8.19 Personal Space

I’ve taken a lot of trains. Generally, traveling by train is quite pleasant. Especially since they started assigning seats. I’m old enough to remember that when you bought a train ticket, it was only a boarding pass. We’d all line up at the gate and once they opened it, it was the wild west. I mean, everyone had a ticket, so in theory, everyone had a seat. Still, people ran to the train - pushed old ladies out of the way, elbowed little kids - just to get a good seat. But, really, isn’t pretty much every seat on a train a good seat, more or less? Even though your boarding pass now comes with a seat, your seat and no one else’s, people still line up at the gate. We like to line up, people in general.

When I travel, whether in the car, flying or on the train, I always bring material with me that requires no internet. The train might have free wifi, but I don’t want to be dependent on it. When driving, I fill my iPad up with enough podcasts to get me to Japan. When flying or on the train, I bring work that needs to be done, store articles I’ve been meaning to read and at least two different books.

I usually go for the window seat. In the end, it doesn’t really matter as both the window and aisle have their pluses and minuses. Window seat: you have more personal space, less access to the washroom. Aisle seat: you can easily go to the washroom at your leisure, but you’re also at the behest of your seat mate’s bladder.

On my most recent train trip to Ottawa, a young man sat beside me. He started talking to me immediately. When I sit down, I pull out my books and everything right away to indicate that I have shit to do and cannot talk to you. Usually, this works, sometimes people don’t care. This guy didn’t care. I’ve noticed that people talk to you on a train or plane about one hangup that they can’t let go of. Another passenger across from us was sitting in someone else’s seat - apparently she didn’t get the memo on seat assignments. My seat mate thought this was hilarious, especially after the attendant made an announcement about seat assignments. That was his thing - he just couldn’t believe that people didn’t understand the concept of seat assignments. I mean, it says it right on your ticket! Doing my best to simply grunt or just nod, this guy kept going, no matter how engrossed I was in my book.

There is a design flaw in the modern train. Sure, it’s great to have outlets so passengers can charge their assorted electronic devices. However, in most of the trains I’ve been in, the outlet is on the window side. My seat mate was making a real show about looking for an outlet. I knew he was looking for an outlet because he held his phone in one hand and the charger in the other. I quietly sighed to myself and let him know that the outlet was on my side. Very excited, he said, “Oh, great! I’m at like 4%!” He reached over me, plugged in his charger and draped the cord over my ankles. He didn’t seem to think that this would be a problem. Charger cords are not long, so really, it was like my feet were tied together. If I moved, I’d knock his phone on the ground. This has happened twice to me in the last few months.

He kept talking, “The only thing is I forgot my earphones.” Ah, there it is. So, because he forgot his earphones, his seat mate - in this case, me - is forced to be his entertainment. I’ve got work to do! Books to read! Out of desperation, I did something that perhaps was a little mean. I took out my earphones and listened to podcasts for the rest of the trip. I had enough to last me even if this was a train to Japan.

Paul Dore