Sunday, August 17, 2014

do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?

I am a rule follower. Actually, I am a fanatical and militant rule follower. If a policy is explained and implemented, I'll adhere to it. I wait in lines. I follow procedure. I come to a full stop at stop signs. I may not agree with a particular rule, but if it is posted or communicated in a clear and obvious fashion, I will honor it. And I expect everyone else to do the same. If someone decides to ignore a rule and do what they wish, it really pisses me off. (Well, to be honest, a lot of things piss me off, but breaking rules is high on the list.)

I am particularly annoyed by people who feel that rules do not apply to them. You know who I mean. Those who go into a building through a door marked "DO NOT ENTER." Those who park where it is clearly posted "NO PARKING" or where there is obviously not enough room for a car (like the curb next to my driveway). Those who skirt a long line and walk right up to the counter, even if someone is in mid-conversation with a service representative. "Oh, I just want to ask a quick question," they'll say and that "quick question" turns into six or seven questions and a full inquiry of a store's inventory. These are people who think: "Rules? The rules don't apply to me! Rules are for you assholes." 

I used to work for a guy who was very wealthy and drove a Porsche. He was a nice, generous guy, but no rule applied to him. One day, he took me out to lunch. We drove around a congested neighborhood with particularly narrow streets looking for a place to park. Suddenly, he noticed a spot in which his car would fit perfectly. As he spun the wheel in the direction of the cross street, I pointed out that he was headed the wrong way down a one-way street. "That's okay." he said, waving off my warning and not making an attempt to touch the brake pedal. He defiantly turned down the street, did a three-point turnaround and backed into the parking space. Why is there never a cop around when you need one?

The gallery of offenders.
I regularly ride the train to and from work. I carry a messenger bag daily. When I board the train, I choose a seat, remove the book I am currently reading from my bag and place my bag on my lap. I often see other passengers place their various briefcases, purses, backpacks, suitcases and other assorted parcels on the empty seat next to them. There are others that purposely spread their belongings — file folders, notebooks, iPads, laptops, clipboards — across an entire seat meant to accommodate three commuters. When the train is crowded, and seating is scare, some passengers still insist on using the seat as their own personal mobile workstation or an extension of their home. One rainy morning, when seats were at a premium, I saw an aisle seat that appeared empty from my vantage point. As I approached, I saw that the occupant — a sharply-dressed, executive-type woman — had a large, expanding file folder stretched across the seat as she made extensive notes on a legal pad balanced on her knee. I stopped alongside the seat, cleared my throat, and in the most polite tone I could muster, said, "May I please sit here?" She frowned and let out a long, exaggerated, annoyed sigh. Then, she slowly — I mean at a goddamn snail's pace — began gathering her belongings. She even stopped to do some filing and rearranging of documents, making sure they were in the proper order within her portable filing system. I stood by the seat, as patient as I could be, and the train already made it to the next scheduled stop before she had cleared a space to allow me to sit. Angered, I spoke up. "Sorry," I began, "I didn't realize I was riding on your train!" I moved on and took a seat next to a gentleman who respectfully had his briefcase stowed on the rack above his seat and his jacket folded neatly in his lap. I actually got some snickers and a small smattering of applause from my fellow, exasperated passengers.

SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the company that provides public transportation to Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs) often makes announcements for bags to be put on the overhead luggage racks or on the floor under the seat. They have even taken to social media, repeatedly reinforcing the "Dude, it's Rude" campaign, with "tweets" making riders aware of the "bags off the seats" rule. Just last week, the campaign became more aggressive, as blunt signage began popping up at various places on train platforms and trains themselves. The two-color placards are unapologetic in their message. "Unless YOUR BAG Paid - MOVE IT!" the signs proclaim. There's no time for "please." You were warned. You had your chance. The gauntlet has been thrown down.

So, this morning, I boarded the train and sat in a seat next to a guy's bag. He was seated next to the window, headphones jammed into his ears, his head tilted down with full attention on his phone. I took the available aisle seat. We were separated by his leather overnight bag, upon which was draped his necktie. It being a Friday in summer, the train was relatively empty and there were many unoccupied seats. However, because I am a rule follower, my bag rested on my lap, as usual. I could feel the fellow's bag just scant centimeters from my elbow as I turned the pages of my book. As the train pulled into my destination stop, my expanded seatmate readied himself to exit as well. In my peripheral vision, I could see him remove his earbuds and stuff them into a pocket in his bag. Then, he lifted a travel coffee mug and swirled it a bit, in an effort to check its contents. He popped the lid of the mug and — I shit you not! — poured the remaining few drops on the floor. Yes! Right on the floor! I leaned forward a little to check if there was a concealed sink or even a drain that I hadn't previously noticed — knowing full well that there wasn't. Satisfied that his cup was empty, he packed it away in another pocket of the bag. He carefully folded his tie and, as the train slowed to a hissing halt, stood up, grabbed his bag and followed me down the aisle and out to the platform, even passing me on his way to the exit stairs.

I had found another one to whom the rules did not apply. As a mater of fact, this guy was making up his own rules.

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