For most of my life, I’ve tried to use subtle nonverbal cues to convince the people around me I am actually a snake-wrapped velociraptor dressed business casual. I like to think I’ve perfected the body language that says to anyone looking at me “I am an actual murderer with no less than 4 machetes hidden on my body.” There is no better place to use these skills than on the bus at 6:30 am, a time when only sociopaths, failed marathon-runners, and morning people are out and about. As a hint to which one I am, I can barely run a 5k, and my vocabulary only moves beyond 4-letter words after 2 pm. Nobody sits next to me on the bus.
The first step to convincing the world you’re only one unsolicited greeting away from serial arson is, remarkably, your feet. I’ve heard a lot of people say the feet you face away from the seat next to you–in this scenario, you’ve taken a window seat and there is only one seat next to you. If you want to keep your elbow room and help people assume you’ve got at least 3 people chained up in your basement, point your feet toward the aisle, toward the free seat next to you. However, keep your entire body facing your window. Make a corkscrew out of your torso, and try to look as uncomfortable as possible doing it. People searching for a free seat should see you and grimace and conjure a twisted mental image of your Twizzler spine.
You’re on the bus trying to keep your elbow room free, so naturally, the next thing you have to do is complex math. In the past, the only flaw in my nonverbal armor was my face. I’d be sitting contorted in my seat putting off the vibe of a domesticated undead on his way to work, but then the other passengers would see my face, and it would ruin the illusion. There would be my body, properly misshapen, but my face wouldn’t match. It doesn’t matter how unpleasant your body looks if your face is inviting and warm. The problem was my soft, puppy eyes and pillowy lips and non-threatening jawline and brilliant curly golden mane and movie star smile, sad afflictions of mine. Now I sabotage my movie star face by scrawling equations into the fog of my window then trying to solve them in my head while listening to Swedish electronica in one headphone and Lana Del Rey in the other. If properly orchestrated, you should look like an angry shoe caught in a toilet mid-flush, and nobody wants to sit next to that. At this point you might be asking yourself “but how will the other passengers gaze upon my hideous visage?” Once more, the window is your friend. Make sure a significant portion is clean and properly reflective so anyone walking down the aisle will see the specter of your monstrous features projected onto the window they’d rather jump out of than sit next to you.
The goal of your body language on the bus should be to communicate instantly that you would be so unpleasant to sit next to that any potential seating partner would stand instead of risk your proximity. It’s a tough skill to acquire, but with time, effort, complex math, and some good ol’ fashioned scoliosis, you’ll never have to bump elbows again.