This past week I traveled to Orlando, Florida for a denominational meeting. I traveled by train, plane, and bus. I like to use these traveling times to write papers and sermon outlines or to make societal observations.
Riding on a train, one can see the incongruity between the engineers who planned the seats and the people that ride on trains. On one side there are three seats and on the other side there are two seats. The intent is for five people to ride. The reality is that a maximum of three passengers will ride in those seats.
As I looked from the door, I saw a place that had three seats. When I approached it, I saw that the gentleman who sat by the window had spread his stuff over the other two seats. I stood by the seat and he moved his things to the second seat. Often people sit at the end of the three seats so that if one wants to take another seat, they have to stumble over feet to get to the window or the middle seat. Sometimes it is worse when people sit on the second seat from the window and put their stuff in the seat next to window.
As we were approaching Newark Airport, there were passengers standing at the end of each compartment and there were empty middle and window seats. I wondered why the conductor was not inviting people to seat in the middle seats. Was there such a body language of rejection that no passenger wanted to sit down? Did they prefer to stand rather than confront the person who occupied two or sometimes three seats? Was the conductor afraid that the passengers will not take the train again if they are not given two or three seats?
When I got to the airport, the situation was completely different. There was an announcement that every seat was taken and people should handle their luggage judiciously. As I made the trip to my assigned seat, I observed that some of the passengers indeed needed two seats. I was glad that the flight was less than two hours considering that some passengers were extending over both of their neighbor’s seats.
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After we got off of the plane, the denomination sent a bus to take the participants to their hotel. The bus ride was remarkable due to the fact that many people traveled all the way to the back of the bus so that they will not sit next to another person. In one direction there were empty seats, but on the return trip there were no empty seats.
My observations led me to question what would have happened if I had moved to the second seat on the train. Would my neighbor be insulted because I moved into his assumed space? Would the plane passenger who needed two seats be insulted if the stewardess asked him to pay for two seats?
It is interesting for me to observe how little communication we have when we travel. We bring our computers, ipods, and cell phones. We do our business as if the person next to us does not exist. We claim our space and we hope that that space is not invaded by anyone else. As one professor of communications from my daughter’s school said, “In this age of optimum communication we communicate less than any other generation.”
We want to be close, but it seems to me that our closeness has instead become distance and our communication with one another has been drastically reduced.