The World at Large

Moving to the US

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Like Australians, Americans seem to appreciate their space. This isn't quite so apparent in the inner city areas of a place like Chicago, but it still shows up occasionally. For me, the most obvious example is on public transport.

We've all heard about the employees in Japanese train stations whose job it is to push people into the carriage. In contrast, in Chicago I've seen large crowds trying unsuccessfully to board a train, with a large group packed in just inside the doors, while the majority of the cabin is left unoccupied. It's very frustrating when you want to get home quickly, and you look through the windows of a carriage to see that you can't board because someone doesn't feel "comfortable" moving further down the corridor into the cabin.

Even more bizarre is when you finally make it on board. The carriage may indeed be "full", and everyone can be in each other's pockets, but they still continue to keep whatever space around them that they can, even if it is only an inch or two. It quite rare to even brush against someone accidentally. Coming from another culture which is uncomfortable with physical contact, I'm perfectly fine with this (and grateful), but it seems odd nonetheless, given how many people are trying to share a confined space.

Strange as train cars may seem to me, the lengths people go to in order to avoid contact really show up on the buses.

I've been catching buses more often recently, as we have reduced rail services to my station. One of the train lines through the station has been shut down for the next 2 years while they widen the tracks. This has changed a 30 minute commute (10 minute walk + 20 minute train ride) into a 45 minute trip, or longer (sometimes much longer). I used to prefer the train over the bus (2 minute walk + 30 minute ride) since the time was about the same, and I got a little exercise, but with the train delays I've gone back to the bus.

Chicago buses have a back row with 5 seats in them. Just in front of these seats the seats are along both side walls, looking inwards. I think this is due to the shape of the wheel arches that they are mounted over. One consequence of this arrangement is that the corner seats at either end of the back rows are a little awkward to get into. To get in or out of them you need to climb over the person on the adjoining seat. Once you're there you find that you have to rest your feet on the wheel arch, bringing your knees half way up to your chest. (It's not that nice on the ankles either).

All the same, I've been in buses (like the one this afternoon) where the corridor was packed and more were trying to board. The driver was yelling down the length of the bus for us all to pack in tighter (sans the expediency of actually touching one another), and everyone was making a genuine effort to move back in order to make room for those people who couldn't wait the 5 minutes required for the next bus in peak hour. Yet despite all this effort neither of the rear corner seats were occupied, and no one looked like they had the slightest interest in attempting an insertion. No one seemed bothered by this either.

None of these people would survive in Asia. :-)


At 1:50 AM, Blogger noel said...

Hey Paul,
names Noel Gearon age 30 years live in scotland uk
but am from belfast n.ireland. fathers name also Noel Gearon sadly he passed away bout 8 years ago had a brother lived in oz named Tommy Gearon. Ring any bells?

email me:


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