There’s a kind of science to finding a good seat on the train. As if that weren’t enough, the game changes drastically from morning to evening. Observe:
In the morning, you’re a lot more likely to find a seat. Statistically, it doesn’t really make sense, but leading researchers in the field (ahem) hypothesize it has something to do with people caring less about what time they start working, but all wanting to knock off around five or six.
The point is, you will most likely be able to find a seat for your butt in the a.m. The trick is knowing which one to take.
Now, a lot of people will get excited when they see an empty two-seater. All right! they’ll think. I don’t have to share with anyone!
But this is a rookie mistake. Because, you see, unless your stop is only a station or two from the train’s final destination, someone is going to come on and ask to sit with you. This becomes empirically truer the more you are female, friendly looking, and under 150 pounds.
I know what you’re thinking: But Justine, if that’s not right, then where should I sit?
Well, I’ll tell you. In the three-seater that already has someone sitting in the window seat. And I know this seems counter-intuitive, but it’s even better if they’re marginally overweight. You’re really shooting for someone who’s about 1.5 people.
I’ll explain. Even though this strategy very clearly leaves the middle seat technically free, no one will ever ask to sit there unless the train is uncharacteristically crowded. Think about it; would you choose to squeeze in between two strangers in a narrow space, especially when one if them is already taking up half of your seat? Probably not, and very few other people would either.
That leaves you with not only exactly enough space to spread out and set your stuff down without actually touching anyone else, but also with a coveted aisle seat, meaning you can stand up by the doors a minute or two early without interruption, thereby shortening the amount of time you have to wait to get off the train.
Of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll be trapped in a two-seater with someone else, and then that person will move to another row after the train clears out a bit at Jamaica, but there are really too many factors at play to feel confident in that plan.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I have put a lot of thought into this.
Of course, all bets are off on the commute home. First of all, from the moment your track is announced, every second counts. Literally, every second it takes you to get to the platform and into a car lessens your chance of having a seat. And let’s get one thing straight right now: Unless you are 200 pounds, you are not getting your own row. Maybe not even then.
Assuming you’re like the average employed New Yorker and don’t have time to get to the station 20 minutes early, you are probably walking onto the train after most of the prime real estate has been snatched up. You now have one of two choices:
1.) Give up and go stand by the doors. Maybe someone will get off at Jamaica and you can have their seat.
2.) Be bold. Because there are almost always seats to be had, whether it’s a window seat of a two-seater or those middle seats in the three-seater. You just have to want it bad enough.
And don’t be put off by the smug tourists with their shopping bags, uptight princesses with their giant designer purses, or grumpy business men with their coats and laptops. If you ask to sit there, train code says they have to let you. And the worst they can do is give you a dirty look and keep “accidentally” sliding into your personal space.
So there you have it. Everything I’ve garnered in my time as a commuter. Now, disclaimer: There will always be exceptions to these rules, but they’re still the rules. Follow them, and you just might be strong enough to survive.
Or at the very least, blend with the regulars.