Awkward shuttle situations shine daily

Spinnaker

How about a little humanity being introduced into the interiors of UNF commuter buses?

Since when have college students felt the need to silence themselves and wear a non-confrontational stare as they gaze forward? And start painfully dreading a brief, literal shoulder rub from a fellow student? What about when it was unanimously decided that one person is totally capable of occupying two entire seats?

Many of the commuter students here are more than hip to the entirely bizarre vortex entered once stepping foot onto a UNF Swoop Shuttle. The stone-cold behaviors freezing the interior of the buses are somewhat reminiscent of the kind of sterile behaviors native to metropolitan area subways.

It seems like students have taken a hint from the impersonal Internet age of hiding behind a screen, free from the pressures of accurately reacting to a quip from an acquaintance or subtle sideways glance from an attractive stranger. No, the kids would much rather flip off their peripheral vision and take a deep dive into a shallower agenda within their noggin.

Chivalry — or rather, courtesy — has taken a backseat to frantic Twitter updates (really, how many of those followers will sleep better tonight knowing exactly what your burps tasted like on your shuttle ride to class?) and deliberate oblivion.

Every day, older folks and petite kids are forced to wrap their limbs around a nearby pole or too-tall handrail in a futile effort to refrain from toppling to other passengers.

At the same time, however, those other passengers are perversely content occupying two seats for their one being, keeping their eyes dead set on some phantom space up ahead. It couldn’t be too difficult to direct your gaze at a fellow human being, identify a possibility to compromise and scooch over one cheek to fully fill one, single seat. You’re some 6 foot dude carrying only a water bottle and pair of Ray Bans? Take note of the spindly, shrimpy girl positively crumbling under the weight of her portfolio and offer her your seat. Not only would it be the right thing to do, but with the barren climate of UNF’s manners plain, you might even look heroic.

Something could be said about the thick silence ubiquitous in the shuttles — except it isn’t, which is the point exactly. If one student is on the phone upon entering the shuttle, conversation typically halts immediately.

Sometimes you’ll catch a bold one who will continue, loudly detailing a weekend rage session in the otherwise muted space.

Most people seem to prefer switching gears into the texting circuit — or just reviewing call histories, whichever is more convenient, as long as it assists in avoiding conversation with other commuters. There is no reason there can’t be a happy medium of — what did those teachers call it? “Inside voices?” Yeah, those — when it comes to cell phone conversations squished between another student and a carpeted wall.

Inter-passenger communication is a rarity, for sure. It’s nearly guaranteed that you usually won’t run into an old buddy from your high school chemistry class or even that nice cashier from the bookstore, but instead, it’s always a bitter ex-roommate or drunken mistake hovering the plush seats. And instead of being a cordial, mature adult, most opt to minimize breathing and suddenly become very interested in hang nails.

Remember when commuter life was good and golden back on the big, yellow school bus? All of your friends were there, apple and knapsack in hand, ready for a jolly ride to elementary school. Conversation was fluttering and personal space was null. The Chills pose the question to be answered best in their 1987 song “Brave Words”: “Does apathy come with age?”

With each passing year, people grow more comfortable in just not dealing with minor, momentary discomfort —especially if it’s not their own. They ignore the extremely pregnant woman dying for a seat and offensively cringe at momentary physical contact with strangers when the doors open in front of the library, and there’s a mad rush to exit ASAP.

Maybe the real question is, does apathy become unavoidable with age? The answer is probably not.

Shuttle courtesy doesn’t have to be considered a pleasant, occasional luxury. There’s no reason it can’t just be the norm. In the meantime, the sidewalks leading from lot to campus are looking pretty friendly.