To the guy who into you on the stairs
November 16, 2015
It was busy this morning.
Heck, it is busy every morning in New York City.
As usual, I was turning down the stairs of the Atlantic Station D/N/R platform, to find them full of people going up. So full, that there was almost no room to go down.
This is a normal thing.
In fact, it is such a normal thing on this exact stairway, that I long ago gave up the feeling that I should somehow be meek when people give no lane for opposite travelers.
When I first would encounter this I would press myself against the railing, turn my shoulders aside, and try to give everyone else room. I was trying to be courteous. However, after 2-years of this exact stairway, with this exact situation, I eventually stopped. I’m not saying I instead turned into an asshole who throws people out of his way, but I instead took the stance as I went down those stairs that I belong there. That I’m not in your way, that you are in mine. The right side of this stairway belongs to downward traffic.
Unlike a busy street, there are no police officers to enforce traffic in these situations. However, that doesn’t mean that you have the right to the whole stairway. Traffic, in order to move efficiently, moves in two parallel streams. Just like a street, you should keep to your right and I will keep to mine. If you violate this, then you do not have the right of way.
So, instead of being meek and attempting to take up as little space as possible, I simply walk down the right side, next to the railing. It is honestly not an unreasonable assumption to make, that this 1/4 of the downward stairway can belong to myself and my fellow downward travelers.
It is the least we deserve.
Today, though, you didn’t agree with me. You, upward traveler, took to the right side, my right side, and tried to own that too. So I stood my ground, in perhaps the lamest of ways and simply walked down, expecting you to move further to your right, as social norms expect you to. Instead, you turned your shoulder, expecting me to do the same. To get out of your way, on my side of the stairway.
Instead, we collided shoulders. The smallest of connections between us. In my mind, it was par for the course, for you though it was an infraction of the highest order.
So you stopped. Rapidly slapped my shoulder in the weakest (and perhaps weirdest) of ways, and asked what was wrong with me. Why didn’t I say excuse me? What was my problem? You acted as if I had purposefully run into you, when the reality was, I simply didn’t get out of your way.
Here’s the truth, I’m not going to fight you. Not on a busy stairway. Not anywhere. Especially not for bumping shoulders. So don’t pretend like you’re going to fight me. It is just unnecessary.
Instead, I wonder, what is wrong with you? Did you have a rough morning? Was it something else in your life that you were bringing to that moment, the smallest of collisions, to make it into something more than it was. More than it should have been.
New York is a hard place in this way. Finding the balance between not getting stepped on and not stepping on others is hard. Preferably you want both. And most of the time it works out, but other times it turns into something unnecessarily more. My goal in these situations is to let them slide and not make it into an excuse to be the person they need to fulfill their own narrative.
Some days it works out better than others.
Written by Drew Butler who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter