Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” often features the sort of people who think the bus is a perfect place to meet the love of your life. After all, here you can test chemistry by routinely touching strangers’ outer thighs with your own.
Public transit vehicles are spaces where a group of strangers gather with only a destination in common. They are also terrifying for anyone with social anxiety. This volatile mix of the general public serves up a personalized cocktail of distress: the panicked girlfriend having a breakdown on the phone, the garlicky close-talker who wants your free counseling services, the guy with two samurai swords who stares at you too long. When we ride the bus or the SkyTrain, we’re forced to encounter those outside of our comfortable, individually tailored worlds. And who wants that?
Here are some tips for shielding yourself on public transit.
1. Avoid sitting near the front.
Why? You may be forced to surrender your seat, or worse: an infant may enter your vicinity. As soon as a baby is near you on the bus, you become responsible for its happiness. You may be having the kind of day where you wouldn’t even smile at Ryan Gosling, but you must smile at that baby. Strain your eyebrows and lips, squeeze euphoria from every pore. If you can’t get that baby to smile back, it might cry. And if it cries, everyone on the bus will curse you for the rest of the ride with the sidelong, loathing glances transit riders have mastered.
2. Find the most isolated seat.
Nothing engenders anger amongst fellow passengers like someone who disregards this basic rule. Remain alert at all times to protect the empty seat beside you — space is always your most effective weapon. Most people want to avoid any awkwardness and are easily deterred, but some need encouragement to keep away. A backpack or large purse is the easiest way to make your misanthropy clear.
3. Use your body to deter co-sitters.
Pretend you’re putting your hair in a ponytail. If you physically take up the desired space, intrusion is more difficult. Lounge across the entire back row, snore loudly, and drool for good measure. Headphones or a book are a good deterrent. Insider tip: sit next to those who look the most unaware of their surroundings. They are the least likely to interact. For guaranteed solitude, place fake (or real) vomit on the adjoining seat, or wear a jacket covered in six-inch spikes.
4. Never acknowledge your co-sitter.
If they breach your defences, don’t shift in your seat — don’t even make eye contact. The window fascinates you; look nowhere else. Or close your eyes: if you can’t see them, they can’t see you. You are a chameleon. You are stone. It will all be over soon. Sometimes all you can do is take the offensive: skip baths for a month and smile, wide-eyed and adoring, at whoever tries to sit by you. To escape the hunter, become one.