Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lessons from the Underground

For years while riding on New York City transit, the only counsel vis-à-vis manners and civility the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) gave its subway and bus riders was to give up one’s seat to an elderly or disabled person. Recently, pregnant women were added to the roster. Now all that was sound advice, which—really—most people didn’t need. They had enough common courtesy and decency to do the right thing without a bureaucratic behemoth's beseeching.

Well, today, while riding on the Number 1 subway line from the Bronx to Manhattan, I encountered an interesting promotional campaign for the first time. It wasn’t one for a slip-and-fall lawyer firm, a hip whiskey brand, or a zit-curing dermatologist. No, the MTA itself was behind it, imploring its riders to behave more thoughtfully, more kindly toward their fellow New Yorkers. In other words, don’t be “primping”—at first I thought the sign read “pimping”—or clipping your fingernails in a subway car, which, after all, is “not a restroom.” Amen to that. Another admonition: “It’s A Subway Car, Not A Dining Car.” While truer words have never been spoken, the person next to me eating the bacon, egg, and cheese croissant—with a large cup of flavored coffee to wash it down—apparently was unmoved by this aggressive courtesy campaign.

I also sat across from a guy taking up more than one seat. Granted, the subway seats are pretty small and I don’t like be scrunched up alongside fellow straphangers, who may be eating bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, and often a whole lot worse fare, particularly in the olfactory arena. But I make it a point to sit in one seat and one seat only, even if I'm not especially comfortable. Obviously, some people don’t think as I do. In fact, more than I’d care to admit. We are a self-absorbed lot, it seems, which I suppose is the wind beneath the wings of the MTA’s latest crusade.

The courtesy movement’s inspiration is an offshoot, I'd guess, from this past colder than cold winter. The MTA was deeply concerned about the flu and plastered subway cars and buses with signs that read: “Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.” The MTA is nothing if not thorough. It was the ad's addendum that really won me over: “Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm if you don’t have a tissue.”

As a footnote to my day, I must report that a young woman with purple streaked hair and a nose stud—if that’s what it’s called—offered her seat to a mother with a baby in a stroller. The latter declined, but very courteously. Perhaps it had something to do with the courtesy advertisements throughout the subway car. Or perhaps some people, purple hair and all, just have manners. I don't know.

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