Thanks to the cost of gas, parking, insurance and repairs, more people are discovering the life of the strap hanger -- if their city has a metro and they still have a job, that is. But after the thrill of gliding past a sea of brake lights to arrive at work on time passes, the universal rules of train ridership kick in.
Catching the Train, or Trying to
When a train is approaching and you need to add money to your fare card to catch it, people who've never used the fare card machines will materialize. Behind them are people with bags of nickels.
If the train is approaching and the fare card machines have no line, it's because they're broken (too many nickels).
If you add your fare and try to catch your train, an exiting crowd will materialize and swarm the turnstiles, and you'll still miss your train.
If a station agent sees your dilemma and lets you through the handicapped entrance so you can run for your train, it will be going in the other direction.
If you don't run for the train, refusing to do the same thing twice and expect different results, it will remain in the station, as if to tempt you. But once you move toward it, it will pull away. (See Charlie Brown and the football.)
If the train waits for you and lets you board, it will proceed 500 yards and then stop for five minutes -- but only if you're late for work. If it's cold outside, the train will sit with its doors opening and closing inexplicably, or doors completely open. Aren't you glad you caught your train?
If the "Train Arriving Now" sign is not blinking and you take your time, the train is arriving now -- it's just that the sign is broken. Sorry about that.
When it's cold out and the heat lamps are working, you won't be able to get near them because of the crowds.
If the weather is warm and the heat lamps are working in error, you won't be able to get away from them because of the crowds.
If the heat lamps aren't on and you try to turn them on, you'll turn on a loud message that says, "Customer needs assistance on platform one." No one will come to assist the customer -- good to know in a real emergency. Nor will the heat come on, of course.
If you're getting off at an unfamiliar stop, the P.A. system that calls stops will be broken. If it's working, it will be one stop off. If you ask someone if you have the correct stop, they'll say "yes," whether they know or even heard you -- just to be nice.
Finding a Seat
When a train car is full except for one seat, the seat will be covered with what you hope is Sprite.
If there's another seat, it will be next to the end doors, where you'll be the first person panhandlers see as they move from car to car. In addition to hitting on you first, they will mangle your legs when they open the door.
If you have to stand, you'll be pushed by someone with a 40-pound backpack against the "call operator" button, and the engineer will yell at the whole car for the false alarm as everyone glares at you.
If you get a seat, your seatmate will be a serial cell-phone-dialer, recounting a fight with her supervisor using the verb "go" to mean "say" ("So I go... So she goes..").
If your seatmate is quiet and you're enjoying the peace, you're about to go underground.