Train of Thought

According to James Colley, public transport etiquette should be set in stone – unless there’s a really juicy phone call that he wants to eavesdrop on, of course.

I don’t wish to brag but I have caught a lot of trains in my time. There was a portion of my life when I would spend more than 24 hours a week on a train.

I was succumbing to the dangerous and life-altering world of open mic stand-up comedy. This required a two-hour trip in and a two-hour trip back each day, in exchange for five minutes of precious stage time and the maybe three half-laughs a baby comedian can sustain themselves on.

All of this is to say, I have done my train time. I have been thoroughly railed. And I have thoughts about the proper way to behave when you are on a train.

If you are reading a book, you must hold it in such a way that I am able to read the title. We only have a short amount of time on this Earth together and I wish to judge you by your cover.

Do not touch that phone speaker. Be humble. Understand that, in the wholeness of time, there has never existed a person whose music taste was so exceptional that it had to be played out of a tinny phone speaker for the benefit of all passengers. This rule has a caveat: if you are on a phone call and there’s some incredibly interesting personal drama going on, you absolutely need to touch that phone speaker. Let us in on it. Maybe we can help. You can poll your other commuters over whether Becky should leave him or whatever. Help us to help you.

Slide over. Do not stand up and make me slide over. No further discussion is required on this point.

No food with a smell. If you open chips, a chook, or god forbid, a delicious pizza on a peak-hour train as hungry people head home, it should be entirely legal for the rest of us to pounce on that meal like seagulls.

This one is more of a general note to the world than a specific personal etiquette guideline, but we can all do our part to help the cause: bring back the free newspaper. A niche little paper that appeared like magic inside the train carriage each day, with completely unread news coverage, fun facts that were universally untrue, and the most addictive reading material of the decade: the Missed Connections lonely hearts section. Ah, the good old days, where being a creep on the train could be turned into a romantic little ad in the newspaper, just letting you know that you were being watched. Anyway, I haven’t checked anything about the current social climate, but I’m going to insist on bringing this back. I will then take a long sip of water and check the news. Give me a moment.

Do NOT get up from your seat until the train pulls into the station. This rule is not practical, and makes things more annoying for everyone involved, really. But is there anything more entertaining than watching someone suddenly realise it’s their stop and have to race for the door? It’s a travelling game show. More!

Make your graffiti entertaining or informative. If you’re going to vandalise a train, do something the rest of us can enjoy reading. I have been advised by the legal department of this fine magazine that I cannot personally endorse the vandalising of trains but if you were to do it, against my explicit wishes, please do something fun. Possibly with a rude word or a little drawing.

Don’t be a transit cop. This one is very easy for most of us to follow, yet disappointingly, not everyone has received the memo.

If we are packed in like sardines, and we accidentally touch, no we didn’t. That did not happen. I know you felt the spark of love. I felt it, too. But we mustn’t. We simply mustn’t.

We need to remember that we are all human beings going through difficult times and trying to make our way through this life. We long for connection. We are desperate to know we are not alone in the world. All that being said, do not talk to me. You keep your existential ennui to yourself and I will keep mine to myself.

The train is one of the few communal spaces left in modern life. We are all together, headphones in, books up, attempting to block out the disgusting vibes of collective humanity. If you obey these rules, perhaps we can all exist together completely alone. Anyway, that’s all from me. This is my stop and I need to run.

By James Colley @JamColley
James Colley writes comedy for television and print. His debut novel The Next Big Thing is out now.

Published in ed#714