“It’s a full train. Move your things off the seats to make room for others.”
Just as Manhattan was coming into view, a conductor’s voice said these words. Some passengers were getting off at Penn Station, but many more were boarding. As people stood in the aisle to get off, some riders moved into their newly vacated seats. The odd thing? In spite of the announcement, many who moved placed their belongings on the empty seat next to their own. Ten minutes later, new passengers boarded. Several of the seated passengers only moved their belongings off empty seats after being asked by someone who needed a seat.
I sat next to four people on my trip to and from New Jersey – a public school teacher/administrator, a vacationer, a man going home to New Rochelle, and a senior from Tufts returning from a job interview. Two were seated when I boarded, two sat down next to me; none of us had taken up a second seat with our things, and all of us offered a friendly greeting and direct eye contact right away.
What if we’d filled the empty seat with our things, only clearing it when absolutely necessary? I doubt that I’d have sat next to the same four people. When entering the train, I looked for an empty seat. Sitting next to someone who acts like I’m a major imposition isn’t nearly as appealing as the courtesy of a passenger who has already made room for me before being forced into it. Since the empty seat next to me was filled almost immediately when passengers got on at Penn Station, I think others felt the same way.
I understand the appeal of extra room and solitude. An empty seat means no violation of personal space. But I’m not entitled to that extra space; if I’m carrying so much stuff that one seat and the luggage rack isn’t enough, then maybe I should leave some of my baggage at home. Good companions on the journey may be more than a matter of luck: they may be the gift that comes only when I make a space and receive them courteously. A life lesson, courtesy of Amtrak.