Bag Seat Man
— 3rd February 2005
Yesterday I was on my way home, and had got on my train sat down and put my bag on the seat next to me. Now, as far as I’m concerned there’s an unspoken rule about this, which goes as follows:
Seeing as it’s awkward to stick a bag (especially a heavy one) on the over-head racks, and considering it’s awkward to shove your bag into the tiny gap between your feet and the chair in front, it’s acceptable to put your bag on the seat next to you when you first sit down. This is only acceptable however if you are happy to remove the bag at the request of another passenger, if the train becomes full enough and the seat is therefore needed.
This happens all the time. Every single day of the week I see people sitting with their bags next to them. Of course, all these people are hoping that no one will come and ask them to move it, of course they are, it would be more pleasant that way. We all love travelling on an uncrowded train don’t we? However, not one of these people, not a single one, is stating in any way that they feel they have ownership of that seat just because their bag is on it.
And neither was I yesterday. I was fully expecting someone to come and say something like "excuse me" or "can I just...", the usual type of polite, tentative, ways to ask someone to move their bag and sit down. What I wasn’t expecting was some middle aged business type guy in a beige jacket to come and stand right next to be and say "Bag!".
It quite surprised me. Surprised me enough that I turned around saying "pardon?". I was thinking maybe I had missed the start of his sentence. I was thinking maybe I had misunderstood. I was thinking: can this guy be that fucking rude!?!
"BAG!", he said it again. Louder this time. No other words, no pleasantries, no padding, just "bag". I looked in disbelieve for a second but there was nothing more forthcoming and the message was clear, so I moved my bag onto my knee and was readying to put my earphones back in and forget about everything and listen to George Carlin shout for 15mins. As he sat down he then added insult to ... insult by adding "you didn’t pay for two seats did you!!".
I was shocked. I think I looked shocked. I didn’t know how to respond to such smug arrogance. All I managed was a laugh. It wasn’t much of a laugh but I hoped that it said "I really find it so amazing that you can be so smug and obnoxious that I’ve reached the stage of actually finding it funny. I pity you that you lead such a small and trivial life that you need to validate yourself by making cheap little points to otherwise innocent travellers on public transport." I kind of hoped it said that, I fear it sounded a little puny and stupid.
Looking around the carriage it was obvious that there were eminently preferable places for this guy to sit than next to me. There was loads of space a few rows down and even two empty seats (the holy grail for commuters) together at the far end. No, this guy had decided to sit next to me to make a stupid point about my bag being on the seat, and by doing so had implied quite wrongly that I was in some way being unreasonably by putting my bag down there.
Anyway, so I fumed quietly for a while and listened to comedy and in fact by the time I reached Guiseley I’d kind of reached the point where I’d decided that he was obviously so far gone and devoid of the simplest vestige of human decency that I really did pity him and I would rise above it and be extra polite with him as I asked him to allow me to leave my seat. So as the train pulled in I grabbed my bag from my knee decisively and turning said "excuse me please, this is my stop". Sure enough confronted by my cool, calm politeness this man had no choice but to quietly get up and let me pass. Of course he did, what else would he have done. Ah, well, you say that now but would you have predicted "BAG!"?
It was only as I left the station and started walking down the little dark path that leads to the main road and home, it was only after the train had pulled out of the station and only as the cold wind began to blow that I realised that I’d left my scarf on the train.