I have spent more time on commuter rail trains than anyone should ever have to. I had to take a train 45 minutes each way to commute to high school, time I spent either sleeping, begrudgingly making conversation with classmates who would sit next to me, staring into space or doing homework (this was back in the day when homework was holey). (typo, but I'm keeping it)
Anyway, when I get on a train, I always look for an unoccupied two seats, rather than sitting next to a stranger. Obviously. Assuming I can find one, I then put something on the seat next to me (sweatshirt, magazine, whatever) to give the impression that someone is sitting there. This is a pretty standard tactic, I would imagine, in the Anti-Social Guide to Living Life.
Inevitably, though, someone is going to sit next to you, and you are going to have to spend hours sitting right next to him or her while not once making eye contact. Here are the kinds of people who will sit next to you, in increasing order of annoyingness:
1) The Sleeper: She is an ideal seatmate. She's wearing sweats and sunglasses, usually with a headband or some sort of hat. She sits cross-legged or with her knees scrunched up to her chin. And she just... sleeps. She has her iPod headphones on the whole way. Sometimes her mouth opens slightly or she'll make an odd moaning/grunting noise, but this is pretty unoffensive as far as these things go. When you get up to go the bathroom, you feel bad for having to tap her shoulder, but she never seems annoyed. Her life is one of peace and calm.
2) The Worker: He is wearing a suit or something and his hair is slicked back and he has one of those fancy phones that's attached to his ear. He smells weird. He looks 37 but he's actually 27. He whips out his laptop and spends the train ride working on presentations and Word documents. He doesn't make much noise and doesn't care what you do, but you can't help checking out what he's doing at all times. You look at his laptop hoping for a glimpse of a movie or a slide show of his personal photos, but you get Excel spreadsheets. This is disappointing. (On the same level as the Worker: The Voracious Reader.)
3) The Cell Phone Talker: You know you're in trouble when you see The Memory Keeper's Daughter or The Kite Runner on her seat. (She doesn't open it the whole train ride - it just sits there.) Nope, she is going to do one thing the whole way to Boston - gab on her cell phone. She is going to call one friend after the next. You are going to hear about her awkward dinner with Jared three straight times. You are going to know her family members by name, why her job is getting really lame, how she kind of wants to get back with her ex - heck, you could write a pretty solid biography of her by the time the ride is over. Of course, if you drop your iPod and reach around for it or ask her to move so you can go get some food, she glares at you as if you are somehow intruding on her precious life.
4) The Idle-ist. He does nothing. He just sits in his chair. Not sleeping. Not reading. Not working. Not speaking. Eyes open. Nose twitching. These are the worst people to sit next to because the fact that he is sitting there, still as a mannequin, doing absolutely nothing, drives you absolutely MAD.