“Going somewhere?” asked my coworker.
“Yep. Home! My cousin’s getting married this weekend,” I announced to the office as I rolled my suitcase into my cubicle. I had a 5:10 train from Penn Station that evening to head back to Central Pennsylvania. I planned it out the night before – I’ll leave at 4:30, hop on the 1 train and take it five (or was it six?) stops to Penn. I’ll get there in plenty of time to grab a bite to go for the three hour ride from New York. I’ll stand there like everyone else, staring at the leader board until my gate is called and then sprint to get a seat by myself. I couldn’t wait.
At 4:25 I powered down my work station, said goodbye to my coworkers, and headed to the subway carrying my luggage, book bag, and suit.
I entered the station, lifting my suitcase up to get down the steps. At the turn style, I realized I had a problem. The logistics of getting through with all my things didn’t make sense. I can only swipe my pass once. How do I get all of this through with just one turn? I stared at my new foe and contemplated as the approaching train echoed through the station. Maybe if I put my suitcase in front of me with my suit on top, I’ll be able to squeeze my body and book bag through behind it.
Success. It was not graceful, but it worked. I hopped on the uptown 1 and settled in for my short ride to 34th street. The train jarred forward in the familiar whiplashing motion that MTA so kindly refuses to address. I caught my suitcase before it fell over and chuckled to myself. I knew that was going to happen. Smiling still, I looked up and caught the blank judgmental stare of the person across from me. Well happy Friday to you too, douche.
“Fourteestree,” I heard the operator announce in the rushed gibberish that every train conductor speaks. “TransfetothetwothreeFLM. ConnecttothePATH.”
I knew from previous experiences that the 2 was an express train and its next stop is Penn Station. If I stayed on the 1, I’d still have four stops. I checked the schedule and saw that a 2 was arriving in less than a minute, right across the platform. Might as well.
I trudged off the 1 with all my things as the 2 approached the station. I waited behind a wall of commuters as it slowed. Through the windows, I could see that people were packed in, every car a can of sardines. Duh, it’s rush hour on a Friday. Of course it’s packed. I’ll never fit all of my things in there. I turned around to get back on the 1.
The doors were shut. Panic swept over me.
I turned back around as the doors to the 2 opened. I have to make it onto this train. My train home will leave before I get there if I wait for the next 2. I followed closely as the other sardines entered the car. C’mon, squeeze in there. The person before me stepped on the train, leaving one inch between himself and the doors, unable to move further into the car. I knew I couldn’t fit and desperately turned around to see the 1 leaving the station. No no no no no.
I walked briskly down the platform, looking for any type of space at every open door. “Excuse me,” I said to a lady that didn’t move to let me in.
I walked faster. “Excuse me!” Still no room. Even faster now. “Can I fit?!” Every car packed to its doors. “Is there room for me?!” I started running, suitcase getting louder behind me. “CAN I FIT?!” “EXCUSE ME.” Nasty looks from annoyed sardines. “IS THERE ROOM?!” Suit flying behind me like a kite in a thunderstorm. “CAN I GET ON?!?!” Book bag bouncing violently on my back. Conductor – “standclearthedoors” Sprinting. “EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME I’M GOING TO MISS MY TRAIN EXCUSE ME!!!”
The doors shut and the 2 left the station.
I recently moved to New York City. As everyone in New York loves to tell you, we have amazing public transportation. You truly don’t need a car here and can get anywhere you need to go with ease. It’s great.
Once you understand it.
Moving to a new city is stressful. There’s so much to learn so quickly, from figuring out which streets are safe to walk down and which to avoid if you’d like to keep all your organs to learning which Starbucks makes a pumpkin spice latte just the way you like it. These things will make you feel like you truly belong to the city. However, you are not a true resident until you’ve mastered your city’s public transportation.
Whether it’s the Subway in New York, the L in Chicago, the Metro in DC, or whatever people use in California – I’m assuming some type of limo/spaceship hybrid that runs on water and depollutes the air – learning the public transportation system of your new home is key. Not only does it allow you to get around easily, but also eliminates the stress of getting home after a night of boozing with your friends.
And getting you around isn’t the only benefit of learning the system. You also get some street smarts – like knowing to avoid the train car with the homeless person lying in the corner because it’s going to be smelly. You can differentiate between a person begging for money because they’re lazy and a person begging for money because they’re hungry. Most importantly, you learn where the AC vents in each car are located and hog one to yourself on those sweaty gotta-change-when-I-get-to-work days of summer.
To many, this mastery means you can handle anything related to public transit. But don’t be fooled. Your new knowledge can often lure you into a false sense of security. You begin to take risks. You don’t hold on to the railing when the train starts moving. You don’t consult a map when giving foreigners directions. You won’t miss your stop if you want to close your eyes for a minute.
Next thing you know you’re stumbling into the grumpy 350 pound Snorlax beside you while sending two French guys to Jersey to find the Statue of Liberty and waking up an hour later alone in the Bronx.
Simply because you’ve “mastered” public transit does not mean you should ignore common sense. No, surprisingly, you won’t be able to fit your 12 bags of groceries on the seat beside you. No, your luggage, book bag, suit, and dignity will not fit on this rush hour express train to Penn Station.
If you’re considering taking public transit but have unordinary circumstances – say, 5 children and 2 dogs after a day at the park – heed caution. You may feel optimistic now, but nothing will make you feel worse than the scowling eyes of 300 people not moving to let you on.
If you think to yourself “well if I put all seven bags of groceries in this hand and drape my bag around my neck I’ll be able to hold onto the railing with my other hand as long as I can get my phone tucked under my ear” then you may want to reconsider your mode of transit.
If you think “this just might work”, it won’t.
Recognize when you get into one of these situations and do yourself and the rest of us a favor. Take a cab.
What am I gonna do I can’t miss my train I’ll have to wait for the 6:30 train no way. Bystanders in the station stared as I threw my luggage on my head and ran up the steps. Cab. I’ll get a cab and I’ll just pay for it and I’ll get there in time.
I got above ground and ran into the street. Shit, this street goes south. I needed to go north, let alone that there were no cabs in sight. Twenty thousand cabs in Manhattan and I don’t see a single one. I ran halfway down the block, my suitcase being dragged behind me like a tired dog after a long hike. This is stupid, what if I can’t catch a cab?!
I stepped into the street and waved my arms so wildly that if any taxi had passed by the driver would have called 911 to let them know a gangly twenty-something male was having a seizure on 7th Ave.
Three minutes passed since I left the station. Screw it, there’s gotta be another train down there soon. I jumped back onto the sidewalk and ran towards the station I’d just exited, hoisting up my suitcase into the air for the millionth time down the steps.
EXIT ONLY read a huge sign at the bottom of the steps. Why is this at the BOTTOM of the steps?! I went back above ground and scampered down the block to another entry in a fashion similar to how I imagine a very short Michelin man would run.
Even less graceful than last time, I barreled through the turn style and hopped on the 1 train in the station. Oh thank God, I hope it goes fast. Standing right in front of the doors and refusing to move, I counted the stops. 18th. 23rd. 28th. 34th-Penn Station. 4 stops.
Each time we stopped an hour passed. Close the doors close the doors closdoors. Oh. I get why they do that now.
Like Seabiscuit out of the starting gate, I pummeled through the crowd. Down the platform. Down the steps. This train is leaving without me. Through the subway exit. I used my suitcase as a weapon to part the Long Islanders waiting for their train like the Red Sea. Up the escalator. I’m gonna have to take the 6:30 train. Swing a right.
I entered Amtrak and found the leader board. Gate 6. Which way is gate six?! Left. I took off in a sprint. Six six six six. Please don’t say “all aboard.”… There! Six. I scrambled up to the gate, down the escalator, and onto the train.
Sweating and out of breath, I sighed out of relief to have made it. I threw my suitcase in the overhead storage and placed my suit and book bag on the empty seat so no one would sit there. Made it by the skin of my teeth. I sat down quickly and prepared to leave.
I’m so happy I made it. Barely. That was so close. I can’t believe we haven’t left yet. They must be running late. What time is it?
5:00 o’clock. My train didn’t leave for 10 more minutes.