Photo | Joel Mathis
Over the weekend, the New York Times wrote about a recent study that says that people who talk to each other on public transit have a more enjoyable experience than those who keep to themselves.Professors Michael Norton and Elizabeth W. Dunn posit this theory: “The great thing about strangers is that we tend to put on our happy face when we meet them, reserving our crankier side for the people we know and love.”
Obviously, these researchers have never met the people of SEPTA.
We’re not talking about the people on “People of SEPTA,”the disgraceful website that exploits the city’s disenfranchised public transit riders for cheap internet giggles. We’re talking about the average, everyday rider of SEPTA buses, trains and trolleys. Some are angry, some are sweet, some are terrifyingly unhinged. But the one thing they all have in common: They do not want to talk to you.
Just like standing in line to use a public restroom or waiting to use an ATM, the act of riding alongside our fellow man unifies us in a common goal: Get it done as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. Stepping foot onto public transit means that you are entering a delicate social ecosystem with widely accepted community norms. (The rules get even more complicated when the weather is bad.) We cannot simply strike up conversation with any old commuter who plops down next to us. Thus, the rules of engagement for speaking on SEPTA:
DO talk to: the toddler singing “Let It Go” from Frozen.
DO NOT talk to: the teenager selling bootleg Frozen DVDs out of his backpack.
DO talk to: the sweet old lady with the grocery cart. (And help her navigate getting off and on the train.)
DO NOT talk to: the angry old lady with the half-smoked cigarette dangling from her chapped lips while she screams racial slurs into a flip phone.
DO talk to: the college kid reading your favorite book.
DO NOT talk to: the group of college kids who are carrying half-full red solo cups.
DO talk to: the driver when you get on and off.
DO NOT talk to: the driver, any other time.
DO talk to: the family who asks you for a restaurant recommendation. (Clearly, out of towners!)
DO NOT talk to: the family eating an entire fast-food meal while riding the bus.
DO talk to: the lady selling One Step Away, the newspaper written by people in Philadelphia’s shelter system.
DO NOT talk to: anyone who offers to sell you oils at a discounted price.
DO talk to: the obvious first-time SEPTA rider who is terrified that he just got on the B train.
DO NOT talk to: the obvious first-time acid user who is terrified that you’re a giant spider.
DO talk to: the lady whose hand got stuck in the trolley door.
DO NOT talk to: the dude with his hand in his pants.
DO talk to: the people who are reminding you to vote in the next election.
DO NOT talk to: the people who are reminding you that you’re sinner and you’re going to Hell.
DO talk to: the guy who is about to accidentally sit in the pee-soaked seat.
DO NOT talk to: the guy who soaked the seat with his pee.
Follow @errrica on Twitter.