This relationship is long and frought with ups and downs, like any long-term relationship. It started when I was about 6 years old, and my grandmother would take me into the City. Those trips were great, and I loved them. I especially loved going to the very, very front of the train to watch the tracks out the window of the front door. And if I got really lucky, the train engineer would let me blast the horn as we passed a crossing. Those were some really good times.
Fast forward to my summer working in the city as an undergraduate. That summer I had a train riding partner, who got on one station after me, so I always tried to save him a seat. Commuting wasn’t so bad, and getting on where we did, seats were generally available. Except for the days when the train was “running short,” meaning there were 2 cars fewer than normal. And invariably, it’s raining, so now every one crams into 8 cars instead of 10 holding wet coats, umbrellas and the like. Sure, it’s the most convinient way into the city, but Good Lord, there were times we hated the LIRR that summer. (Not to mention my friend’s daily complaint when the 5:33 express to Valley Stream, not stopping at Jamaica, STOPPED AT JAMAICA. “This train isn’t supposed to stop, it’s express.” Of course, the doors never opened, so they didn’t call it a stop. A mere semantic argument for my friend, who was never appeased.)
Now, I live in Queens, and to get to Columbia every morning, I have to take an E train to a B or D to a 1 or 9. The commute varies in time based on how quickly a transfer comes, as well as other assorted vagaries of the subway system. So sure, maybe I can get from Forest Hills to the Upper West Side in 45 minutes….in CONCEPT. But now there’s track repair, leading to speed restrictions on the E between Continental and Roosevelt Avenues. So the train goes about as fast as I can walk. So instead I take the QM4 express bus to Herald Square and get on a B or D from there. But the Bus is $5!!! So then I get to the B or D, but there’s some fire somewhere, so if I’m at 7th Ave connecting from the E, I have to walk from there to Columbus Circle and catch the 1/9 there, and pay another fare. If I’m at Herald Square, it’s a walk to Penn Station to catch the 2/3 there. So I’m on the 2/3 to 96th and the 1/9. But there’s a (pick one..or two) stalled train/smoke condition/dead man blocking the tracks at 103rd, so the 1/9 locals trains run express to 137th. Great if you’re going to 137th. I go to 116th. No stop for Noyam! So, we get out of the Subway at 96th, and walk to Amsterdam Avenue to catch an M11 bus. Back to surface transportation. So I wait. I watch an M7 go by (doesn’t stop at 116th and Amsterdam). I wait. I look at my watch, and decide that cab’s not worth it, because I’m already 15 minutes late. Finally, a bus comes. I get on, pay another fare (I already used my transfer going from QM4 to 1/9), and we ride. At the next stop, a wheelchair passenger gets on, which takes a few minutes (even though watching the stair mechanism turn into an elevator is very cool). Then at the next stop, another wheelchair passenger gets on. Of course, as luck would have it, they both want to get off at the same stop, before mine. So the bus pulls up, the driver goes to do the mechanism, first wheelchair gets on, and…can’t get off because the bus is too close to the curb. Back up into the bus, back to the front, drive 2 feet, back to the back, redo the whole thing, and then unload the two wheelchair passengers. Finally, to my stop. As if ordained by God, we just miss the light, because my stop is on the other side of the intersection. Today’s 45 minute conceptual commute lasted from 8:30 to 10:15. It’s like Nais Chanuka. A commute that should have lasted 45 minutes, lasted 8 DAYS!
But at least watching the wheelchair mechanism was cool.