As if riding that many buses isn’t unfortunate enough, I also fit the profile of an ideal seatmate: a diminutive, English-speaking, non-smelly food eating female old enough not to pee my pants…and young enough not to pee my pants.
It’s a problem.
Until I wised up, I always ended up sharing my seat on the bus, even though almost everyone else got a solo seat. What’s so bad about that? I’ll tell you what’s so bad about that. Sharing means you can’t put your feet up on the seat next to you. You can’t curl up into a little ball and lay across both seats. You can’t make phone calls with any degree of privacy. Your seatmate can see what you’re reading, listening to, watching, and eating. You run the risk of being trapped in a pointless conversation with a stranger. For HOURS. And as always seems to happen, your seatmate will take up all of his seat AND half of yours.
Though it sounds terribly mean, I made the conscious decision to keep people away for my own personal comfort. I mean, I would never actually tell anyone they can’t sit with me, Forrest Gump-style (see below). That’s rude. If the bus is full, I will obviously share. But in most cases, I look at it this way: There are 44ish seats on a bus. If 10 people end up with solo seats, why shouldn’t one of those people be me?
The easy way to get your own seat is to talk to yourself, or develop a tick, or foam at the mouth. But you don’t want everyone to think you just escaped from Bellevue. Being subtly selfish is totally the way to go. After all, bad seats shouldn't happen to good people. So here’s a quick acronym to remember: ALONE.
However big you are, increase the boundaries of your personal space. This could mean putting your bag on the seat next to you, lying down across the two seats, or stretching your legs to the side. Anything to make it seem that you require a lot of space. This tip is key for smaller-than-average people.
Because most people are right-handed, they veer toward the right as they walk toward the back of the bus. Always choose a seat on the left side. Ideally, choose a seat in the middle of the left side. You want to sit far enough back so that you won’t be the first open seat, but close enough that people will pass you by because they’re still hopeful for better prospects further back.
People tend to like calm seatmates. To get that solo seat, open your bags and rifle through your stuff. Pretend you’re looking for something, nothing, anything. The idea is to give the impression that you’ll be restless the entire bus ride, making you a terrible seat partner.
Eye contact is the kiss of death. NEVER make eye contact with the people who are walking down the aisle and looking for seats. People will try to catch your eye for permission to sit down. Don’t give it to them. Absorb yourself in reading, or playing with your iPod, or talking on the phone. ANYTHING to keep your eyes downcast.
Don’t be afraid to make yourself momentarily seem like an undesirable human being. One way to really drive this point home is to eat while people are loading the bus. I’ve found that the best thing to pull out is a Subway sandwich. The paper has just the right amount of crinkle so that it makes noise, but it’s not so obnoxious that people will complain. The idea is to give the impression that you’ve been starving for hours and this is the first chance you’ve had to eat something. No one can fault you for that. And people will give you your space out of politeness…and the desire to keep mayonnaise from accidentally plopping on their clothes.
Now that I have given you the secrets to getting your own seat on the bus, I caution you to use these secrets wisely. If you know the bus is going to be full, there’s nothing you can do—you’ll have to share a seat. But if ten minutes of pretending to be annoying can get you a four-hour ride with a seat to spare, then for heaven’s sake go forth, my friends, and be as temporarily annoying as possible!