Three’s Company or a Crowd? Ask Straphanger Joe.


At 9:10 a.m. I enter the F-train from my usual spot: the no-man’s land between the two stairs going up to the main level of Roosevelt Station in Jackson Heights.

Inside, a roomful of open seats becomes the setting for a game of musical chairs—and the music has just stopped.

When everyone’s finished jockeying for a seat, I find one in the corner at the bottom of the “L.” My bags between my legs, my pad out and my pen jotting. Two seats are still free in my third of the car. Nothing unusual, except three commuters happen to remain standing.

I know why nobody has taken one of the seats. It’s next to a man who is asleep and seated in the pair of seats at the front of the car, next to the door. He also has placed a shopping bag and two suitcases on the seat next to him against the wall. Wearing a black baseball cap, he’s maybe in his forties and using his fist to keep from nodding forward. His belongings aren’t moving, and nobody’s asking him to move them.

The other seat is across from me, the center seat of three. A middle-aged woman is to one side, reading Oprah-champion Eckhart Tollet, and an older guy is to the other with a book of his own on his lap. The female bookend seems approachable, sit-down-next-to-able. In black slacks and a white shirt—a hard glasses case bulging through the pocket—the male bookend reads a small-print volume with glasses that he squints through and he underlines passages with a blue pen. He’s also holding a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, regular size. I bet there’s three sugars in it. When he takes a break from reading, he turns the cup around, examining the circumference.

The train passes two stops. Nobody takes the empty seat. I don’t get it. There’s nothing on the seat. And the people on either side are not so big that there’s only a smidgen of seat available.

Finally, a man enters in navy slacks, wingtip shoes, white shirt and red tie. This passenger looks Indian, probably in his fifties, and carries a big, black briefcase. He looks at the two people flanking the seat. They look up at him. Eckhart Tollet gets placed on the woman’s lap.

“Excuse me,” says the man in the red tie says, as he turns around and sits. The man with glasses has just enough time to shift out of his way before Red Tie’s butt grazes him. The woman reading Tollet pivots to move over—but her hips are already against the partition. She has nowhere to go.

Red Tie chooses the elbows-forward position, ceding the back of the seat to his neighbors, who, with a joint sigh, rest their elbows back and down. Red Tie hunches forward some. The train pulls out of the station; we all readjust our positions. Eckhart Tollet rises from the woman’s lap. She shifts a little left and right, acquiring a bit of space with the movement. The blue pen resumes underlining.

The excitement over, I close my notebook, lean back and shut my eyes. I’ll rest them for a moment—before 23rd Street arrives, and I depart.

—Joe Lunievicz

This entry was posted in 23rd Street, F Train, getting a seat, Jackson Heights, Neighbors, Open Seats, Roosevelt, Seat, Straphanger Joe. Bookmark the permalink.

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