October 13, 2009

Half Assed

I’ve often wondered what possesses a person to think they know what’s best for others. Egotism, stupidity, or maybe something else that has long gone without a name. Where does that particular audacity come from? It seems to run in the very genes of planners and designers who like to ignore the guidance and suggestions of engineers.

Hate is such a strong word, but I tell you I hate these fucking seats.

I’ve hated them since they debuted in New York City more than half my life ago in the “awesome eighties.”

New Yorkers have arguably some of the biggest, most diversely shaped asses in the Western world; why then did somebody ask some designer somewhere to come up with a one-size-fits-all seat on the INDs, BMTs and IRT trains in Gotham?

It’s a kind of retarded arrogance that occasionally grips municipal planning as a whole in New York in certain decades. The result in the 1980s was an “egg-crate” approach to designing a new number 1 train fleet for New Yorkers.

Only someone who doesn’t ride trains could have come up with a design this inconsiderate and this inhumane.

If you think I’m being too extreme in using the word “inhumane?” then you’ve never had to ride “the hump” either fully or partially while commuting from borough to borough. What is “the hump” you ask?
"The hump" is the raised partition that designates one “seat” from another (see above). These subway train seats are made of fiberglass and other composites and they are as hard and unyielding to the touch as Formica: Now imagine the crack of your ass, or part of your thigh riding the hump for an hour or more just because the person next to you is a fat jack ass… -Sorry, fat people are not the problem here, although they are often scapegoated for this tragic phenomenon that pits rides against rider, ass against ass for no good reason.

Historically subway trains have had bench-style seating: flat seating surfaces that run entire lengths unbroken until they terminate in a banister or an arm rest. This in fact lets as many people sit down as can be comfortably seated. Apportioning seat widths according to some abstract average is not just stupid, it’s elitist. It’s elitist to award someone, somewhere the power to decide what is enough and what is fair for all the miserable somebodies who rely on the subway train every day of their lives.

-More than that, “the hump” starts fights.

Every single day for about 25 or 26 years, every morning, I see a person spilling over beyond the seat’s edge into the space of another, causing the other person to defend their area. Sometimes it’s not even just asses, my own shoulders exceed the width of these seats easily by three inches on each side. This means that in the best of situations, if I’m surrounded by two uncommonly small people on either side, I still have to hunch forward to keep my shoulders from intruding upon them. By the way, I’m only 5 foot 8: I’m below average height in New York City.

Why did this nightmare happen?

Because someone just thought they knew what was best for others. Someone decided that the flat benches wasted space and figured they could design their way to less crowded trains. Someone thought they could just be more efficient by forcing New Yorkers to sit differently: this someone can’t have ever rode trains, or depended on them daily.

Thankfully the complaints must have gotten up to the MTA board and City Hall over the years. Every new subway car since the late 1990s has featured the old bench style seating. You can see them on the L, 2, 4, 5 and 6 trains that have that automated creepy announcer that sounds eerily like the “Johnnie Cab” in Total Recall.

That doesn’t mean there weren't other dumb ideas proffered in the name efficiency. When Rudolf Giuliani became Mayor, an idea was floated to him: Standing-Only trains during rush hour. This is the kind of nonsense that happens when people don’t listen to engineers. I’m sure somebody must’ve had wanted to have said: “Why don’t you just stand around for the rest of your fucking sad miserable life, Mayor?

Michael Bloomberg, the current Mayor of New York was pitched the idea of standing-only trains at the start of his term. After consideration he decided not to recommend it to the MTA. The fact that Michael Bloomberg has been known to ride the train may have had something to do with it. Not that I think he’s worried all that much about commuters’ comfort during rush hour… I just don’t think he wants to run into any of them when they see the seats are all gone.