Chronicles of the Damp Seat

Part I

A couple of days ago, I had to take the streetcar to work because my bike was in the repair shop getting a tune up.  I am no stranger to taking the streetcar and the intricate subtleties of etiquette that endeavor involves.   Getting on near Woodbine and Queen on the 501 means that there are only a handful of stops before mine, so the streetcar is generally empty and one has a wide variety of seating choices to select from.  I always try to sit in the very back of the streetcar–the area with seven seats: two sets of two facing each other, separated by a perpendicular set of three seats which face the front (click here to view).  I generally take one of the three seats that face forward, either the left-hand one or the right-hand one, but never the one in the middle.  The reason I never take that middle seat is simple: human nature, or at least the general nature of the humans living in Toronto, dictates that they will always attempt to maintain a distance of one empty seat between themselves and their fellow passengers, unless they’re travelling together*.  I myself do this also.  In theory, if I was to take that middle back seat, I would essentially be taking up three seats.  In addition, sitting in the right or left seats means that I have a small section of metal that can act as a table for my coffee.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.  Prior to me leaving that morning it had been raining.  I reached my streetcar stop without incident, coffee in hand.  I got on, paid my fare and headed towards the back.  As I did so, I noticed a middle-aged woman with thin strawberry blonde hair and a significant posterior–she was lounging across all three seats at the back of the streetcar.  The image of this busted creature loomed larger and larger in my vision as I made my way to the back.  Her rear was positioned halfway between the right and center seats; her body leaned toward the left, fully over the center and left seats.  On the left seat was a paper, a ratty reusable shopping bag that contain god-knows-what, and some other personal effects.

As I drew nearer, I hoped she would get the hint and move to one of the side seats.  This did not happen.  “Do you mind if I sit here?” I feigned politeness and interest in her actual opinion; I was sitting in the right seat and she was moving, end of.

“Oh…” she looked up at me over thin-framed glasses, concerned.  “Sorry, this seat is damp,” she said, indicating the seat on which her free morning paper and crusty shopping bag were perched.

I frozen in my step by the response.  “Ah, okay.”  Not wanting to reveal my annoyance, I simply moved to one of the side seats and placed my bag on the seat next to me, my coffee on the floor.

The further along the streetcar rumbled down Queen Street, the more annoyed I got.  Passengers were getting on and the streetcar was filling up fast.  The woman refused to move.  She didn’t even adjust her position as a woman sat across from me and another woman sat down beside her.  I moved my bag to the floor, freeing up the seat next to me.

Around Broadview, a guy got on and made his way to the rear of the vehicle.  I thought for a moment he was going to sit beside me, but he didn’t.  Successful in doing what I attempted earlier, he slammed his ass down into the right seat at the back.  I’m not sure, but I think he pinched one of her ample buttcheeks in doing so.  Startled, the woman began shifting her body, taking up only two seats at that point.

Nearing downtown, this guy decided to open his window.  Most of the windows on the streetcar were open–it was tropically humid out: post-rain and 30 degrees.  Only able to handle it for a few minutes, the woman turned to him and in a polite but firm voice said, “Excuse me – would you mind closing that a little.”  It wasn’t a question.  She looked down at her paper, the corners of which were fluttering in the breeze.  Reluctantly, the guy closed the window half-way.  This seemed to satisfy her.

The streetcar eventually reached St. Michael’s Hospital and the woman exited.  The next stop after that, Yonge Street Subway, saw the guy exit the streetcar.  All was well in the world as I basked in the spaciousness of the entire rear section of the streetcar.

Then a thought struck me:  if that seat actually was damp, that woman wouldn’t have let her free morning paper and shopping bag, ratty though it may be, sit there the entire trip.  I got up and walked over.  I placed my hand on the seat cushion.

Dry as a bone.

Bitch.

Part II

Another rainy morning in my neighbourhood saw me taking the streetcar into work today.  Thankfully, my bike has been returned from the repair shop but riding in the rain is an unpleasant (and dangerous) prospect, especially down Queen Street East, contending with both streetcars and buses.  The 502 and 503 streetcar lines are no longer operating streetcars, opting for buses instead.  As a policy, this is fine, but it does make passing a bus and a streetcar riding shoulder to shoulder next to impossible.  Additionally, both types of TTC vehicles seem to only move with any kind of haste when they’re behind cyclists, not the opposite.  The buses will also frequently slam to the left without warning; I refuse to define a nanosecond of turn signalling, a fleeting flash bulb of orange, as a ‘warning’.

In any event, my morning routine was uninterrupted (leave house, pick up coffee, take streetcar downtown) until I entered the streetcar, coffee and umbrella precariously balanced, and looked to the back.  A familiar sight greeted me: middle-aged woman, sprawled from left to right across the three rear seats of the streetcar.  Lovely.

I approached the rear of the streetcar and contemplated my options.  I could attempt to get her to move as the last guy had done.  Although she moved slightly, he was still only seated in the back corner of the street car, flanked by this woman.  Right next to him solely so she could peruse the morning funnies without the taxing strain of actually holding the 15 page, tabloid-size paper.  I also did not particularly want to get into it with this woman.  Her rudeness was her own and she could do what she liked.  I certainly wasn’t the only person who made note of her inconsiderate behaviour.  On the previous trip, the guy beside her and the two women across from me had exchanged enough knowing glances and subtle head shakes for me to realize I wasn’t alone.

No, I wasn’t going to say anything.  I was going to sit in the same seat I occupied on the last trip and see what would happen.

I did do one thing though:  I opened the window behind me as far as it would go, flooding the entire rear of the car with a gusty blast every time the streetcar slowed to a stop.  Her already wispy hair was blowing in all directions and her free morning paper flitted and fluttered, making it nearly impossible to read.  Before you admonish my antagonizing of this woman, let me say this: the weather this morning was identical to the weather on that last trip; if anything, it was even more humid and hot.  The breeze was nice and I was sweating.  My momentary sliver of guilt was placated.

I spent most of the streetcar ride cautiously stealing glances in her direction to see if she was going to politely tell me to close my window.  There was little reaction for most of the streetcar ride.  At one point however, she did shift over and slam shut the window that was next to the one I had opened.  My window remained open; the airflow unrestricted.

As the streetcar neared downtown, she reached into her ratty, reusable shopping bag, pulled out a comb and began running it through her hair.  Normally this would kind of gross me out, but she’d already shot her wad with me etiquette-wise so it did little to change the situation.  As she combed her hair, it become increasingly difficult to get it to calm down because of breeze.  What few strands there were rose up like tube worms on the ocean floor, straining to capture any sea garbage that may go floating by.

Finally, it got to her.

“Excuse me–would you mind closing that window a little?” she asked, affecting, but not truly selling, an inquisitive tone.  Her eyes darted towards the window behind me.  I pulled the headphone just barely out of my right ear and looked at her in a “sorry, I couldn’t hear you” kind of way.

“Would you mind closing that?” she asked again, this time looking up at her Medusa-lite tresses–emaciated, red-tinted apparitions in the wind–exasperated.

I gave her a knowing nod, silently acknowledging that I had heard her message and understood.  I then placed one hand on my bag, patting it gently and said, “I’m sorry – this seat is damp.”

I flashed her a ‘you-know-how-it-is’ grin, placed the headphone back in my ear, left the window unclosed and reveled in the next three stops until she exited.

It’s going to be a good day.

*This social construct only seems to occur when the streetcar is relatively empty.  As they fill up, people tend to sit next to whoever they can.  It should be noted, however, that those three back seats of the streetcar are rarely occupied by three people.

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~ by seangstm on July 29, 2011.

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