Imagine a crowded train. Passengers jockey for position by the door. Hands grab for the vertical poles. Within seconds, not an inch of pole remains. And left standing in the middle of the car, without a speck of available handrail, is a short person.
What are her options? Reach up to the horizontal pole? No way. At 5’3” in flats, her hand can barely curl around the metal, and the stretch leaves her arched to one side in the manner of a banana. Feeling as though a sudden stop or swerve would pull her shoulder out of her socket, she puts her arm down. She attempts to make eye contact with a tall man grasping the vertical pole to her left, hoping he will notice her predicament and offer her his four inches on the pole, but he is suddenly very interested in an advertisement for nursing programs on the train wall.
The train lurches forward, and our short passenger bumps into one shoulder after another during the long commute home.
The predicament of short Metro riders
Being 5’3” is hardly a handicap. In fact, it’s precisely normal—the exact average height for an adult woman—yet it feels like a burden when on a crowded train. One 5’2” brunette says she’s left without a handrail daily on the orange line. “I kind of stand there and teeter,” she says. “It’s like surfing.”
The short-person surf is not only uncomfortable for the surfer, who cannot relax for fear that any moment she’ll pitch forward. It’s equally awkward for surrounding passengers, who serve as bumpers when the surfer stumbles left and right and instinctively clasps a stranger’s shoulder to avoid a fall. Mumbled apologies ensue.
It’s a predicament few tall riders seem to appreciate, or even be aware of.
Jessica, 5’7”, claims that “if I notice someone’s struggling, I always help them.” Yet Jessica, four inches above average height for her gender, also says she’s “never noticed” short people struggling on the train.
Susan Edwards, 5’8”, and Varsay Sirleaf, 5’7”, also admit that they are not on the lookout for shorties without a pole to hold on to, but have the decency to act sheepish about it. “I’ve never paid attention to that issue,” says Sirleaf, but he and Edwards agree that it sounds serious. “I’ll be more aware now,” Edwards promises.
A question of etiquette
Would short passengers like to be offered a spot on the pole?
“It would be nice, but it’s not happening,” says a Bethesda resident, 5’0”.
No short people interviewed for this report have ever asked a taller passenger to give up a handrail space. “I don’t know why,” says one woman, 5’2”. “I’m sure people would if I asked.” She thinks better of that statement and backtracks. “People hardly give up spots for elderly or pregnant people, so they’re not going to give up a handrail spot for short people.”
But should they? I come down on the side of yes. Forcing short people to ride the train in terror that they will awkwardly stumble into fellow passengers every time the train makes that turn on the way to Foggy Bottom is not the answer. Tall people, open your eyes and relinquish your spot on the pole for the vertically challenged. Riders of Metro, what's your take?
- Jenny Rogers