Thigh, how are you?: the Red Line Green Zone

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  • puroticorico
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Barbara Brotman mentioned in the Trib the other day that Red Line riders, adapting to new cars the CTA is putting into service this month, may benefit from the experiences of others—namely our friends on the Green and Pink Lines, who've already had the pleasure of the new models. Their most prominent feature is rows of seats that face inward, toward the center aisle, with only a couple seats remaining in the classic forward-backward orientation. Brotman's notes are helpful, though we regular Red Line patrons may remember the cars from times in the last couple years when the CTA was testing them out: they took me home once or twice and then they disappeared. (According to chicago-l.org, tests of the new series began in 2010.)

Brotman touches on the sociosexual dynamics of this new style of travel, a wisp of a thesis I'd like to develop a little more here. She writes: "Ladies, learn from my uncomfortable experience: Reconsider bending to retrieve something from your purse on the floor if there is a gentleman standing inches in front of you. There is nothing you need that badly."

This recalls a note on CTA etiquette from a couple years back by my former colleague Whet Moser, who wrote, "Guys: your crotch doesn't have to be so spread out that your thigh is in my seat," a comment that would seem to predict the worst possibilities for personal-space excesses on the new-model trains. He was concerned specifically about the bus, but the lesson is not just transferable but even more apt in situations where seats are arranged in rows greater than two. On the old trains, where there were never more than two seats side by side, the most damage a wide-stancer could do was to take up half the seat next to him.

Now he can take up half of a seat on either side of him, rendering fully three seats uninhabitable. I noticed this trend when the CTA tested out the new cars: dude would be taking up 1 + ½ + ½ seats, and then a couple seats down another dude would do the same. In front of the demilitarized seat between them, their knees would nearly touch. The new trains, as Brotman makes clear, will take some getting used to, but they probably won't reconfigure the gendered politics of public space anytime soon. Rome wasn't built in a day, and the new cars are expected to be in service for 40 years.

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