In Considering Inconsideration

Images by Primitive Prime! Labs

The Flatbush/Brooklyn College bound number 2 train was held in the station by a resistant red signal. Often is this the inevitability for the frequent NYC commuter. “Once the signal clears, we will proceed,” announced the non-assuring conductor via the intercom system.

This was a Saturday morning — The AM rush had dissolved. One could tell by the immediate inventory of unoccupied seats, far outnumbering the 10-or-so riders. Tucked into the quiet variety, it was one of those hush commutes where no one was standing, most people were adults, mind-deep in their own business and riding alone — Between the few who were accompanied, not one word was exchanged. As if talking too, had encountered a red signal.

To be honest, I mentally ghosted. Prior to stalling, the train was slow rocking as it sped through strobey, stretched tunnel lights, flashing pass the windows. Under the car, the tracks gargled, shrieked, and hissed, yet from one’s seat all this was reduced to a purr; pet by the misty texture of the air vents’ neverending hum. Sedated in the secret world of thoughts, I was gone — The announcement, the passengers, everything seemed stations behind. However, they all caught up at 34th Street and Penn Station where the downtown train waited; doors wide open like arms, as if ready to embrace a loved one.

That’s when it happened.

An explosion of music. Legit, like a music grenade had been dropped on the platform. Like a weapon some b-side Spider-Man villain would use. The music, a high energy Spanish trap song, instantly hi-hat rolled me back to flesh and bone. I was half-expecting a walking, human-shaped 360° speaker to step into the train car. Of course, this wasn’t the case. The individual soon marched in — Underdressed for the still too windy Spring weather, perhaps telling of the wider miscommunication between this person and his surrounding. He was almost like a hologram, an out of place 3D shadow of a future summer commuter — Whose jubilation was so ahead of himself, the Universe just could not deal all at once and decided to prematurely cast part of him back to the head start of April.

The burst came from his backpack, in some pocket, a soda bottle-sized, bluetooth, pill speaker. The impressive game changer for a city so accessible by foot, and where cars are so secondary that, as New York comedian, Colin Quinn accurately jokes, “every car acts like a person and every person acts like a car.” It was then, only a matter of time before pedestrians too, traveled with their own blaring sound systems.

Now, to be clear, you can feel however which way about Spanish trap or trap music in general, the sub-genre is not the point. Playing music on the subway, any music you prefer, is a private right but when that privacy transcends, via volume, to the access of your immediate public without their consent, you’re being inconsiderate.

Interestingly enough, I wouldn’t have minded if he were playing loud music for the purpose of brief entertainment, dancing or whatever — In possible exchange for monetary appreciation. Which can get tiresome at times but who am I to knock another person’s hustle? Also, I can find value in someone sharing a talent they’ve practiced or have been perfecting or simply have our eternal salvation at the center of their concern, as when people preach. Even though they’ve totally bypassed the audience’s permission, these interruptions, for me, are easier to reconcile.

In the situation I’m recounting above, there’s no expressed intention to give, in order to receive. Which kind of sounds charitable but under the twist of circumstance, actually ends up being greedy, because this dude has even less purpose in disrupting the purry-strobey quiet than the Showtime! performers. So it’s as if he’s publicly taking all the privacy for himself…Or rather pulling all the available public into his privacy — Thereby expanding his personal comfort into the entire car, as if it were his own private space.

That’s how he carried on. Impartial to whether we did or didn’t recognize, praise or otherwise engage with his curation. He might’ve even thought us nosey for listening to his music. By the way, the Spanish trap was cut off midway and replaced by a famous Salsa song, only to be awkwardly transitioned again to another track, this one by what sounded like a post nu-metal band. Dude couldn’t even decide on what to listen to. The rest of us, hostages, forced to eavesdrop as he figured out his mood.

His aim, so far as one could determine, was to entertain himself. This could be for a variety of reasons but most certainly, it was preferred, with zero consideration to the preference of the other commuters riding in the same train car.

Loud music, used in this way, actually pulls up into a larger depot of subway behavior that disregards the comfort of others for the selfish leisure of the individual. This includes, standing by the door for easy access to the exit but failing to stand aside, to let fellow riders in and out at platform stations. Leaning or hugging onto the metal poles, when other hands are holding or potentially want to hold on as well. It also includes squeezing uncomfortably into tight spaces between seated riders. As well as manspreading, (by both men and women, though I’ve admittedly seen men do it more), conserving an unreasonable amount of personal space by sitting with one’s legs opened far apart.

These all put the needs of the individual in the primary seat, pushing everyone else aside. Sometimes as literally as pushing everyone else aside, to ensure you get into the arriving train before anyone can get in, or out.

What I’m realizing however, is that there’s a tendency we have, of being offended without expressing offense. We typically don’t speak up or object when these situations present themselves. We assume people should know better but do they? What do you exactly know about a complete stranger? What would they know about you and what you prefer? The best thing, in fact, to assume in these scenarios is that no one can read your mind. Another safe assumption, is that when behavior goes unchallenged, it’s easy to see why it will reoccur. Speaking for myself, I have plenty reservations pulling down hard on the emergency brakes, stopping me from asking this dude, whom I don’t know, to turn his music off, or to please put headphones on. Some reading this might agree, avoiding confrontation isn’t such a bad idea. But how else would I expect him to know that I feel he’s being inconsiderate?

Frequent commuters will no doubt, have seen such confrontations. Often one person is judged inconsiderate by another, who’s not in the least shy about letting them know — And not necessarily with the most generosity of tact. A scene ensues in a relatively confined space and everyone else feels a communal anxiety, as time suspends and the immediate future splits into a variety of unknown outcomes. Some more unpleasant than others. The least favorable of possibilities hang in the air, stubbornly teasing our nerves until dissipating when the conflict, to our relief, is finally resolved.

As I mentioned before, these are usually strangers and with this relationship or lack thereof, comes an uncertainty to how a person we don’t know might react. One could imagine a train car full of Bruce Banners (pre-Endgame), with different triggers to go green, grey, red, etc.

And while there is a charm to such a thought, that we’re all equally Incredible Hulks, that any one of us would potentially throw up a sizable chunk of tantrum if confronted, I don’t know that this is an accurate assumption. New Yorkers aren’t time bombs; we’re fast-talking, fast-walking, destination-oriented creatures. We’ll take rudeness to a certain degree, in exchange for efficiency. But the biggest bomb deterrent for us, is complaining.

Boy, do we love to complain!

For instance, the MTA is conveniently 24/7 and major reconstruction promises to improve subway service in the future but its not immediate enough — And the most immediate it can be is right now — So because of this hyperbolized standard, the whole system is trash. In fact, ask any New Yorker who commutes because they refuse to bike, drive, carpool, or walk what they think of the MTA, the transit system that gets them where they need to be, and most will have a negative opinion: “They’re liars!” — “A bunch of crooks!” — “It’s a fucking joke!”

Frankly, in writing this, I’m complaining and meta-complaining about complaining. Complaint, is a New Yorker’s love language. Even the most satisfied among us will find something to complain about (and trust me, people will get creative with it). As you should also trust, NYC commuters exchanging MTA grievances, is a formula for unifying people of various ages and from all walks of life, faster than a city-wide blackout.

Post 9/11 New York City gave rise to a vigilance campaign meant to encourage citizens to notify authorities of any suspicious activity. The chief slogan summarized it as, “See Something, Say Something.” Over the years this has been a reminder, less about reporting spooks and more about venting. Prompting us to catalog the incomprehensible subway experiences for the latergram amusement of friends or social media followers.

However, keeping that same energy to confront every offense and it’s outcome, in real time, would exhaust everyone.

We complain so much because the city is indeed, intense and often overwhelms us. There’s plenty to complain about. Venting is often the verbal alchemist which converts frustration into relief.

The city is most intense during peak hours, when the maximum number of people are rushing home, to school or to work at the same time. Peak hours can be said to create peak New Yorkers. This is when we excuse rudeness the most, again shutting feelings out in the name of efficiency. The problem is some New Yorkers become so numb from doing this, I think they stay in peak mode even after peak hours. Probably why certain slights stand out so much more during off-peak, when things are more relaxed and there’s less reason to be rude or selfish.

In a packed train during rush hour, space is obviously a luxury — Expectations lower. In a case where everyone has moved in as far as they can, the politeness of personal space is temporarily abandoned. If you’ve never lived in NYC or experienced it’s subway rush let me give you a brief snapshot. You’re packed in like the kind of hoarder closet that would give Marie Kondo a heart attack. You’re standing really close to strangers and I can’t speak for them but the chief strategy for conserving my sanity is to ignore the strangeness of this intimate proximity. We all chose to be in this situation in order to get where we’re going but we seem unwilling to admit it’s happening. Avoiding eye contact, small talk, escaping into our headphones, social media or other mobile apps.

In peak mode during peak hours, I even go as far as to feel apologies are a waste of breath. The trains jerk and swerve causing the occasional bumping and brushing of bodies. Often a person will apologize for accidentally leaning or falling on you; and you nod awkwardly, eager to end the exchange, as it clamps you down onto the reality of the inescapable situation. Yet, I admit I automatically apologize when I land on someone too, so I get it.

It’s also worth noting, I hardly have experienced loud music during a congested commute. Likewise, people are less likely to hug the metal poles. It helps there’s a web of arms, blocking anyone trying to lean on it, though some successfully pursue the enterprise anyway. Seat-spreading also seems more infrequent with the exception of those suspect empty cars, that often come with a very smelly catch. In general, it’s as if offensive behavior regularly occurs on the subway when there’s more personal mobility, less people to object, and a higher standard of personal comfort so often absent from rush hour.

The simplest of comforts being space and the quiet to enjoy it.

The stretchy-misty quiet, that becomes occupied when an individual disrupts the calm, motivated possibly by their own interpretation of personal comfort. The abductor of that quiet remains unchallenged through the reluctance of everyone else who refuses to reclaim it.

Such is my indecisive DJ. And maybe there’s consideration in his deep-cuts selection of circumstance. Our comfort languages different. Perhaps, he wouldn’t play music in this manner on a weekday or during rush hour. He’d be right to argue there’s fewer people here to offend at this time. Also, there’s plenty space, he did sit in a far corner to attempt to keep the music in that area (albeit failing). One could also consider the volume might’ve been less intrusive in the loud street above and he simply hasn’t adjusted to the change of setting. And maybe, overall, he wrongfully assumed “if someone had a problem with my volume, they’d tell me.”

Years ago, I ran into a friend on the train I hadn’t then seen in a while. She and I caught up during the ride. It wasn’t rush hour and there was a good amount of space on the train. I usually commute alone and rarely do I run into friends on the subway, which I’ve always found surprising given how often it happens elsewhere in the city. Anyway, I had become really present in the conversation and my hold on my surroundings had slightly loosened.

Unexpectedly, I received a tap on my shoulder and a guy told me I was too close, and asked me to move some. Those weren’t his exact words and while I don’t remember him making too much of an effort to be polite about it, he also wasn’t rude and even more importantly, he was right. I was mad close without having noticed. I said “my bad,” and moved some. End of that.

Since then, I’ve had moments when someone has stood too close to me on a relatively spacious train and I likewise, tapped their shoulder and let them know. So far it hasn’t been a big deal; no shouting, no name calling, and no one got anyone’s hands. Yes, reactions have ranged from apology to no apology, indifference to sucking teeth in, but every time, each individual did oblige my request for more personal space. I like to keep that in mind.

The rules of conduct and behavior on the subway are like atoms, we know they’re there somewhere but we can’t see them. More so, we witness their bending, more often than their enforcement, leaving the policy in a cloud as invisible as atmosphere and therefore, up in the air. You can read them at mta-dot-info and confirm the things you suspected were against the rules, such as littering, sleeping on people, manspreading, smoking, and yes loud music are indeed against the rules, yet we’ve seen them done with no consequence whatsoever. I don’t believe more policing of these rules by authorities is necessarily a good fix. Personally, I’d prefer more shoulder-tappers. Not necessarily polite or rude, just as matter-of-fact and reflexive as when someone picks up something you dropped to hand it back to you.

Our real rules, those already in practice, seem necessarily set at peak mode during peak hours, when the most intense number of strangers are unavoidably pressed up against one another. In an unspoken understanding, we arrive at a respectful energy exchange that gives to others in order to give to ourselves. We could extend that to off-peak — Where we’re allowed to be more at ease, and when the temptation to prioritize our comfort at the expense of others is, I think, greater — Even if it means losing some comfort on my side and yours. Mutual-care, is being considerate enough to let you know when you’re being inconsiderate. And I can only hope I’m not the only one who wouldn’t get offended if someone likewise, did the same for to me.

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