- A woman hides her face as she occupies a prime seat. (Photo: TBD Staff)
I board a full morning train headed to Vienna. On my foot is a boot—not the cute kind with jeans tucked in, but the gray plastic medical variety, designed to protect a damaged ligament—and I’ve just hobbled many blocks from my Capitol Hill house to the Metro.
I appraise the seating situation. The four center-facing seats, traditionally and legally reserved for passengers in need, are occupied. Two elderly women, one gray-haired and the other tiny and bent over, share one bench. Opposite them, a man with a white beard sits next to woman who looks to be in her early thirties.
I size up the seated thirtysomething. I know that appearances can be deceiving, but everything about this person in the black pantsuit says “able-bodied.” She wears heels, which suggests that her ability to walk is unimpaired. She crosses and recrosses her legs with ease, showing that mobility isn’t much of a problem. She reads a regular-type newspaper, indicating no need for large type to accommodate an eye impairment. A huge, stuffed backpack sits at her feet, demonstrating that her back is healthy enough to haul a substantial load. She appears to be a picture of thirtysomething health.
I hover near the center-facing benches and wait for the pantsuit to glance up and notice my obvious medical apparatus. But pantsuit doesn’t look up from her newspaper. Eventually I spot an open seat farther down the car and hobble over to that one.
No qualified etiquette expert—nay, no decent person—would dispute that an able-bodied woman should yield her seat to someone in need. But this situation illustrates a nuance of the issue: Is it ever OK to sit in one of the priority seats, even if no one in need is around? If questioned, the pantsuited woman would undoubtedly say she would give up her seat for the elderly, pregnant, injured, etc. Yet when such a person presented herself on the train, pantsuit didn’t notice. Are passengers so confident in their powers of observation that they can guarantee they would notice if a person needed their seat? Can they promise that they will not be so engrossed in their Kindles that they fail to look up every time a new passenger boards? Should people just stay out of the seats closest to the door on the off chance that a girl in a boot is going to get on the train? Riders of Metro, what do you say?