I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the smallest
blokeguy in the world. I’m no John Goodman, but nor am I a devout exponent of heroin chic. And most days, I’m happy with that. Especially in America, where as I’ve said before, I’m sometimes able to feel like a particularly skinny catwalk model.
But when it’s cold – and bloody hell is it cold right now – and everybody is bulked up with coats,
jumperssweaters, scarves, liberal coatings of whale blubber etc, there’s just a whole lot less room in this already-packed city.
And nowhere is that more true than on the subway. Where in summer each car
riage holds numbers in excess of the population of a medium-sized African nation, the heightened physical bulk of all travel lers in winter means that you’d struggle to squeeze in the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha. There’s enough wool on show to have sheep across the world cowering in their pens, and the array of ridiculous hats is truly a sight to behold.
The problem with the New York subway is that, for the most part, there are no defined seats. Where in London you generally have an armrest on either side of you, clearly delineating your seat area (and conveniently giving you something to fight over with both of the people sitting next to you), here you just plonk yourself down and stake a claim to as much of the seat as you want to. And with some of the, erm, ‘larger posteriors’ in this city, that can sometimes be as much as an entire zipcode.
When everybody is protecting themselves from the kind of cold that would have made Roald Amundsen think “Bugger this, I’m off home to sit infront of the fire”, it takes even fewer people to fill the limited seat space available. Put one padded jacket-wearing student, a girl from Texas and a shopaholic with an expense account at J Crew into the same carriage, and you may as well give up and wait for the next train.
Perversely, there is an upside to this, which is that it can actually be easier to get a seat. On the F train, there are plenty of sets of three seats, which are generally occupied by one heavily coated person at one end, and a thoroughly be-scarved person at the other. All the people who’ve got on the train before me must look at the space and decide that they can’t fit in it. Hell, I think the same thing. Of course, the difference is that I don’t care whether there’s enough space or not – if I can see a seat, I’m sitting in it. Of course, you have to spend the rest of the journey ignoring the dagger stares of your new neighbours as you jostle for elbow room, but that’s a small price to pay.
And if anybody ever did complain, I’ll just look innocent and play the British card. After all, I’m saying sorry most of the time anyway – at least this way I can make my apologies while I’m sitting down.