Peace train

Like myriad Maplewoodians, I take New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct train line to and from New York Penn Station every weekday. (Indeed, I’m drafting this entry on my Blackberry en route to the office.)

I’m a big fan of train travel, and I’m delighted with our logistics in the matter: Our house is four leafy blocks from the cute little turn-of-the-20th station, which is also the first stop for many of the outbound trains I take. The trains are pretty frequent, the conductors are pretty friendly, and I can usually take a seat and get to work.

Of course, any routine you follow every day is likely to rub a few spots raw. I don’t dig the cattle call waiting for tracks to be announced at Penn (which really is an ugly place to start and end every weekday). The occasional splash of toilet effluvium when the tracks curve into Maplewood can stink up the station. And while fellow passengers generally seem like amiable sorts, some carelessness about personal space can abrade the nerves.

Being a Type A bunch, this crowd is predictably prone to high-volume cell-phone conversations on topics both commercial and highly personal. On more than one occasion, I’ve been treated to really gnarly medical details — colostomies, suppurating ulcers — suffered by my seatmate’s friend or relative. Tearful breakups are always uncomfortable to witness, as are knotty office politics. I watched one young Master of the Universe regale a friend with a vivid blow-by-blow on the toilet habits of an intern in his office before being shouted down by 20 of his fellow passengers.

One person gets a karmic mulligan from me: the handsome 50-ish woman who often boards my train while talking animatedly to a distant colleague. As best I can make out, she’s a medical professional working for the U.N. or some charitable organization, and she’s raising her voice to get results for sick orphans in remote places: “Yes, the HIV test came back positive … We have to cut the red tape and get the anemia treated now so he’s ready to travel! I don’t care about the visa requirements; this is important!” In my book, this lady can talk as loud and long as she wants, even when the going gets gross.

One thought on “Peace train

  1. Tom Ward

    If only they hadn’t torn down the proper old Penn Station! The start of your return commute would be framed in an aesthetic grandeur that might compensate for that cattle call.

    It’s absurd that the building was only 60-odd years old at the time of demolition. It was built for the ages! Regrettably there’s money to be made in destruction. It is you who are paying the price in tiny increments of spirit, with each commute. I always feel sadder about it when standing around in the hall–and on the columns hang framed photos of the interior of the old station. Yet I’m very glad for the photos at the same time.

    A small compensation for the loss of Penn Station was the subsequent passage in Congress of a preservation act in 1966, which gave us the National Register of Historic Places.


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