The Human Herd

In the Republique Metro station in Paris, there is a passage between two lines that shortens the walk from one platform to another by about five minutes. But it’s a one-way passage – passengers arriving on one platform may use the passage, which has one-way doors at one end, to quickly reach the other, but hapless riders coming from the other line have to go the long way around. Metro "insiders" know that the latch on the door on the left end is broken.

Since the Paris Metro is notorious for making its riders walk most of the distance they want to travel, this seemingly small victory over the system feels like a coup, particularly to the visitor – doubtlessly Parisian commuters take it in Gaelic stride.


The passengers waiting to board Flight 1599 to Milan was growing restive. Because of a gate change, some of us had made a mad dash from one concourse to another, and the departure time had been delayed by 30 minutes. When gate staff announced boarding of first class passengers, a crowd, bordering on a mob, formed around the gate door in the corner, surrounding a bank of three seats, a pillar, and a trash can situated near the door.

First class passengers squeezed through the throng towing their excessive carryon luggage. One gate staff checked their tickets, while another surveyed the crowd and said, "the line is behind the chairs. You must move behind the chairs," indicating the narrow corridor formed between the chairs and the wall. Nobody paid him any attention.

Grumbling, he stepped behind the counter and came back with a pair of poles with an expandable strap in between.

"You must get behind the chairs," he declared again, and tried to force the crowd on the wrong side of the chairs away from the door by setting up his rope and poles.

"Too late," was the general response, "you should have set up the barrier before you made the announcement!"

"Please form the line behind the chairs by the wall!" he grew agitated.

"This is New York and you aren’t Mayor Guilani!"

Remarkably, the gate staffer continued trying to bend the increasingly angry crowd to his will until he was simply overwhelmed. The passengers moved his barrier out of their way and proceed to the gate.