Straphanger Joe and the Mystery of the Empty Seats

I got onto the F train at 23rd Street at 5:15pm–peak travel time on a Friday. The train was crowded, people standing in the aisles. I noticed a little oasis of space in one of the L-shaped orange benches. There were two spots open next to a sleeping young man whose mouth was slightly open and whose head was tilted back against the subway map.

 

I made eye contact with a man standing in front of the two seats. He looked down at the seats then back at me and stepped away as if making room for me to sit. Across the car another man looked at me, then down at his paper.

 

Others remained in avid conversation, their gaze away from the empty orange seats. I checked the seats with a quick scan: There was nothing wrong that I could see–no water damage, no cracks, no bad stains, no newspapers hiding gum or spilled coffee.  

I looked at the ceiling to see if there was a leak–nothing. I sniffed the air to see if there was something foul emanating from nearby passengers. Olfactory check, A-OK.  

The two men sitting at the top of the L were making small-talk about what the next stop was. 

“Is it Lexington?”

 

“No.”

 

“Are you sure? Because I thought it was Lexington.”

 

“It’s not Lexington.” 

I looked at the seats for another moment then leaned back against the doors. Why was no one in a crowded car in New York that’s-my-seat-I-saw-it-first City, not sitting down on those seats? There had to be something wrong with them, right?

 

Well, I tell you what. If nobody else was going to sit there, I wasn’t going to either.

 

We passed all the way into Queens and the seats remained empty. The young man remained asleep.

 

And when I got off at Jackson Heights, I left behind me another subway mystery unsolved. 

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