For the moment, at least, this Amtrak coach is seat-hog-free.

A single woman should regard every train ride as an opportunity, I once read in one of those “How To Find A Boyfriend” books.

 “When boarding the train, don’t take the first available seat,” the author advised. “Walk through all the cars looking for a cute guy sitting alone, then sit next to him.”

This may well help you meet that cute guy, but it’s unlikely to get your relationship off to a good start.  After all, nobody really wants to give up that extra seat.  Sure, you‘re entitled only to the seat you paid for, not the empty one next to it. But that doesn’t stop most of us from hoping for both seats anyway.

On Amtrak, there are frequent announcements telling you not to hog both seats.  “This is a full train!” the conductor intones. “Don’t put your personal belongings on the seat beside you. We need every seat.” I’m listening to this as I watch my fellow passengers busily piling backpacks, briefcases, shopping bags, and gigantic suitcases on that extra seat, as well as employing a variety of other strategies to ensure that nobody sits there.

On a recent trip from Philadelphia to Boston, the woman sitting across the aisle from me stretched out across both seats and closed her eyes every time we approached a station. Once the boarding passengers had all found seats and the train was moving again, she‘d “wake up” and go about her business until it was again time to feign sleep. Thanks to this ploy, she was able to hang onto that empty seat for the entire trip.

This little trick doesn‘t always work. The entire train car I was in once watched, riveted, as a middle-aged man searching for a seat on a crowded train paused, then began hollering at a kid who was stretched, eyes closed, across two seats.

“Sit up this minute!” he roared. “You’re not fooling me, young man! Did you pay for two seats? You have no right to take up two seats! Shame on you! Sit up now!”

The kid sat up, rubbing his eyes.  “What’s your problem, man?” he protested. “I was only trying to sleep. I would have given up the seat. You just had to ask.”

“Don’t you dare pull that crap on me,” Angry Guy bellowed.  “I know exactly where you’re coming from. You have a lot of nerve!”

The kid stood up, shaking his head, grabbed his bag from the overhead rack and moved to another car. Angry Guy got both seats to himself for the rest of the trip. (For some reason, nobody wanted to sit next to him.)

While I understood his frustration with Sleeping Beauty, that level of rage seemed way out of line.  “Looks like somebody brought a little extra EMOTIONAL baggage on board with him today,“ I remarked to my seatmate.

Most people simply put something on the empty seat and hope for the best. Others go a bit further. I have a friend who swears that nobody will sit next to you if you’re eating a stinky sandwich. Another always removes her shoes and socks, which, she says, guarantees that nobody will want to share her seat. Doing your nails or talking loudly on your cell phone can also do the trick.  One of my coworkers always takes the aisle seat and then puts both tray tables down, creating a little obstacle course for anybody who wants to grab that empty window seat.  Many people plop down in an aisle seat, put their bag on the seat next to them, then plug in their iPod, lean back, and shut their eyes.

Some people, of course, are simply so fat as to require both seats.

I have a friend who doesn’t put anything on the empty seat. Instead, he visualizes a huge, muscular, angry-looking guy sitting there. “You’re saying that you travel with an imaginary friend?” I ask. He nods. “And he’s one scary-looking dude. He does a great job of keeping that seat free.”

Whatever works.

In the most amazing display of seat-hogging chutzpah I’ve ever witnessed, I once saw a man calmly pour a substantial amount of bottled water on the seat beside him as the train approached the station. To each “Is this seat taken?” he responded. “It’s wet, I’m afraid. I spilled my drink on it.“

He failed to mention that he’d done this deliberately. Naturally, he got that seat to himself.

(Later, on my way back from the club car, I was tempted to “stumble” as I passed his seat and “accidentally” douse him with Pepsi. I didn’t.  Two wrongs don’t make a right. And I actually wanted to drink that Pepsi. Plus, I didn’t know what terrible acts of vengeance a man like that was capable of, and I didn’t really want to find out.)

When I board a crowded train, I don’t look for a cute guy to sit next to.  Instead, I’ll often amuse myself by finding the passenger who has gone to the most trouble to avoid having a seatmate, and sit next to him (or her). I’ll walk right past the cute guy sitting alone in order to ask the woman who has piled a hundred million suitcases on the seat beside her. “Is this seat taken?” Then I wait for her to remove all her stuff from the seat so I can claim it. Sitting in a seat like that seems that much sweeter for the trouble I had to go through to get it.

Of course, the delight I take in little exchanges like this might just explain why I’m still single.


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  • Moses August 10, 2012 at 3:40 am

    Loved the one about the sleeping lady!
    You made my morning!
    Buying the book for sure!

  • RozWarren July 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    @Isabella I’ve noticed that myself — last time I was in New York, a young man offered me a seat on a crowded bus.

  • Isabella July 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Roz – I loved this one! Especially the guy who poured water on his seat – holy cow. I have a cartoon about it from 2007 : Sign: “This seat reserved for that otherwise healthy person who always manages to take up 2 seats”.
    By the way – another advantage of getting older – people are more likely to give up that extra seat!!

  • rozwarren July 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Kristin I am always looking for a good read and your book sounds like great fun. I’m putting it on my shopping list. THanks.

  • rozwarren July 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    REB thanks for sharing that! I’m glad to know that people actually do meet that way.

  • Kristin July 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Funny blog entry – as I have written a book by this very title “Is This Seat Taken?”
    I think you would enjoy – based on this blog entry and perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  • REB July 4, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Of course, sometimes finding a cute girl to sit next to really works. I met my wife that way on a 4-hour ride from DC to NYC. That was 34 years ago. Once per lifetime was sufficient.

  • RozWarren July 2, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Liza I hope that the trick you employ isn’t the pouring-water-on-the-seat one. Somehow I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.

  • RozWarren July 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Diane I find that guys, even thin ones, often hog the armrests! I know women who actually confront them about this — informing them that they aren’t entitled to both armrests but have to choose one. I haven’t got the gumption to do this, alas.

  • Diane Vacca July 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Roz, I love reading our pieces. You remind me of Nora Ephron (she’s been on mind lately 🙁 ) Your experiences resonate with ours, except you, like Nora, can make them funny.
    The worst kind of unwelcome seatmate on a bus or a plane is the person who’s so big he (usually a he) takes over the armrest and bulges into your space. Even his legs overflow. And you can’t do anything about it. Or if anyone’s come up with a solution to that one, let me know.

  • kelly July 1, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    this is awesome

  • Liza July 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I can really relate to this seat drama! I have done one of these tricks myself and more I must admit. thanks for an amusing piece Roz!

  • Judith Glynn July 1, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I booked a flight to Madrid and met an enchanting seatmate. We talked all the way and continued our encounter while in Spain. That adventure turned into my novel “A Collector of Affections: Tales from a Woman’s Heart.”I’d a strong advocate of talking to seatmates.

  • RozWarren July 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Ruthie I prefer to think of myself as fair-minded rather than mean-spirited. On the other hand, you know me pretty well.

  • irene July 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    True all. I think you’ve got it covered! The guy who poured the water on the seat next to him will get his sooner or later. My bus technique is to take the outside seat and at stops make friendly eye contact only with people I don’t mind sitting next to. Works quite well %
    : )

  • Ruth Nathan July 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    You seem so mean-spirited, but on the other hand humor drives your spirit. Seems like an oxymoron, but if anyone can pull off an oxymoron without getting caught, it’s YOU.

  • Karen July 1, 2012 at 2:43 am

    No adventure required. Turks are truly the most welcoming and friendly people on Earth. Yesterday, for example, I took the bus to get my hair cut. Here’s who I met along the way there and back: a Slovakian movie actress filming a film in Istanbul, a Turkish lady who works as a chef in Manhattan, and a Turk who had a horrible motorcycle accident due to a street manhole, so he designed a new kind of manhole to keep it from happening to the next guy. Now that my children are grown, it’s so much nicer to relax and take public transportation rather than drive. Whenever I get in a car now, I can feel the driver’s stress. Thanks, I’ll pass.

  • RozWarren June 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Karen — bus rides in Istanbul? You’re not only much nicer than I am but far more adventurous!

  • Karen June 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Maybe train rides are longer so it is more of a risk. My bus rides in Istanbul never go longer than an hour or hour and a half, so it’s not too great a risk. Besides, it’s often very easy to tell who is an interesting storyteller. I find listening to people on public transit a fun part of the expat experience. It helps me learn about the culture.

  • Andy Johnson June 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Karen – I find that talking to strangers on trains is risky. Once you start some people talking, they don’t stop.

  • Just One Boomer June 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I HATE having to stand there next to a seat filled with someone’s belongings and ask “Is this seat taken?”…..unsaid —-“other than by your stuff that’s hogging it.” On the other hand, I do risk being at the receiving end of road rage, by not being able to keep from blocking in some a–hole who is trying to weave in and out of traffic.

  • RozWarren June 30, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Karen thanks for your comment. You are obviously a much nicer person than I am!

  • Karen June 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

    While I appreciate an empty seat as much as the next person, I usually don’t mind when someone sits next to me on the bus. Why? Cause they always end up telling me a story. I’ve started, actually, to think of riding the bus as “storytime!”