A man wearing an old military gas mask waits for the subway in Prague. Picture: Petr David Josek
A man wearing an old military gas mask waits for the subway in Prague. Picture: Petr David Josek

What is appropriate on public transport?

OPINION

Fellow humans: I write this in the full knowledge that, owing to the vagaries of deadlines and global pandemics, by the time it is published, we will all be dead.

This will probably not be as a direct result of dreaded coronavirus but due to unforeseen flow-on effects, such as an unprecedented outbreak of adult nappy-rash.

Still, at least we will have died proud. Only the most advanced civilisation could manage to both figuratively and literally wipe itself out.

However, on the off-chance a newly evolved species is reading this over their pasta rations, I wish to offer for posterity the exact chronology of why the human race is no more.

Even if we survived the Great Sorbent Shortage of 2020, another apocalyptic tsunami did us in.

 

 

This came in the form of a grumpy old lady who coughed at a doughy bearded man on a Sydney train. It is a little-known fact that this is how most wars start.

The encounter involved the man asking the lady to cover her mouth when she coughed and the lady telling the man she didn't need to.

Paradoxically, she then proved her point by coughing again without covering her mouth.

Of course, someone was filming this exchange on their smartphone and soon yet another annoying organism was going viral.

Long story short, we went from successfully landing on the moon to failing to disembark at our final inner-CBD destination.

This incident raises an important question and, for the benefit of your new civilisation, I feel obliged to answer it. The question is, what is it permissible for a passenger to do on public transport, and I can unequivocally state the answer is: Absolutely nothing.

You get on a train, you get to your stop and you get off. That is all. Granted, that means no coughing, but more importantly it means no reacting to coughing - nor to anything else for that matter.

Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Prague has banned all passengers from public transport who do not have any face protection. Picture: Petr David Josek/AP
Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Prague has banned all passengers from public transport who do not have any face protection. Picture: Petr David Josek/AP

 

If someone looks at you, you look down. If someone brushes past you, you clench your loins and go to your happy place. And if someone coughs at you, you quietly get up and stand in the doorwell, leaving other passengers in their vicinity to die.

A friend of mine firmly believes that it is forbidden to consume any food more complex than an apple on a train. Some would say even that is a bridge too far.

Another friend once told me of a man she knew in England who took the same train to work every day, sitting in the same seat and doing the same crossword in the same newspaper. One day he boarded his usual carriage and found someone else in his regular spot. He said nothing, stood for the remainder of the trip, and never caught the train again.

 

Joe Hildebrand’s column appears in this week’s Stellar magazine.
Joe Hildebrand’s column appears in this week’s Stellar magazine.

 

That man is the hero we needed in our darkest hour. A man prepared to not just stand up for what he believes in but shut up for it as well.

"But," I hear you say, "he did absolutely nothing."

Exactly. No preachiness, nosiness, tut-tutting or telling-off. Absolutely nothing. It was a rare and merciful gift to humanity in its dying days.

In short, there is only one appropriate response to the near-cough, and that is to far-cough. Anyway, ironically, that's what the human race has finally done now.

Hope you guys have better luck.

Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays on Network 10, and is editor-at-large for news.com.au

Originally published as What is appropriate on public transport?