Automobile Seating Arrangement Ritual – American

--Informant Info--
Nationality: African American
Age: 27
Occupation: Legal Assistant
Residence: San Francisco, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: March 3, 2009
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Determining where someone sits in a vehicle can be complicated. There are only so many seats in any given vehicle. The driver of the vehicle is usually known ahead of time. This is usually the owner of the vehicle. If the vehicle belongs to someone not there or nobody cares who drives then the person driving will be the first person to shout “driver.” The front passenger seat is usually the most coveted position because it is usually always up for grabs. This seat goes to whoever yells “shotgun” first. The worst place to sit is in the middle of the back seat. This is called sitting “bitch.” If you don’t care where in the back you sit as long as it’s not “bitch” then you have to shout “no-bitch.” Sitting “no-bitch” is either behind the driver or behind the passenger. Usually nobody cares where in the back they sit as long as it’s not bitch.

The rule used to be that you can call out a seat as soon as everybody is out of the building. At first it didn’t matter, but then people kept calling “shotgun” like at the beginning of a party or something and it was like cheating. Eventually it changed to where you can’t call it out until the car is within view of everyone and everyone is out of the building. It won’t count if you do it when you can’t see the car or if everyone that’s gonna be in the car isn’t there. If you call a seat it only counts for the current point A to point B. If you gotta make multiple stops where people get out of the car, like a gas station, then seats are up for grabs whenever anyone gets out of the car.

Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a very big deal in Cleveland. Because he often travels with several friends at a time, nobody wants to have to be squeezed in the back. If they do end up in the back, they prefer not to be stuck in the middle. Even if a person does not care where they sit they try very hard to avoid sitting “bitch.” Sitting “bitch” is seen as shameful and embarrassing. People that constantly sit “bitch” are usually made fun of constantly. Bryan says that an exception to this is if the person sitting bitch is smaller than everyone else and volunteers because they do not take up as much space. Often girls sit “bitch” simply because the guys tend to be larger. In these cases they are not made fun of and usually people are grateful for their “sacrifice” and show them the respect they deserve.

If multiple people call “shotgun” at the same time they usually have a Rock, Paper, Scissors best-of-three match to determine the true victor. Bryan told me that calling “shotgun” is a way to see who is on their toes, or paying attention the most. I think it is a way to define a sort of hierarchy when in transit from place to place. This hierarchy is constantly redefined but there will always be those who seem to succeed at calling “shotgun” more frequently and those who call it less frequently. It is not uncommon for the person sitting “bitch” to call “shotgun” at the first opportunity in order to regain their dignity in the eyes of their peers. It is a way of temporarily structuring peer groups that allows members to temporarily possess positions of power as well as positions of degradation.

Here is a humorous sketch of shotgun calling:

Shotgun Song on YouTube

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