Friday, November 18, 2005

The Commuter

For perhaps twenty five years of my working days my usual procedure was to commute from this station into the Big Apple and home again at night.Legends abound about the early morning drive to the station. Most center on the housewife who lets the husband drive to the station. He rushes to the train from the car, leaving his wife sitting in the passenger seat in a dressing gown, night gown, curlers, no make-up—and a stricken look when she realizes that he took the car keys with him and she has none. (Remember this is before cell phones and OnStar.) Fortunately, for the then “desperate housewives” in Berkeley Heights, the police station was right next to the railroad station. Being a cop in Berkeley Heights wasn’t all bad.

For the hubbies the morning commute was quite dull. Mostly it was a matter of reading the NY Times or reading the stuff in your briefcase that you took home to read the night before. When the train arrived in Hoboken, we could move from train to the Hudson Tubes under the Hudson River to NYC without a conscious thought. It wasn’t time to wake up yet. Just to brag a bit, I could usually do the whole NY Times crossword puzzle in the time it took to go from Hoboken to 34th St. (Not on Thursday or Friday.)

Returning home was also an automaton’s exercise, but with a little more variety to spice things up a bit. As you came out of the Hudson Tubes tunnel, there was a fruit and vegetable stand with the specials of that day pre-weighed and pre-bagged. Just thrust a dollar bill at the guy yelling the virtues of his products and grab a bag. Then duck into the liquor store, snatch a Styrofoam cup with ice off the counter, show the clerk the canned cocktail you chose, give him the appropriate dollar or two. At the newsstand, grab a World Telegram, toss the coins on to the stack of papers, glance at the clock and depending on what it said, run or stroll to your train. It was always on the same track with the same conductor standing in front of the gate. If you didn’t recognize him, you double checked that you weren’t headed off into an unknown land.

Once settled on the train, it was simply a matter of arranging the drink and ice on the window sill. There was usually room in the briefcase for the fruit and vegetable present for your wife. Open the can of Manhattan , pour it over the ice, and let it cool while you folded the newspaper into that unique commuters’ form that allows you to read every page top half, left and right, the bottom half left and right, usually with one hand.

OK, let it ring out clear, “ALL ABOARD!” We will be home before we know it. Work today wasn’t so bad after all.


Marilyn said...

You have done the impossible: made commuting sound pleasurable. ;)

east village idiot said...

Hats off to you. I've never read a post that describes the NYC commute so beautifully. There really can be a wonderful rythym to the daily train ride. I commuted for a while before moving into NYC and I always treasured that 35 minutes of time to unwind. You
just can't achieve that on a subway or bus. Well done.