The Button Presser

Posted June 28, 2017 in transport  |  4 Comments so far

You sense the train’s deceleration and get up from your seat.

You are the first person to get to the door of the train. This is not what you wanted to happen. Because this means that you will be the Button Presser.

As the train slows further and moves into the station the rest of us gather behind you. Getting the measure of you. Do you know what you’re doing? Do you understand what being a Button Presser involves? Will one of us have to take over?

You’ve done this before, of course you have, but this is something you can’t just say outright. No words are to be spoken here: your actions will tell us what we need to know. The choreography is subtle but each step has escalatory potential. Moving your hand to the button too soon will come across as naive and unrealistic, but leave it too late and we’ll think you’re oblivious to the meaning and purpose of the Button. One of us may have to intervene.

And there are more of us now, crowding round the door, waiting for the Moment, the Moment when the Button will become active and you will face your true test. When that light comes on, you will have half a second to respond. Leave it any longer and one of us will lean past you with a exasperated sigh to press it ourselves. You will have been stripped of your ceremonial role as the Button Presser without honour or dignity. No-one wants that. (Secretly, some of us would relish it.)

The train comes to a halt and the pressure becomes too much to bear. You begin to frantically, repeatedly hammer the Button long before its light will appear. The train is oblivious — the Button isn’t active yet — and we’re surprised too, you didn’t seem like the button-mashing type. It’s panicked and needy. Where’s your sense of timing?

Finally, the light around the Button illuminates and quickly dims again as it meets your volley of taps. The door is open and we are leaving the train. As Button Presser you did… alright. You avoided our censure, yes. But you did not earn our respect.

EDIT: a couple of people on Twitter have pointed out an even worse situation: where you have to lean out of the window on a big cross-country train to get the door open, an act that demands a combination of expertise and strength. It reminded me of a time in Cornwall a few months ago when I failed to do this and had to be rescued from the train by someone on the platform. My memory of the incident is a blur but I think I tried to pretend the door was faulty.

4 comments so far.  Post a comment

  1. July 16, 2017 at 4:42 pm [ Permalink

    I’ve often wondered why so many other countries give passengers a button to press while we in the US get no such thing. Perhaps the designers of trains have decided that our populace isn’t really qualified to push buttons. :)

  2. Harry
    August 2, 2017 at 11:21 am [ Permalink

    As a risk-taker I like to hold down the button on the door prior to it becoming active and thereby ensuring no delay from active button press to door opening. Fine if you’re familiar with the particular train you’re on, a minefield if you’re on an unknown train with a button that may not allow such brash behaviour and must illuminate first.

  3. David
    September 14, 2017 at 4:15 pm [ Permalink

    I find that maximum satisfaction and fellow traveller approval can be gained from timing things such that the explosive sounds of the door opening merges with the sound of the door release bell.
    Despite this requiring hair-trigger responses a studied pose of maximum casualness must of course be maintained at all times.

  4. October 1, 2017 at 4:32 am [ Permalink

    It’s maybe 15 years since I faced that dreaded button, but this brought back all the silent social anxiety of Tube commuting, and of London life in general!

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