Karma Rides the 35

(This true story first appeared at the splendid TriMetDiaries.com.)

Schadenfreude is the German word for taking pleasure in another person’s misfortune. I was guilty of that today.

Every TriMet regular has their personal pet peeves about other riders, and mine is the two-seater, the person who sits in one and occupies a second with their belongings. These excessive occupations are sometimes legitimate — a student with an elaborate presentation, someone treating their office to several plates of cupcakes, or anyone with a medical apparatus – but in most cases, I suspect that it’s a self-centered jerk who doesn’t want to sit in close confines with another person on a bus where everyone is in close confines with other people. This isn’t a limousine, folks, and if you didn’t pay a second fare, you haven’t earned a second seat.

Two-seat offenders might claim they were oblivious to how crowded the bus had become and had forgotten their items were on the seat, but that’s no excuse in my eyes. Others might say that the seat is obviously available if someone simply asks, meaning their courtesy is always available on request. (I witnessed this alibi personally.) Either of these attitudes annoys me, especially on a bus that is crowded enough to require some passengers to stand. (Yes, I’m making assumptions about their motivations, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.)

I do not know which excuse the man I saw today would have chosen, but it didn’t matter. He was in the first front-facing row and I was in the aisle seat one row behind him. He was supposedly “reading” (the ideal alibi for not paying attention to one’s surroundings) while his coat lay partially in his lap and partially on the seat beside him. Perhaps because I was silently seething, I took this to be an intentional action: he wasn’t officially occupying the second seat, but there was no way to sit down next to him without contending with the jacket. As the bus steadily filled, I watched riders eye the seat but opt against confronting the jacket owner. Eventually, every seat on the bus was occupied except the one next to him, and I was thoroughly disappointed when the next person to board opted to stand.

Then, at the very next stop, karma boarded the bus. My immediate first impression was that the new rider was enormous, by any measure. I suspect it’s difficult to ride public transportation if you’re a large person, forced to contend with narrow aisles, narrower seats, and the judgmental sighs of Portland’s numerous passive-aggressive residents. I suspect it’s even worse when you board a bus late in its run and most of the seats are already occupied. Thus, I was guessing this heavyset person was elated to see an empty seat, and better still, on the aisle with ample legroom. There could not be a better single-seat opportunity, so the rider politely asked the man to move his coat. Indeed, all they had to do was ask.

It was a magical alchemy that changed my fury to joy as I watched the man and his jacket get wedged between the wall and his new neighbor. I hoped the man noted the svelte frame of the previous person he could have made the seat available to; I hoped he recognized this ride as a bus-etiquette learning opportunity. But most of all, I hoped we hit every red light on our way to downtown, the man feeling the stranger’s flesh pressing against the entire right side of his body for the entire trip.

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