. But that’s a whole other issue — one that falls into what I estimate as the 5% of REAL subway etiquette issues, as opposed to the 95% that come down to, “I’m grumpy and hate people and wish I could sit.”

    Also, something I forgot to mention is that occasionally, when there’s one seat open next to me and a fat person gets on and quite pointedly doesn’t take it (much more common, IME, than the thoughtless fatty squishing in), I will say, “Do you want to sit down?” ‘Cause I really don’t give a rat’s ass if a stranger’s thigh touches mine on the subway, and sometimes, once people know that, they’ll take the opportunity to sit. Sometimes, they won’t, because — this is something that gets forgotten a lot in these convos, too — there are plenty of fat people who hate having to touch strangers just as much as thin people. But I totally know the feeling Jae described above — “I’m fat, so if I take that seat, the person next to me is going to be disgusted/roll their eyes/whatev.” And I figure if there’s a chance someone might be having that feeling, it’s worth letting them know it’s okay.

  14. Jae, I’m also a NYC subway commuter, and I agree – the person who tries to squeeze into a space that’s too small is never, in my experience, a fat person. It’s always someone of a smaller size who – selfishly? innocently? ignorantly? – believes that they will fit into that space. And when they don’t, they just squeeze their butt in their anyway, forcing everyone’s elbows into their abdomens and making the whole damn row uncomfortable. Seriously, folks – know the size of your ass. If your ass is bigger than the space that just opened up, don’t sit there. I do it all the time – a space opens up, my husband says, “Want a seat?” and I look at it and make a judgement call. Why would I sit if it’s going to be *more* uncomfortable than standing, anyway? As Kate says, if I’m there first, I have a right to take up space. And yes, my butt occasionally overlaps the butt mold (which they still have on my train, the 7 from Queens.) But if a space opens up that’s more like a half a butt mold… I’m not gonna fit. They got there first. That’s the way it goes.

    Leizard and Sara, don’t even get me started on the problem with men opening their legs wide. :) (Really – do their penises need THAT much room? I don’t think so.) Or opening up the New York Times to its full width when everyone knows there’s convenient ways to fold it. Or bags on seats, or leaning on the pole so no one else can hold onto it, or standing right in front of the door so everyone coming onto the subway can only use one half of the entry space… THESE are all examples of taking up more space than you deserve, and of being rude. Ten years of the NYC transit system, and I could write a book on subway etiquette.

  15. What really lies at the heart of this is the normalcy and desire for some people to hate fat people… probably because they fear their own life as a fat person. Just as most homophobia springs from people’s inability to accept their own sexuality.

    I feel like everyone wants to fix fat people and I dislike how they use abuse and hate to “motivate.” I quote Jae from an earlier comment, “cause, hard as I may find it to believe sometimes, I have the right to take up space; I have the right to exist outside of the area others have designated is appropriate for me.” RIght on!

    There is this unbelievable FEAR of being fat that it is constantly pushed onto the people who are, in fact, fat. The hatred stems from fear and these petty comments about the horrible things fat people do to thin people are just ridiculous. We’re all just human… isn’t that enough of a reason for us to just co-exist!?

  16. Astrobabe – I think people with disabilities count as an exception for sure. I mean in Portland there are signs for the disabled priority seating where you must make room for someone with disabilities. I’ve never ridden another cities public transport though so maybe this isn’t common.

    Physical Ability aside, PT is first come first serve.

    Personally I’m a seating biatch, and I take up both seats (with my bags, my size 14 ass fits in one butt mold just fine) until I absolutely cannot ignore that someone will need it. Even then I try to pick the least crazy person getting on the bus and make eye contact and do the head nod toward my seat. I have generally avoided the crazy and the smelly this way.

  17. I should say least crazy looking person. And actaully I can’t lie, least crazy looking WOMAN… I have a comfort zone, what can I say.

  18. What seems to be way more common on the bus than the “fat person squeezing themselves in to a seat that’s too small” is the men who feel the need to spread their legs as far apart as they can, even when there is someone sitting on either side. I believe I have seen this termed the “phantom penis” phenomenon. Which still makes me giggle, when I am not glaring in frustration at said men.

    So true! And this drives me CRAZY, I have to say! Especially as I am usually fairly conscious of the space I take up on a seat and always try to be considerate to my neighbors. I would say it’s a fairly regular occurence for me to be on my morning train and have to sort of perch on half the seat as the dude next me makes himself rrreeeaaallly comfortable and hogs all the space. Luckily lots of people get off the stop after I get on so usually I can move.

    I do think you get a fair bit of fat hate on public transport. On more than one occasion I’ve seen an eye roll or a shake of the head just for trying to make my way down the train aisle (London train aisles are a little bit narrow) and brushing against a seated passenger on the way. But maybe I’m being sensitive and assuming that the “hating all passengers'” thing = “fat hate.”

    I will also second the fact that many people would rather keep their seat than give it up to someone who needs it more than they do. I am probably guilty of this myself. London busses designate several rows that people must give up for disabled passengers/older people/folks with children/etc. and I personally try to avoid sitting there specifically so I won’t have to give my seat up!

  19. Kate and Lexy-

    I just mention that because whilst it seems like common sense, especially when it’s clearly marked that seniors and disabled have priority here, I don’t ever see people moving their tushes. Because you know that can’t actually apply to them.

    I think perhaps there needs to be a thwaping crusade for the people on mass transit who ignore that. (and the one time that the cop saved me, it wasn’t because he asked the folks to move. He did. What moved them was him asking for their IDs so he could write a $300 ticket).

  20. Hooray for Miss Conduct indeed! My personal rules for riding the el include:

    *no cramming oneself onto trains that are almost Satanically jam-packed and quietly mock those who insist on doing so (I’m surprised I don’t see people slathering butter on themselves in order to squeeze in)

    *I don’t sit unless a single seat opens up or if the regular two-seater is clear of anyone else. Once I “establish ownership”, if you will, anyone is welcome to sit next to me. If you huff and shift and roll your eyes while you’re next to me, you can summarily eat me.

    *On the rare occasion I decide to sit down when someone else has established ownership, I make damn sure I am as in my own area as humanly possible, even if it means half my ass is hanging off the seat.

    Public transport will never be the motherfucking Orient Express. If the only thing causing you hair-raising rage is my carcass sitting in a seat, then it must be so nice to not notice the people on their cell phones yapping at the top of their lungs, people with their I-Pods jacked up so loud folks in the next car can hear it, jackass teenagers, drunken frat boys, crazy people, stinky people, and that one couple that just WILL NOT stop making out.

  21. Now I have to admit that my public transportation experience in the US wasn’t much. There was only three years of my entire life that I ever had to use it. And for two of those three years, I had kids with me, and I found that a lot of people were helpful and more forgiving of me taking up more space than usual BECAUSE I had two children (two and under) with me.

    But I can tell you one thing: this definitely brings home for me how much better the UK public transportation system is. In nearly five years, I can count on ONE HAND all the times I’ve been on a bus or a train that was packed enough for me to even worry about seating. And if there isn’t enough seats? I just stand. Like Kate said, my bad luck.

    And I guess I must be a freak of nature or something, because if someone gets on the bus that I think might need my seat (e.g., the elderly, a woman with a child, someone who just looks like they NEED to sit [and this is when there aren't any other seats]), I offer it to them. When I get ON a bus, I wait for the departing passengers to get OFF (same goes for trains, but I take buses more than trains).

    Shoot, MY biggest pet peeve isn’t people taking up too much space or phantom penises (love that one! hee!) or eye rolling, huffing and puffing fat haters… it’s people who don’t seem to know the meaning of DEODERANT. Invairably, if I’m next to the last seat on the bus, the next person who gets on is going to want to sit next to me and will smell like they haven’t seen soap and water in a month.

    But Kate, I think you pretty much hit every point I could have possibly made. First come, first serve, and if you don’t like it: tough. Some people take up more space than others, and you have to wait your fucking turn. If they get up and you’re still there, by all means, take the seat. But until then, STFU.
    ;)

  22. People need to get over it, seriously.

    It just shows how self-centered people are. God forbid a fat person have to get to work, school or anywhere else. We should all just sit at home and only take up the space that we’ve been designated.

    It just reminds me that even though I’m a nice, decent person, all people see is a fat lady who takes up space. I don’t yap on my phone, listen to loud music, talk to myself, smell bad, or anything else. The fact that I’m fat and I exist makes me a bad person.

    Sitting next to me for ten minutes isn’t going to ruin your whole life. And if it does, it’s not because of anything I did. It’s because you’re a bitter loser with nothing to do besides hate people for arbitrary reasons.

    The upside is that I usually get two seats to myself, even on a crowded bus. I don’t take it personally cause I don’t want people all up on me, either. Bonus.

  23. Once I “establish ownership”, if you will, anyone is welcome to sit next to me. If you huff and shift and roll your eyes while you’re next to me, you can summarily eat me.

    I used to get this a lot on my morning commute. I boarded the train (commuter rail, not subway) early in the route and had a 45 minute/5 stop ride. Usually, the train got “comfortably” full at the stop after mine, and became increasingly overfull with each subsequent stop. It wasn’t just a matter of waiting until the next train, because the next train probably wasn’t for 20 minutes and would be just as full … and that was on a day when the trains were running on time. When the trains were late, it was like the Tokyo subway at the height of rush hour, with fellow commuters taking the place of the people whose job it is to cram everyone into the cars.

    Anyway, I’d always try to get a 2 seater by myself. Invariably, a small, usually smelly, man would worm into the seat next to me and spend the rest of the trip sighing, clucking, squirming and poking, as if I would somehow compress my atoms and take up less space if he annoyed me enough. Never happened … no matter how many sighs and pokes were directed at me.

  24. I don’t know. I liked your explanation Kate…..public transportation is cheap. If you feel you’re too damn good to sit next to a fat person, or someone who listens to death rock on their iPOD loud enough for all surrounding passengers to hear, or someone who doesn’t wear or cannot afford deodorant….then perhaps you’re best off springing for a taxi or finding some other means from A to B.

    It’s amazing that these complainers never take time out to consider that their actions can and have been annoying to others. Holier than thou folk just get my fat pants in a bunch.

  25. My husband was one of those thoughtless fatties who would take the seat between two thin people if it was available (I say “was” because now he walks with a cane and is disabled – and yes, he asks people to get up for him, and they do, usually without giving him an attitude). I believe that if you pay your fare, and you can physically fit in the spot, even if it’s tight, you have every right to sit.

    Jeff knows exactly how to compact his shoulders in such a way that he’s not really encroaching on anyone else’s seat. The truth is he’s more uncomfortable than the people next to him sitting that way. It’s still easier on his legs than standing is, which was true even before his knees got bad enough that he needed a cane. I’ve seen more vicious reactions to the act of him sitting down than I care to get into, it’s been pretty ugly though (and if you physically push him while he’s sitting he’ll start to spread out and make himself very comfortable while making the pusher very uncomfortable). The basic attitude was that he had no right to take the seat, it was an affront to their “personal space.” Bullshit, there is no personal space on the subways, you have to make do with what you have because it’s a crowded situation. You want personal space, hire a private limo to take you to work and if you can’t afford that, well, TS Elliot. Also, fat people who don’t have visable disabilities shouldn’t owe the person next to them an explanation any more than the person who farts next to me should explain that they have IBS. It’s not my business if you have IBS or ate a burrito for lunch, you farted, it stunk and we’ll all get over it.

    As for the phantom penis men, I’ve looked them straight in the eye and have said “It’s not THAT big. Please move your legs.” They’ll give you a very dirty look, move and turn bright red – it’s fun to watch!

  26. YES, YES and a thousand times yes! to the comment about men (or boys, age doesn’t seem to matter) who spread their legs as far as possible. Christ, that’s annoying. And serendipitous to talk about on this blog, as it’s a good, concrete example of men being “allowed” to take up as much space as they want, while women will resort to all kinds of self-denial to take up the least amount of space possible.

  27. Which means, if a fat person gets on the train or bus when there is enough seating available to accommodate his or her ass? The fat person has a right to sit. Even if this means taking up two “single” seats.

    Brilliant. Ignorant jerks come in all shapes and sizes. Personally, I’d rather sit next to a clean, neutral smelling fat person than next to one who doused herself in perfume, hasn’t showered in a month, is coughing up what seems to be blood, or has this idea that because I’m a not particularly hippy woman and he is a man, he can spread his legs as wide as they go to air out his dangly parts and elbow me in the side. I have to start using the term phantom penis from now on.

    All of those have happened to me on public transportation (hour long train commute – not the subway, no butt grooves), and I’ve often gotten up or in the case of people who are just too damn rude to not routinely poke me with their elbows, said something to them. People who stand in the aisles next to the seats are the worst. Yes, you just punched me in the head with your elbow. No, it’s not my problem that you pay $50 a month less for your train ticket and get on at a later stop and can’t find a seat. Stop acting like a self absorbed prat.

    I’ve had several fat women (in my experience it is always women) squeeze next to me, but they were polite and did their best to not whack me unnecessarily and that’s just fine. They were polite and showed some common courtesy and I would gladly sit next to one of them again.

    I have days where I hate everyone on the planet and wish they would collectively get hit by a giant truck.

    Sweet merciful crap, yes. Children who use commuter trains like they’re school busses. Families of three hundred that get pissy when they can’t all sit together and prattle on and fucking on about how everything is shiny and biiiiiiiiiiiig New York while the rest of us who aren’t on vacation try to sleep. The guy who won’t stop yelling through his cell phone, or turn down his damn iPod.

    Fat people are such non-issues. They’re just easy targets.

  28. …Fatty Who Takes up too Much Subway Space…”

    I think you nailed it, Kate. It’s not so much concern for our collective health that drives fat hared; it’s our Puritanical beliefs that fat people are taking more of their fair share – of space, of food, of resources, etc…

    I find it highly ironic that fat people are made to bear the brunt of this disdain, in light of the increasingly consumerist society we’ve become and continue to become. We drive monstrous vehicles–built to plow through forests–around the block to fetch milk; we want cable in a million channels; we begin Christmas shopping before Halloween… and yet it’s fat people who are overly consumerist?!

  29. I think our butt-moulds must be different in upstate NY, because my size 20 ass fits in one, although I sometimes have trouble getting my whole skirt and coat under me and not on the seat next to me. Sometimes it is a little squishy if another fat person and I are sharing the 2 person seat, but more so in the arm/chest region.

    I think people should let SHORT people sit down before tall people, because the bar to hold onto is so high over my head I can barely reach it and I almost fall over unless I actually hang onto a seat or lean on a pole. And I am not that short! We finally got some straps hanging down in our new buses.

    I also agree that people SUCK at giving up their seats. Once another lady and I, stuck in inner seats where we couldn’t get up, simultaneously yelled at a high school student who sat down in the only remaining seat right in front of a young woman holding a newborn! It was so funny because we both said almost the same words, and they just burst out– “You get up and give that woman with a baby your seat!!!”

  30. When I lived in New York, I used to say that those guys on the subway with their legs spread a watermelon’s length apart were “planning to catch an MX missile between their knees.” No, dude, you don’t have to stand for me, that’s fine, just close your damn legs, please, there’s plenty of room next to you.

    Heck, I’ve given up my seat lots of times, to women and to men. I remember being in LA and a Chinese guy about 85 years old got on the bus, and I was the only one who’d give up my seat for him, even with all those decidedly unhandicapped young people sitting in the senior seats.

    People are more polite in PDX, I’ve found, than in most places I’ve ridden transit. And I’ve always observed the “don’t try to squash your ass into a tiny space between two thinnish people” rule, it’s only right. (“Know the size of your ass” — love it!) My pet peeve is when some tiny woman sits on the aisle seat while I’m in the window, and she won’t stand up to let me out when it’s my stop, she just turns her legs into the aisle, like, “I don’t HAVE to get up, bitch, you can just squeeze past me.” Times like that I’ve wished I had a fart or two in reserve.

  31. Times like that I’ve wished I had a fart or two in reserve.

    BWAH! No kidding. It’s the same thing I was talking about recently with negotiating restaurants where the tables are ridiculously close together. (Or theatre seats, for that matter.) There are some people who seem to sincerely believe they are entitled to remain in other people’s way until they are bloody well ready to stand. What is up with that?

  32. Oh, AND ANOTHER THING!

    How come no one ever mentions what awesome good luck it is when a fat person gets off the subway while you’re standing, leaving a whole fatty-sized space open for the taking? I’ve certainly had that happen more than once, as opposed to the fat person deliberately invading my space, and it’s like Christmas.

  33. Jane – Oh my god, I’m with you on the no cramming oneself onto trains that are almost Satanically jam-packed and quietly mock those who insist on doing so (I’m surprised I don’t see people slathering butter on themselves in order to squeeze in) I stand back and just laugh. Seriously, if the doors open and people are almost *falling out* of the damn train, what in the blue hell makes the people waiting for the train think they can *get on*???

    As for the fat people taking up too much space…Kate, I think you’re dead on.

    And does it make me a horrible person that I will intentionally sit next to the “phantom penis” men and purposely be fidgety and move my bags and my own legs enough that I bump into them every 5 seconds? And I play the ditz and make a big attention drawing fuss over apologizing *every time* until they finally sit with their legs in front of them instead of in front of me.

  34. Luckyliz, I believe that’s called “Tokyo syndrome.” Don’t they literally have people with plungers there to push as many people into the train as can possibly fit while all holding their breath the entire ride?

  35. Thank you Kate. This is brilliant. Ever since I came across this shitty, hateful fat bashing “A Manifesto: Keeping it Real on the CTA” (no link for that guy, but a Google search the phrase with quotes will yield the shitty, hateful fat bashery of which I speak), I’ve wanted some sort of response. And now I have one.

  36. Uhhhhhhh…Muslims hate fat people? Seriously?!

    Hello. I am a Muslim. I do not hate fat people. The Holy Qur’an does not say “No fat chicks.” I’d like to know how Ms. Conduct identifies these people as Muslims, and who taught Ms. Conduct that Islamophobia is an acceptable code of conduct? Please. This is just ridiculous.

  37. um yeah, I’ve never seen this happen either. After years of gross public transportation encounters, I’m only concerned with not getting puked or masturbated on whilst riding the subway, bus or PATH train. Seriously, don’t stroke your erect penis at me when I’m sitting in the butt mold next to you and I’m happy.

  38. Uhhhhhhh…Muslims hate fat people? Seriously?!

    This has to be the most profound (wilful?) misreading EVER on this blog, and we get a LOT of drive-by lack-of-reading-comprehension comments.

    I’m going to move the quote being responded to down here, so those of us who can comprehend words can giggle: “There are three groups who, whenever I dare to suggest that they might be human and have feelings, I get hate mail about it: fat people, Muslims, and smokers. How dare I give aid and sympathy to the enemy (sigh …)”

    Our friend apparently read only the three words I’ve bolded, changed the order, and got his or her dander up…

  39. sumac – a fellow PATHie! Do you ever get the lunatics who crowd the doors when you need to get out of the train so they can storm their way in? I never have this happen on the NYC trains, but it happens a lot on the PATH. Then when you fling your body hard against them in order to escape, they act really insulted. Like, hey, how could you be so rude! I was trying to trample you and you pushed me! The nerve!

  40. In my experience the biggest asspains on public transit are young guys in groups, especially if they’re tall. They take up a ton of room with their long limbs and bony knees and elbows, they have loud conversations over the heads of short-arsed people, and they swing their 100-pound backpacks with wild abandon. If I get pushed or hit with something the culprit is always some doofus boy who “didn’t see me”.

  41. Seriously, don’t stroke your erect penis at me when I’m sitting in the butt mold next to you

    The PATH definitely attracts an interesting crowd. I’d also add “don’t spit chewing tobacco on me” to the list as well.

  42. This has to be the most profound (wilful?) misreading EVER on this blog, and we get a LOT of drive-by lack-of-reading-comprehension comments.

    Yeah, I was gonna say. That’s actually pretty impressive.

    This is just ridiculous.

    Yes, yes it is. Read the original statement again, and you’ll see why.

  43. (You’re right, by the way; I’m looking at it now and it’s pretty great. Someone must not have had his or her coffee, though, because that was a truly absurd overreaction.)

  44. And does it make me a horrible person that I will intentionally sit next to the “phantom penis” men and purposely be fidgety and move my bags and my own legs enough that I bump into them every 5 seconds? And I play the ditz and make a big attention drawing fuss over apologizing *every time* until they finally sit with their legs in front of them instead of in front of me.

    I was doing that for a while, except I started getting the impression that the men were enjoying the physical contact, which squicked me out so much that I have a hard time sitting next to men on public transportation at all.

    I noticed in yoga class a few weeks ago that a lot of men seemed to be having problems with eagle pose, where you wrap your arms around each other in front of your body, and I realized that I have good shoulder flexibility partly because I’m so used to hunching my shoulders forward in order to take up less space, and how depressing it was that such a concept so foreign to most of the men in the room.

  45. Yes, the PATH is weird–technically bigger, cheaper, faster and cleaner than the NYC subway, but somehow smarmier nonetheless. And oh yeah, that wall of people who you practically have to punch to get off the train–I’ve never understood that. It’s like a whole population of people completely lacking in logic and a very basic understanding of physics.

  46. Well I’m relatively tall, so unless I’ve got a really long trip or the bus is pretty empty I’d really rather stand than try to wedge my knees against the seat in front of me. If I can take up more than one seat so I can put my knees at an angle it helps. If someone obviously (or describes) a medical issue where they can’t stand, I have no problem giving up one or both seats, or bullying some insensitive jerk into doing the same. Ditto for the elderly and people who have to control a toddler, juggle diaper bags and strollers and hang onto the rail for dear life with only two hands between all the tasks. Of course, if it’s a walkable town and I’m going less than a mile, I’d rather walk than take transit at all!

  47. Only in America.

    If this is your biggest worry, so major you actually have to write to an advice columnist about it, count yourself as lucky as a million dollar lottery winner, dude.

    This sort of elitism makes my head spin. How about being thankful that you live in a country where mass transit is available, where you don’t have to walk ten miles for fresh water?

    Someone needs to thwap that selfish little twerp upside his big head.

  48. Colleen – “Sitting next to me for ten minutes isn’t going to ruin your whole life.”

    I can say from experience that sitting next to you on public transportation is actually quite pleasant!

  49. …people who have to control a toddler, juggle diaper bags and strollers and hang onto the rail for dear life with only two hands between all the tasks.

    When I see a woman (always a woman) in that situation I always offer to haul the stroller up the stair or grab a bag, and I’ve never been turned down. Sure, I could be some random nutjob, but when you’re dealing with kids and public transit, you take your chances.

  50. I personally have SERIOUS touching issues. I hate when I touch strangers and I hate when they touch me. I will sit on the platform for half an hour waiting for a less crowded train so as to avoid the touching. Yeah, mass transit does tend to put me in a cranky mood.
    I have a personal rule NEVER to sit next to another fat person because it is just too uncomfortable for us both and also because of my touching issues. I don’t want to touch her/him because I feel they MUST have the same touch issue I have….doesn’t everyone have the same weird hang ups I have? They MUST!
    And the sideways seats on the bus drive me nuts. They are too high so my feet dangle then everyone kicks me or steps on me or bends my ankle in crazy directions, and if I’m on a long bus ride my leg will go numb because the seat cuts into the back of my leg in the totally wrong place. I’d rather stand than sit sideways.
    And the only thing I hate nearly as much as “phantom penis men” are the people who INSIST on standing in the front of the bus so they bottle neck the whole boarding process, while in the back, not only are there seats, but room to stand and poles to hold on to. What is wrong with you people?!? MOVE TO THE BACK!!

  51. If this is your biggest worry, so major you actually have to write to an advice columnist about it, count yourself as lucky as a million dollar lottery winner, dude.

    No shit! Even if this is your biggest worry on the train. I’ve sat next to masturbators, had my ass grabbed, been propositioned and harassed and threatened, been scared for my physical safety, shared train cars with people who I am pretty sure very recently shat themselves, been stepped on and walloped in the face with bags so hard that my eyes watered, encountered drug baggies and rotten food and wadded up bloody newspapers and vomit (my friend once found a Dunkin Donuts cup full of human poo so I kind of got off lucky), and once I even sat in an inexplicably wet seat on a day when IT WAS NOT RAINING.

    But some fat person taking up physical space? NO THAT IS THE WORST THING EVER.

    Pfffft. Come on, let’s all us fat people ride our own train and leave the shitters, pukers, masturbators, harassers, and bag wallopers to these bigoted jackasses.

  52. If this is your biggest worry, so major you actually have to write to an advice columnist about it, count yourself as lucky as a million dollar lottery winner, dude.

    Haha, oh my god, that didn’t even occur to me, but yeah. Wow.

  53. I don’t really mind being touched by strangers on the train as long as I’m not being touched by their errect penises! I figure there’s only so much space and what are you going to do?

    Once there was a a big delay on the trains and the station was wall to wall people. I had a rather tall, mean looking man next to me who kept hissing “Stop touching me!” every time I was pushed next to him. Finally I said “Do you think this is on purpose. Look around at the crowd here, how exactly can I avoid touching you?” He reluctantly agreed that I wasn’t doing it on purpose but still warned me to “be careful.” Another time on a packed train a woman complained that I was breathing on her! Um, well, I will just hold my breath until we’re in NY!

    I do think there are some class issues that personal space brings up. People who were raised in big homes with backyards have a different relationship to space than people who grew up in tiny apartments where everyone is on top of each other. If you grew up with a lot of space, you’re likely to feel entitled to it, and if you didn’t, well, how can you feel a sense of entitlement for something you never had?

  54. God, people are such fucking whiners. On the CTA the two-seaters aren’t even that much of a problem because if you have a fatty in one seat, the other person can just use some of the aisle space.

    Anyone who sits next to me is consenting to thigh-to-thigh contact. Get the fuck over it.

    Luckily, I don’t have too many people huffing and puffing and giving me dirty looks. Not sure why, but I think it’s probably because the neighborhood I live in, there are a lot worse things that sitting next to a fat person, like crazy or really smelly people or creepy people. A normal-looking fat person is a treat.

  55. I would like to add that I occasionally huff and puff on the bus, sigh deeply and have a look of disgust on my face not because of who is sitting near or touching me but because I’m on the bus and I’d really rather just use a teleporter and get my ass home.

    So, I’m sure there are other people that do the same and sometimes they are probably thin and you may be fat but hopefully most people aren’t mad at you, they’re mad that they’re on the bus/train whatever.

  56. I do think there are some class issues that personal space brings up. People who were raised in big homes with backyards have a different relationship to space than people who grew up in tiny apartments where everyone is on top of each other.

    Excellent point, Rose. I have two friends who are sisters and were raised in a pretty standard middle-class suburban household — not even a tiny apartment — but with 6 kids close in age. For a while, they were trying to convince their husbands to all buy a house together, since they could get so much more house for the combined money, and collective kid-raising could be useful. Apart from a simple, “That’s weird,” the hubs’ main objection was, “What about personal space??”

    My friends were like, “What about it? We’re talking about a huge house here. You’ll have plenty.” Hubs did not believe that to be true. (And I can totally understand their position, but I can also understand the argument against it.) Meanwhile, the sisters were like, “But we’re LONELY in these separate houses with just you!” (They lived basically across the street from each other already.)

    So yeah, “personal space” is a totally subjective thing, and it probably has a lot to do with how you grew up.

  57. Sniper, when I first moved to the UK, I was actually surprised at just HOW MANY people out here are so helpful to mothers with children and/or children’s accessories (buggy, bag, etc.). Sure, I encountered quite a few when I lived in Joliet and had to drag 2 kids around on buses, but even so, almost every single time I was getting on or off the bus, I would have at least one person offer to help me. I think that’s partly why I’m like that. I vividly remember how grateful I was when people helped me, and I can’t just sit there and watch another mother (or father; I see just as many men with babies as I do women out here) struggle, when all it takes is 30 seconds of my time and effort.

    And lexy, you’ve got a point. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, or they’ve got relationship problems, or – like you said – would just rather be anywhere but ON the bus in the first place. Their huffing and puffing have absolutely nothing to do with you. But when you’re a fat person and you’re all too aware that a lot of thinner people find it uncomfortable to sit next to you, you just automatically assume that it has something to do with you. We’re so used to the fat-hatred thing that we come to expect it from a big part of the population, whether they deserve it or not.

  58. My pet peeve of all public transport is people with loud music and headphones that dont frickin work. AAARRRGGHHH!!! I know, its petty, but I seriously want to slap people who play obnoxious music loudly in a space where im trying to zone out and not think about being in that space. It destroys it for me, more than sitting next to a very fat person ever will. ( i also wig out about loud headphones in IT rooms, as its even worse there. at least i dont feel like such a bitch for asking someone to turn their music down a little in a space thats supposed to be quiet.)

    Also, overweight people trying to squeeze into a space that they dont fit in? If we’re talking about a normal seat size here, and not something uncommonly small due to overcrowding, then poppycock. Seats are big enough for most ‘overweight’ people to fit in comfortably, unless they are uncommonly tall to boot.

    I hate public transport and it tends to put me in a very touchy mood. Rude staff members are some of the worst things, besides the crazies and the obnoxious.I understand that really, they have to deal more with those people more than i do, but dont treat me like one of them also. Im just a person trying to get from A to B, not cause them any problems. sigh…

  59. On OTM’s comment regarding “Sanity A Manifesto: Keeping it Real on the CTA” — Don’t read that article if you don’t want to be pissed off for the rest of the day. That guy is an ASS.

  60. “As for the phantom penis men, I’ve looked them straight in the eye and have said “It’s not THAT big. Please move your legs.” They’ll give you a very dirty look, move and turn bright red – it’s fun to watch!”

    And for that, Rose, you are officially my Hero Of The Week. I hate the “Behold my mighty codpiece!” brigade with a mighty passion. But then I pretty much hate everybody on the London Underground system during rush hour. Don’t even get me started on the folks who thump you in the face with a backpack the size of another (large) human being strapped to their person; or sweaty blokes with copious body hair who sit next to you in high summer clad in nothing but tiny shorts and flip-flops; or people who let their small whingey toddlers sit on seats when there are old people, pregnant women and sundry other knackered grown-ups gagging for a seat. (I say this, having returned from a weekly teaching gig necessitating a two-and-a-half-hour journey into and out of work).

    On a more serious note, this whole tfat folks on public transport thing is the proverbial red rag to a bull to me. There’s a radio presenter on one of the stations I listen to who can always be relied upon to be liberal and fair-minded about anything else bar fat people. And his “we need to take them in hand for their own ignorant, uncontrolled, NHS-sapping good” rants are always preceded by the same story about the one time in his life he had the misfortune to be seated next to a fat person on a 2 hour plane journey and that, in addition to encroaching on his personal space, said fat person had the nerve to scarf 5 packets of complimentary pretzels. And for this we are all damned.

    I keep hoping that if I write to him every time he goes off on one I might one day make him realise that broadcasting as if only the virtuously thin portion of his audience is listening is not a great way to boost ratings.

  61. The last time I was sitting next to one of those men who spread their legs really wide, I was in the middle seat of an airplane. And I was sitting next to not one, but two of these men.

    One of them was politely ignoring me, but the other actually tried to get me to change to a different seat at the beginning of the flight. He was all “There’s another seat over there. You should move, you’ll probably be more comfortable.”

    The sad thing is, I would’ve been more comfortable, because the guy who said that had clearly not engaged in any personal hygiene activities that day and he was talking to himself in a manner I found somewhat disturbing.

    As for busses, I pretty much hate them. I’ve been known to walk a mile or two, even in ice or downpouring rain, to avoid them. This the cumulative result of taking them to work and school for years and being fed up.

    Some of my personal rules of busses include:
    – Get up for people who need a seat more than you do (if you can tell, which often, you can).
    – Take the backpack off your back. Hold it with your hand. – Yes, it’s akward, but you’re a lot less likely to hit someone with it by accident.
    – If there are ample seats available, sit down instead of clogging the aisle space and thusly keeping other people from being able to sit down or to move back.
    – If you must talk on a cell phone, listen to headphones or carry on a conversation in person, please keep the volume down.

    It’s pretty simple etiquette. Just remember everyone around you is a person and probably hates being there and wants to be home as much as you do. No one enjoys the Dickenzian nightmare that is a bus at rush hour.

    -E

  62. I encountered quite a few when I lived in Joliet

    De-lurking to wave to a fellow former Jolietan!! I will say that we are pretty nice here in the midwest, so I very rarely get the eye-rolling when on the El, especially since I always sit on in an aisle seat and can dangle half my body into the aisle, if need be.

  63. People who were raised in big homes with backyards have a different relationship to space than people who grew up in tiny apartments where everyone is on top of each other.

    That’s a really good point. I grew up in the sticks with plenty of elbow room and I can definitely see how it probably contributed to my discomfort with people crowding my personal bubble. A friend of mine grew up sharing a room with her sisters and she’s much more comfortable with crowds in close contact. There’s also the fact that I’ve always been fat and aware of other people’s issues so it’s become habit to take up as little space as possible regardless of personal discomfort. I used to think it was being considerate, now I’m starting to think it’s a silly enabling of fat hatred and cramped shoulders are not worth appeasing someone’s irrational fear that they’ll “catch” my fatness if they touch me :-)

  64. And the only thing I hate nearly as much as “phantom penis men” are the people who INSIST on standing in the front of the bus so they bottle neck the whole boarding process, while in the back, not only are there seats, but room to stand and poles to hold on to. What is wrong with you people?!? MOVE TO THE BACK!!

    Oh. My. God. I hate those people with the white-hot hatred of a thousand burning suns. In San Francisco, the bus drivers won’t hesitate to cut the motor at each stop, turn around, and boom, “BACK OF THE BUS, PLEASE. WE CAN’T LEAVE UNTIL YOU MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE BUS.” At which the offenders will look incredibly irritated and take two tiny, useless steps back (or sometimes, squeeze up against the seats they’re standing next to to make a tiny passageway down the middle — of course, the poor people sitting in the aisle seats get a face full of backpack/briefcase/armpit/whatnot).

    It’s the back of the bus. It’s not the asshole of the bus; it’s not radioactive; you will not catch the plague or bird flu or contagious zits merely by being in proximity to the five teenagers who usually sit back there. JUST GO, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY.

    One hateful category not yet mentioned: The bastiges who take the aisle seat, don’t use the window seat for anything, even their bags, won’t slide over as the bus gets more crowded, and then give you the stinkeye if you try to squeeze past them to sit.

    It’s not possible for anyone, of any size, to sit on a bus in San Francisco without physical contact–the butt molds are so tiny that I don’t know anyone bigger than my 11-year-old stepson who can fit into one without spillover. And yet the phantom penis brigade continues its spread, making a bad situation worse.

  65. True story: in the summer of 2002, I was riding the 1 uptown in NYC when two thinnish metrosexual guys sat next to me and spent the rest of the ride talking about fat people and how much space they take up. RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

  66. True story: in the summer of 2002, I was riding the 1 uptown in NYC when two thinnish metrosexual guys sat next to me and spent the rest of the ride talking about fat people and how much space they take up. RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

    Well Cath, honestly, it was a bit rude of you to be taking up space when they needed it for their enormus phantom pensises.

  67. So the fatty-on-the-train thing probably depends on where you live. I have definitely had other fat people sit down next to me when there’s clearly not objectively room, even on the extra-small extra seats that have been stuck in some cars — it’s no myth here. But overall our seats are really big and unless both people are fatter than me, it’s not usually a real problem. Even if it were, Kate’s absolutely right — nobody owes you comfort on public transportation. Hell, I feel lucky if I get to sit down.

    Here’s my bit of subway etiquette: I never sit next to somebody when I’m on my way home from dance, wearing sweaty workout clothes. If people want to sit next to me, that’s their lookout. But if the only seats available are next to someone, I will wait. I’m able-bodied; I can stand. (It goes without saying that I’ll stand for someone who isn’t able-bodied, too.)

    I do scope out skinny people to sit next to, though. My size-18 ass just fits in the seats with no non-coat spillover, and if possible I like to avoid touching butts with strangers. I feel it’s more pleasant for both of us. But I do worry that fatter people think I’m avoiding sitting with them, when in fact I just don’t want us to compress each other unduly.

  68. But overall our seats are really big and unless both people are fatter than me, it’s not usually a real problem.

    I was actually thinking when I wrote this that I wish we could all live where you live, because the subway system in general is awesome, and the big seats are divine.

  69. I grew up in studio apartments where the roaches would picket for better living conditions! So yeah, I’m used to everything being pretty tight. But I do have a pet peeve. You can no longer walk down the streets of NY without construction on every corner. That means the walking space is cut in half. It’s hard to get from one end of the block to the next without getting real intimate with strangers! Here’s my message to the real estate developers:

    Dear Real Esate Tycoons,
    Please stop with all the new buildings. There’s no room left to walk or breath. Besides, aren’t you rich enough already from all the ridiculously inflated rents you collect? Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    The folks who live and work in NY

  70. Phantom penis dudes are the worst! Also irritating are the people who sit in the outside seat of the two seater Often I’ll make those people let me get by to sit in the window seat even if there are aisle seats available somewhere else, just because I’m obnoxious like that.

  71. Glad to see so many people liked the term “phantom penis.” My reaction to men like this who sit next to me is to spread my legs. My nether-regions need air-flow as well!
    I have to say that apart from me being grumpy and strongly disliking being touched by people, public transit in Vancouver isn’t usually all that bad. Reading some of the comments about very rude people on transit in other cities, I think some of that may be that we’re overly polite Canadians :P.

  72. It’s pretty simple etiquette. Just remember everyone around you is a person and probably hates being there and wants to be home as much as you do.

    Yeah, you know, if more people could actually get that “remember everyone around you is a person” thing down, there would probably be no subway etiquette issues at all.

  73. As a daily public transit rider, my lovely friend Heather often encountered those people who would try to move her body out of “their seat space” by pushing, poking, nudging and shoving. Heather, blessed with a fabulous sense of self-worth and great humor, would look the offender in the face and say very nicely, “Excuse me, that’s my fat and it’s not going anywhere.” Not only did it work every time to stop the pushing, no one ever had a retort for that comment.

  74. Heather, blessed with a fabulous sense of self-worth and great humor, would look the offender in the face and say very nicely, “Excuse me, that’s my fat and it’s not going anywhere.”

    I LOVE HEATHER.

  75. Since I don’t have a driver’s license and live in a big city, I have been using public transportation for a loooong time. Most of my pet peeves have been mentioned, but here are some that have been missed:

    *Using of the speakerphone of a cell phone
    Dude, I’m neither interested in listening in on your conversation NOR do I want to listen to your music. Buy a pair of headphones, goddammit!

    *Blocking of doors
    People act like the subway only comes three times a day instead of 30 times an hour. So when they walk down the escalator and see that the subway is about to depart, they make a valiant sprint to catch the train, thus blocking the doors and delaying not only that train, BUT EVERY TRAIN THAT FOLLOWS. Argh!

    Regarding the phantom penis (or polterwang, as I like to call it): I have absolutely no problem in spreading my legs wide (I guess I have a phantom vagina) and making myself even bigger than I am or crossing and uncrossing my long legs so that I keep hitting the guy sitting next to me until he finally gets the clue. Same goes for the newspaper-readers who think that I want to read their paper, too. Yeah, passive-aggressive, I know, but it is fun. :-) I don’t have the balls (yet) to use the “It’s not THAT big”-remark, but I’m working on it. :-)

  76. … the people who sit in the outside seat of the two seater. Often I’ll make those people let me get by to sit in the window seat even if there are aisle seats available somewhere else, just because I’m obnoxious like that.

    Um.

    When I use the bus, and there are no seats available in the front section, I do this. It’s because I’m disabled, and given how short the stops usually are, I have to think ahead to how difficult it will be for me to eventually stand, and, you know, get *off* the bus. And it’s a hell of a lot easier to do that from an aisle seat than a window one, especially if it’s a bus packed with irritated people just looking for excuses to pop off on their neighbors.

    Just sayin’.

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  78. I have used the “it’s not that big” line more times than I can count — lived in NYC for years and rode public transit nearly every day. At a certain point, being polite and leading by example takes a back seat to the need to call someone out on his outrageous usurpation of space.

    I’ve also been known to grab a hand that was getting overly familiar with my backside, hold it in the air, and ask,” Who does this belong to? I found it on my ass.” But that was in Boston, where I was a young and fearless college girl.

    And, yeah, Kate, “polterwang” does usually refer to pants that endow females with genitalia of the male sort. Check out gofugyourself for examples of this astonishing phenomenon.

  79. So, regarding the ubiquitous “phantom penis” phenomenon you all are noticing, there is one situation where I can see it being reasonable (heh, of course it’s reasonable if I do it! Self-centered? What’s that?).

    In a lot of buses, the seats are very close together (like, one row is right in front of the other, and there isn’t much legroom). I have literally sat on some LA buses with my back against the seat, knees straight ahead, pushing against the seat in front of me, and I’m not even very tall. It’s quite uncomfortable, and spreading your legs helps with that.

    Now, that’s not defending guys who do that when there’s plenty of room, nor is it defending guys who refuse to move their legs and just be uncomfortable if there are enough people on the bus to warrant squeezing in.

    What does really bug me, though, is when someone (usually another guy) comes in and sits in the aisle seat that doesn’t quite have enough room to fit him next to me, and sits straight ahead, even though there’s plenty of room to angle yourself and take up a little of the aisle with your legs – which I do if I’m the one taking the aisle seat. Of course, it’s different if there are people in the aisle, but I’m talking about a relatively empty bus. Do you really have to make me uncomfortable and squeezed just so you can conform to the butt mold better?

  80. I’ve also been known to grab a hand that was getting overly familiar with my backside, hold it in the air, and ask,” Who does this belong to? I found it on my ass.”

    Love. Pure love.

  81. phantom penis makes my life

    doo-dah, doo-dah

    Lisa, thank goodness I just came from the bathroom because otherwise I would have peed myself!

    And Jon, though the phantom penis phenomenon is bothersome, I do imagine there is some need for you guys to have a little room. I have no desire to squelch out anyone’s genetic line or anything (well…maybe some people’s genetic lines ;) but in general…), so even on a crowded bus, if ya need to keep the knees a little apart or suffer through the ride it’s not a big deal at all; women should not scrunch up for men nor should men crush the family jewels (as my grandfather used to say) for women. It’s really those fellows who think they are Andre the Giant who make things uncomfortable.

  82. I spent 7 years as a Washington DC commuter. And I don’t know how many of those I spent with 2/3 of my body hanging out into the aisle, in an attempt to avoid infringing on personal space.

    I live close enough to the end of the line that I could usually get a space, resulting in 30 min of me, shoulders hunched, taking up as little space as possible.

    But something to consider: Take a 270 lb woman, a backpack full of the days necessities, and a large winter coat. The train is actually too crowded to even attempt to take off the back pack and try to have it near the floor. And my balance is crap.

    I actually take up far less space sitting, coat as tucked in as possible, bag(S) on my lap, than I do in the aisle.

    But I had my share of people irritated that I dared be fat in the city. Whatever. I’m irritated that they choose to work for Dick Cheney. It doesn’t mean I don’t get to have my space.

  83. Slightly OT but nuckingfutz: But I can tell you one thing: this definitely brings home for me how much better the UK public transportation system is. In nearly five years, I can count on ONE HAND all the times I’ve been on a bus or a train that was packed enough for me to even worry about seating. And if there isn’t enough seats? I just stand. Like Kate said, my bad luck.

    Come on down to London for the commute and you will soon change your tune on UK mass transit. Depending on the day, I commute to work any time between 7:30 – 10am and I can safely say the trains are crowded that entire time and absolutely packed from about 8-9:30. It’s not uncommon to be late for work just because you’ve had to wait for a bus or a train or a tube that wasn’t too full to pick you up. Living in London is great but there’s nothing like a hellish tube journey to make you think “this is human misery. No one should have to live like this.”

    OTM:
    Pfffft. Come on, let’s all us fat people ride our own train and leave the shitters, pukers, masturbators, harassers, and bag wallopers to these bigoted jackasses.
    Bwah! I am so down with the idea of “The Nice Fat Train.”

    And finally, the most irritating public transportaton behaviors for me are:

    1: Standing right in front of the escalator exit and having a chat with your fellow travelers about which direction you should take, or using that same space to scrutinize your tube map.

    2: People who stand on the “walk” side of escalators on the tube.

    3: People who barrel onto the bus/subway/train before people have had a chance to get out. That one annoys me so much I usually “accidentally” bump the person with either my bag or my ass, whichever’s handier.

  84. BufPuf:

    In addition to encroaching on his personal space, said fat person had the nerve to scarf 5 packets of complimentary pretzels. And for this we are all damned.

    For real! I have to work late sometimes and when I am leave I am STARVING so I will usually have a snack while I’m on my way home. I am telling you if I am eating a bag of chips for example there will ALWAYS be one person who will be watching me eat them and I just assume it’s because I have the nerve to be a fat person eating Doritos in public.

  85. Jon- the situation you’re describing is totally not phantom penis/polterwang. I’m 6’1″, and the bus seats are very close together so I usually have to do the same thing, or slouch down in my seat, and wedge my legs up against the seat in front of me. Phantom penis/wang is when the leg-spreading occurs on the seats that run parallel to the long axis (wow, am I ever a nerd) of the bus/train.

  86. As someone who lives in Boston and rides the T to work every weekday, I can tell you that I have had thin people get up in a huff when I sat down next to them. I am very careful about not sitting if I think that there is a chance of crowding the people around me, and I have noticed that the people that stand up (and then stand right in front of the seat for four or five stops) are usually less likely to have actually been touching my apparently massive thighs.

    My stepfather was in a wheelchair and it annoys me to no end when I see people sitting in the designated Elderly/Special Needs seats that then refuse to get up if someone clearly needs the seat (or asks for it). I really try not to sit in those seats at all during rush hour, just because I have no problem standing and it can be difficult to see if there is anyone that may require a seat.

    BUT…I firmly believe that, with the exception of those seats, it really is FCFS on Public Transportation. I am a “neurotic commuter “- I made it my business to learn the transit map and where the train stops at stations that I frequent. I walk fast and queue up quickly (and just before my stop), though I try to be as polite as possible (because, just like most folks, PT can upset me).

    Having said that, my big pet peeves (especially on the Green line) have to do with people who just don’t seem to think about what they are doing*:

    – Don’t stand in front of the doors unless you are getting out or that side of doors doesn’t open for a couple stops (and step aside if you are getting on, so that people can exit).

    – It isn’t my fault that you walk aimlessly/don’t know where the doors open and still think that you get to get on first. Please don’t try to push in front of me.

    – Don’t walk onto the train and immediately stop (without a really good reason), making everyone behind you merge into one line/try to push past you.

    – Unless you have an apparent disability, don’t expect people to get up for you unless you explain the situation (as much as you are willing to disclose, of course). No – I really can’t tell that you are eight weeks pregnant (one of my coworkers was loudly complaining in a meeting a few months ago how no one was offering her seats (blah, blah, blah), even though she still have seven months to go (and most of us couldn’t tell from looking at her). If you are feeling sick or need the seat, you really can just ask. But don’t act all annoyed and offended because no one can tell what no-quite-apparent condition you have.

    Another version of this seems to be the older women (40’s, maybe 50’s) who aren’t “Elderly” yet and have no obvious impairments, but who seem to think that “respecting your elders” means that anyone younger than they are needs to jump of out their seat and offer it to them ASAP. I’m tired too…and I was here first. If you have an issue and need to sit down, ask politely and I will have no problem giving up the seat. If you just want to go on about kids today and their rock music, you can get off my subway lawn.

    *These don’t apply to tourists, since I don’t expect them to know that much about the subway or our customs – they have other ways of annoying me (talking too loudly, wearing matching American flag shirts, being a huge family and complaining about not being able to sit together, and bringing two or three huge suitcases on the crowded Green line trolley, parking themselves in front of the door/in the middle of the aisle, and then loudly talking about how crowded the train is (or how rude people are for not giving them a seat).

    Polterwang – yeah, I can’t stand this (and, for the record, it annoys my boyfriend even more)

    Sorry for the mini-manifesto, but my fat ass is one of the least annoying things on the T.

  87. I can’t believe you’ve seen a use of that word before. :)

    It’s popular on the indispensible Go Fug Yourself. (Here’s an example.)

    And “did anyone lose a hand, I found it on my ass” is from Preacher. I am a fount of pop culture knowledge!

    (FSVO “pop.”)

    (And FSVO “culture.”)

  88. Also irritating are the people who sit in the outside seat of the two seater Often I’ll make those people let me get by to sit in the window seat even if there are aisle seats available somewhere else, just because I’m obnoxious like that.

    I’m prone claustrophobic panic attacks when on the commuter rails under the river and to help prevent that I will sit in the last/first seat of the car on the outside, so that if I start freaking out and need to get some air I can do so without bothering people. The trains have inner doors and outer doors and you get a nice breeze by those outer doors and it just calms me down in stressful situations. Sometimes the conductors will yell at me, but the ones that are regulars who know me know that I have a reason for being there.

    If someone wants that inside seat I’m extremely polite and always let them get comfortable before I move back in, and it’s totally not done in the spirit of “I’m blocking two seats to be a bitch.”

  89. oof, no mention of the standard size guy that sits in the single seat and then sits with his legs spread so far apart, the folks in the seats next to him have to sit sideways?

    But no, I guess that wouldn’t be as offensive as someone who lets their fat touch their neighbor.

  90. Kate, this post is awesome. I rode the DC metro for a year and a half, and anytime I took a seat, I would squeeze my thighs together as tight as possible and squeeze my arms (and therefore, my D-cup boobs) as tight as possible, to make myself as tiny as possible. I’d make sure that, if someone sat next to me and their thigh touched mine, I’d squeeze the thighs even more. Sitting uncomfortably, in my mind, was penance for being fat.

    UNTIL… I rode it one day with my husband, and he questioned what I was doing. Then he pointed to my reflection in the glass of one of the doors, and I realized that, by doing what I was doing, I was actually taking up *less* than one seat. By sitting normally? I only took up about 1/2 an inch more than a seat. Now I take that extra 1/2 an inch and anyone who matters doesn’t mind and anyone who minds doesn’t matter.

  91. oof, no mention of the standard size guy that sits in the single seat and then sits with his legs spread so far apart, the folks in the seats next to him have to sit sideways?

    Well, no mention in the post, but about a zillion mentions in the comments.

    I know it’s a lot to keep up with, people, but if you’re not going to read all the comments, you should know there’s a good chance what you have to say has already been discussed to death. Which means your contribution isn’t nearly as exciting as you thought it was.

  92. It’s popular on the indispensible Go Fug Yourself

    That used to be a daily read for me, but now that I’ve got so much fatosphere stuff to keep up with, celebrity fashion has fallen off the list.

    I am ashamed of my lack of pop culture knowledge.

  93. Um yeah, Kate? Your blogs should be bound into a book. Really. You need to spread this around even further….start a magazine, run for president, something. First you’ll rule the internets, then the world.

    What I’m trying to say is..marry me? My boyfriend won’t mind. :D

  94. I posted my response here at my blog. But I’m pleased to notice that I came to a lot of the same conclusions you did, namely that (a) the experience is probably fake, and (b) we don’t harass people in wheelchairs this way.

    Anyway, one paraphrase from that post that I don’t think got mentioned here:

    It’s not just fat people. I’m not particularly big; I fit just fine in a bus seat. However, I’m a lot wider at the chest and shoulders, which means that on the typical two-seater I have to (a) pull my shoulders in and hunch over; (b) sit sideways; or (c) get more intimate with my seatmate than I typically care to unless I’m sitting with a friend.

    On packed buses/trains (i.e., major lines at rush hour), where some people are standing, everybody is miserable. But this happens on non-packed buses as well due to a phenomenon I call “checkerboarding.” People sit with most of one small seat’s worth of space (or if it’s a bench, about 1/2 to 3/4 a person width) between them and the next person over, in an attempt to maximize the cushion of space around them. (This also annoying when you want to sit with a friend and nobody’s willing to move.) In situations like this, I again can’t be too sympathetic with the person who complains that their space is being invaded, when they’ve relied on others’ reluctance to do so to deprive them of room.

  95. By saying “it’s not just fat people,” I don’t mean to minimize harassment. Quite the opposite – I don’t fit in the seats either, and yet I don’t get much flak for it only because it’s my shoulder and not my hip that touches the other passenger.

  96. I secretly love that I’m fat enough that people will not sit with me if they can avoid it. :)

    I love the extra room, and prevents being emotionally assaulted by people telling me all of their personal problems, which they invariably do. And I don’t mean actually crazy people. I AM a crazy person when I’m off meds. I mean random whiny people. I swear I’m going to start charging people my hourly wage as a psychiatric social worker unless the STFU.

    Also I LOVE the Heather quote. I almost fell over laughing.

  97. Excuse the hypersensitivity, but you can’t blame me, can you?

    When justified sensitivity is your stock in trade, you can’t avoid some false positives.

    Not that we’d know anything about that here, or anything. :)

  98. You know, I’m a fat gal, but I always stick myself next to the window and hug myself into a small bundle, mostly to give the impression that I’m not in the mood to make conversation with the next person who squeezes in next to me. It’s public transportation, we’re all stuffed in like sardines, we’re all hot or sleepy or tired.

    Nobody complains about the Important Business Dude who proceeds to cross his legs and whip out his laptop and Do Important Work, taking up two seats worth of space not to mention standing room in front of his precious computer. How about the folks who read the paper? I know I’m tired of being elbowed in the face as they quest for the sports section. The group of frat boys who are intent on horsing around in the aisles, the 20 something dudes who sit with their legs wiiiiiide apart, and the guy intent on talking to everyone or sharing his music with the world. No, fat people must be the only folks who ever take up any space or cause any annoyance in the world.

    Sartre said “Hell is other people”. Sitting on a bus you realize that no truer words were ever spoken.

    Those molded butt cups could stand to be just a hair bigger though. I could do without the plastic digging into the sides of my ass.

  99. Hey, Fillyjonk, a comic stole my line! (About finding a hand on my ass.) I used that one in the early 1980s — and from what I can tell from Wikipedia, Preacher didn’t start publishing until 1995.

  100. Oh man, I am filled with rage on a weekly basis. My public transit these days is done on my university’s buses. And I think a lot of the undergrads are used to driving everywhere but take the bus due to hellish traffic and lack of parking… and thus they have NO IDEA of basic transit etiquette. Taking up two or three seats, leaving their backpack on the seat, putting their art caddys on the floor so they slide everywhere, refusing to let people past, refusing to move away from the doors, slamming their backpacks into my head… oh, I could go on for ages. I think my “favorite” was more of a fashion atrocity – the girl who was wearing an artfully ripped denim miniskirt with a thong underneath and much of her bare bottom thereby exposed. How did I know it was a thong? Because her ASS was in my FACE.

    I am usually the fattest person on the bus, and I invariably take up the least space because I put my bag on my lap and don’t spread my arms and legs out. (A messenger bag helps a lot – I can swing it around to my front without hitting anyone and it fits neatly on my lap under my boobs.)

    Wow, I am cantankerous. Next thing you know, I’ll be shaking a cane at them and telling them to get off my lawn.

  101. “Leizard and Sara, don’t even get me started on the problem with men opening their legs wide. :) (Really – do their penises need THAT much room? I don’t think so.) Or opening up the New York Times to its full width when everyone knows there’s convenient ways to fold it. Or bags on seats, or leaning on the pole so no one else can hold onto it, or standing right in front of the door so everyone coming onto the subway can only use one half of the entry space… THESE are all examples of taking up more space than you deserve, and of being rude. Ten years of the NYC transit system, and I could write a book on subway etiquette.”

    Write it. PLEASE. WRITE. IT.

    Promotional copies can be placed delicately on the laps of those with the phantom penii.

  102. “phantom penis makes my life

    doo-dah, doo-dah”

    big cause of attitude and strife

    oh, doo-dah day

    do they think it’s gonna hit the floor

    doo-dah, doo-dah

    let’s squeeze it in the closing door

    oh, doo-dah day

    no room on the ride to sit

    I’ll have to stand all day

    if the Phantom Penii ride the “6”

    I’m gonna take the “A”

    (thanks, Lisa)

  103. Rubiatonta: “I’ve also been known to grab a hand that was getting overly familiar with my backside, hold it in the air, and ask,” Who does this belong to? I found it on my ass.”

    Coming out of lurkdom to say that if we ever have a daughter we are totally going to teach her to say this. I wish I’d known of this retort when I actually could have used it.

    What was the reaction? Of the offender, the others, etc.?

    You’ve all covered so many of the worst public transit offenses, so can I add the milder one where a strange man feels like it is appropriate and even nice to instruct a young woman whom he does not know to “SMILE!” Uuhhh, Dude, I have the same expression as all of the other young professionally-dressed guys around me, who are *also* on their way to work, so unless you’re the paparazzi and I became famous without knowing it, kindly do not instruct me on how you’d like me to look. I’m not your effing six-year-old niece.

  104. Come on down to London for the commute and you will soon change your tune on UK mass transit. Depending on the day, I commute to work any time between 7:30 – 10am and I can safely say the trains are crowded that entire time and absolutely packed from about 8-9:30. It’s not uncommon to be late for work just because you’ve had to wait for a bus or a train or a tube that wasn’t too full to pick you up. Living in London is great but there’s nothing like a hellish tube journey to make you think “this is human misery. No one should have to live like this.”

    Oh, I know, cherielabombe. But I have to say, in general, London is the exception. London is just INSANE. Period. You would think, being the biggest city in the UK and having all the big wigs working and living in and around London, it wouldn’t BE that bad, but sadly, it is.

    You should move up north. We’re not so crazy up here. ;)

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  106. When I see a woman (always a woman) in that situation I always offer to haul the stroller up the stair or grab a bag, and I’ve never been turned down. Sure, I could be some random nutjob, but when you’re dealing with kids and public transit, you take your chances.
    Sniper, as someone who fell off the bus while trying to carry toddler and accouterments and broke both feet (not to mention the embarrassment of passing out in front of everyone from the pain), I thank you. I held on to my boy and kept him from getting hurt by sacrificing my feet. And what did I hear after I woke up on the gurney as the ambulance was loading me? Grumbling from the darling passengers who had to transfer to a new bus (standard procedure when there is an injury) about how the fat chick inconvenienced them.

  107. Grumbling from the darling passengers who had to transfer to a new bus (standard procedure when there is an injury) about how the fat chick inconvenienced them.

    OMG, Krista. Every day, I think there’s nothing left to surprise me about fat hate, and every day, there’s something new.

  108. Toria, inside I am a cranky old man with a cane and I love “get off my subway lawn”.

    To the loud cell-phone talkers, I always want to start participating in the conversation and encourage other people to do the same. DUDE, WE CAN ALL HEAR YOU. If you’re going to make it a public conversation, the public is going to join in. (I have never had the self-confidence to actually do this, but one of these days I’m gonna.)

    I told my husband about the phantom penis phenomenon and he told me a story where some baggy-pantsed teenager did it to him on the train. My husband kept nudging the kid back with his knee, but that didn’t help, so he then went the direct route and punched the kid in the knee. (He’s a bouncer, so he has the physique for intimdation and little tolerance for bullshit.) The kid quit and then got off at the next stop. I would not recommend this strategy if you’re not a professional ass-kicker, but at least we know that the phantom penis is a widespread phenomenon.

  109. maewyn: On the joining in on cell phone conversations thing — I’ve done that. To strangers and a few of my friends who should have known better actually. What can I say? If you’re having the loud conversation right in my face, I’m going to participate — ’cause I’m social like that. :-)

  110. Ok, this is about an airplane, not a bus or subway, and I know the topic’s been done to death, BUT….

    Yesterday I had to fly on our least favorite airline, Southwest, because an employer bought the ticket and I had no say in the matter. My connecting flight was late, so by the time I got to my plane all the seats that were left were center seats. I sat down between two men, one slim, one average. And you know what? I didn’t fit in the middle seat because of their ARMS. Neither man was spreading out his arms, they were just hanging by their sides, but the seats were cut too narrowly to accomodate the hang of their arms! I was too tired to take a political stand, so I didn’t talk it out with them or shove them out of the way, but I flew for an hour with my arms tightly crossed, to try to fit into what remained of my seat space.

    So why, folks, why is it all about the fatties taking up all the space? I say that anyone whose ARMS don’t fit in the f***in’ seats should be shamed! Shamed, I say!!! How dare they carry their arms on planes and subways and busses and make me touch them???? Where is the fury? Where is the acknowledgement of my suffering?????

  111. I wish I had time to read all the comments to this post – it is obviously a hot topic.

    Unfortunately, I have to take the MBTA into Boston every day and EVERY DAY there is some drama. It is always crowded and there is always someone complaining about something. I don’t have a problem with people taking up more than one designated space – first come first serve. What makes me crazy are (a) the people who take their kids out of a stroller and put them on a seat while blocking two other seats with the stroller (and then getting pissy when you ask them to move); (b) men who use crowded trains as an opportunity to grope (I had a friend who actually got jizzed on …ewww) but some creep who was jerking off; (c) the woman who puts her bag on a seat between two riders and when asked to move it said she was waiting to be able to fit in the seat (huh?); (d) the people who refuse to move away from the door when there are seats and space available away from the doors; and (e) I always offer my seat to elderly and pregnant women but it isn’t always appreciated. I offered my seat to a very pregnant woman who screamed at me and told me she was pregnant not handicapped. I don’t know why “no, thank you” couldn’t have been her response. I could go on and on but you get the idea . . . .

    Can’t we all just get along . . . we all want to just get where we are going . . . .

  112. Nukkingfutz, I have to say that Aberdeen is a nightmare during a) rush hour, b) holidays, and c) whenever it’s raining. And gods forbid a bus should go down for any reason, that just messes up everything.

  113. I once read a letter in the L.A. Times complaining about moms, and how much room their strollers take up on the sidewalk. My first thought was “Why the **** do you care? No one walks in L.A!” But my next thought was “F*** you, you ba***rd! Cross the friggin’ street if it bugs you so much!”
    It made about as much sense as going after fat people for “deigning” to take public transpo, or even to exist.

  114. MB, I grew up in Boston (then lived in NYC for 5 years) and, yes, it’s a nightmare. Is the green line still especially bad?

  115. You know what bother me far more than someone taking up more than one seat because they don’t fit are the guys who DO fit in the buttmold, but insist on spreading their legs out to the sides (presumably to accomodate their EXTREMELY LARGE equipment – yeah, right!) and thereby either a) prevent me from sitting down, or b) if I *do* sit down, make sure that their thighs are all rubbing up against me. And no one ever says anything to them! Ugh!

  116. Oh, yes, and let me also add the people with backpacks who will NOT take them off, even though their bags are banging into everyone’s else’s face/back/kidneys. The only consolation I get from these people’s idiocy is that they’re much more likely to get stuff stolen!

    But I do take issue with people sitting on the bus in the seats that are clearly marked “for disabled and elderly people” and then NOT getting up when those people get on the bus – the first-come first-served rule is fine in most instances, but I think not in this one. If an old lady with a cane gets on the bus, then the young and apparently totally healthy person taking up one of those special seats really OUGHT to get up.

  117. I know I’m a bit late to enter into this conversation, but I just had to now that I finally have the words to articulate the jambalaya of frustrated thoughts and feelings of The Event, which I want to share with you.

    The Event:

    I was flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles this past Christmas to visit the folks. As usual, I thrust myself into my chosen window seat and disappeared into a book. For a while, it seemed as if I would be flying without a seat partner until, almost at the last moment, a man sat down in the aisle seat next to me.

    Now this guy was definitely big. Fat and tall. He took up a lot of room — you know, his own room, the seat that he paid for. And maybe he took up a little bit of mine, but here’s the thing: I wasn’t uncomfortable. I still had room. Plus he was polite, he didn’t make idle ridiculous chitchat, and he let me have the arm rest, which makes him, in my book, the greatest seat mate in the history of Delta Airlines. So he settled himself into his seat, I continued to read my book, and all was pleasant for about two minutes.

    Then the flight attendant came by.

    She looked at both of us and then asked, “Are you two traveling together?” Only she was really asking me. It was me she was looking at, me whose eyes she was boring into with silent empathy. Empathy for what? I didn’t have time to consider it, because after we both shook our heads in response to her question, she put her hand on the gentleman’s shoulder and said, “Let me see what I can do to make you more comfortable.”

    Off she went, returning a few seconds later to tell my seat partner that she had a “comfortable” aisle seat for him in an “empty row” at — you guessed it — the back of the plane. I think the gentleman was shocked, just as I was, because neither of us could answer her right away. I might have opened and closed my mouth a couple of times, silently, willing words to come (of course, they didn’t). Finally my seat partner said okay, and he stood up and made his way to the back of the plane, but not before the flight attendant shot me another look that clearly said, “You’re welcome.”

    Um, excuse me? Did I ask you for anything? Did I complain about having no space? Was I being squished? No. I was sitting comfortably, with my arm on the arm rest for once, reading pleasantly, just as my seat partner had adjusted himself in his own seat and was reading his magazine. We were absolutely fine. The flight attendant, most likely thinking she was being good at her job, assumed that just because I fit into my seat and he didn’t quite fit into his, I somehow needed saving from The Fat Man who deserves to be castigated for his fatness and separated from good decent folk that have the courtesy to possess smaller asses that fit into Delta’s famously roomy economy class seats.

    It’s one thing if the gentleman had asked to be placed in an empty row. Maybe he did, but I don’t think so because he seemed just as shocked as I was when the flight attendant suggested/commanded that he move. No, it was literal segregation of the worst kind. Banished to the back of the cabin, alone, like a fourth-class citizen. I can’t help but recall one of our nation’s most important historical moments, you know, the one where a person refused to be moved to the back of a bus on the basis of her race. How is this different? Of course it isn’t, but I am sure that the flight attendant and maybe everyone on the flight crew and perhaps even a large number of the passengers wouldn’t consider my seat partner’s removal a breach of civil rights. At that time, I had only just started reading your blog and had no words for what I was feeling, only a general, inarticulate sense of shock and outrage at the flight attendant’s assumption that I needed her help, that I couldn’t bear a five hour flight sitting next to a fat man. And now what I feel is resentment that I was implicated in that breach of civil rights because I was unable to speak up. I can tell you it won’t happen again.

    I guess I want to say thank you, Shapely Prose, for helping me find the words.

  118. Wow. I live in a smallish city,roughly 42,514 people, and while we have a niceish transit system (it looks ok , is cleanish, and goes out to some rural areas because of a college out that way), and a decent portion of the population use it at least 1/2 of the time, I find that the number of times I have had to worry about not having a seat ( a seat being a bench that could fit two people) to myself I can count on my right hand. And usually there’s room for a group of my friends and I to sit together.
    We also have front seats set aside for the elderly and handicapped, and benches with no butt molds in the back.
    I feel super spoiled now, you guys.
    I am never going to complain about having to ride the olympia transit system again.

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  120. I know that I’m way late to the party, but OMG all of the comments about random nasty on the public transport (like bodily secretions, et al), because that’s never ever been my experience. I’ve never really been on American public transport, but having grown up in Italy (Rome, Catania, and Naples are the three cities I grew up in) I can tell you that there is NO SUCH THING as personal space. Seriously, a bus will always get so packed that there literally cannot be any more people. Everyone will try to get as many people on as possible. It looks like we’re trying to do that whole how many people can you fit in a phone box/VW bug thing you see in old pictures.

    This was also my experience in Tokyo and Paris. When I moved to London for my A-levels, I couldn’t believe at how much space was left on the train even during rush hour. It was seriously amazing at how upset Londoners would get because someone sat close or how guys would try to take up tons of room. I was couldn’t help but think WHAT ASSHATS.

    The best experience ever though is watching tourists on Italian buses, trains and planes because all of them would act like Mike Teevee’s mother in the original Willy Wonka movie with that nose upturned move. Seriously, if you don’t like the press of humanity? You need to pay more than 3 euros a ride! Walk or take a taxi!

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