A Slave to Etiquette
After 7 stops and precisely 17.9 minutes I’m standing in a stagnant carriage at Oval station staring straight at Dave’s chest. I know his name is Dave, not because we’ve met, but because there is a nametag exactly 2.7 inches in front my face. Should I say hello? Hi Dave, I’d appreciate it if you move slightly to the left and get your size 14 cowboy boots off of my shoe. No, this isn’t proper tube etiquette of course, so I pretend Dave doesn’t exist and wiggle my shoe from under him, all the while staring at his little name tag and avoiding eye contact with everyone. This is civilization at its most refined.
I can’t help but envy Dave at this moment. Even without his size 14 cowboy boots he’s easily clearing six feet, and at this point I’d give anything to transcend my diminutive stature. He’s standing tall like a shimmering city skyscraper. Head tilted and surveying the pollution below him. Meanwhile, I’m a four-story council flat, stained with city smog and stuck in the thick of it. Ah, breathe it in, only 3 stops and 5.4 minutes to go. By the way, this is Stockwell, exit here for disappointment, change here for Victoria line services to nicer destinations.
The floodgates open and I gasp for air as 13 people exit the carriage making way for 17 more to enter. Despite my best efforts, Dave, his size 14 cowboy boots, and his nametag are now only 1.5 inches from my face, and waiting 4.7 more minutes seems unbearable. As beads of sweat multiply on my forehead, I close my eyes and try to visualise a scenario where these conditions could be acceptable.
I see myself packed into a shipping container somewhere in the Pacific. The doors are pried open, and my fellow container strangers and I rush out, kiss the sand, thank our respective deities and look forward to our new lives on this tropical utopia. I’m shaken from this fantasy by an elbow to my side, and I open my eyes to find myself 3 inches too far into a young lady’s reading space. How dare I. How dare I hamper her efforts to read about Pixie Geldolf’s latest Mayfair exploits. I shift closer to Dave to keep the peace, and realise that if this lot were to find themselves on a tropical isle there would be no sun, no sand, no moonlit parties. They will find the only building with a lift, pack themselves in, and ignore each other for the rest of their lives. Nothing quite feels like home.
My mood lifts as my stop arrives and I shuffle towards the carriage door, ignoring shoves at my back. I’m just walking towards the exit, I think; clearly this has given no indication that I too am leaving, push all you want. I walk through the halls of the station, picking up my pace as I ascend the escalator. I clench my passport to paradise and join the cattle queue to the exits.
I find myself stuck behind Cowboy Dave, of course, who is repeatedly swiping his invalid ticket through the sensor. I want to explain the complexities of the system, outline the improbability of his ticket working due to mere repetition, and rant in vast detail about how irritating he is being. But I don’t. I bite my lip, hold my tongue, stare at his back for a change, and look forward to tasting freedom in about 13 seconds, obeying tube etiquette.
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