Vignette of The Commuter Train: Wednesday, October 5, 2016
The horn blares as the train pulls out of the yard and into Track #2. It’s 6:30 a.m. and the sun hasn’t peaked over the horizon just yet. Fog blurs the Hudson River and its cold. Early risers circle the parking lot and the garage is quickly filling. There’s a frost covering car windshields, and jacket season is officially underway. It becomes familiar, the routine of 5 a.m. wake-up calls, suits, and the sound of clacking heels against the pavement; careful to mind the gap. Pleasantries are exchanged along with groans of tiredness as mid-week stress sets in. The train comes to a complete stop and people gather in small groups, hovering near the doors of the train, beside the bright red lights. They quickly make their way to the seat they sat in yesterday, and the day before that.
Within minutes, the train leaves the station. As we approach New Hamburg, half of us are already sleeping, and the other half are saying the silent prayer of, “Please don’t sit here.” It has become a game of sorts for the regular commuter, the mundane routine of “sit, sleep, and hope nobody invades my space this early.” I look around to see the darting glances of those attempting to avoid eye contact with the oncoming commuters. The truly ambitious ones scan their email, mentally outlining their day, concerning themselves with business meetings and conference calls. I hear one group of suits laughing as they discuss last week’s staff meeting in detail. Most of us drift in an out of sleep for the next hour and a half, before recovering as the train stops at 125th Street in Harlem.
I always admire the murals painted on the buildings as we head into Grand Central Station. I try to spot new pieces of art. My favorite is one of a woman reading. The first time I saw it, I was dumbfounded by its beauty. I looked around to see if anyone else was as stricken with awe as I was, but no one moved. Their noses were down into the phones, their minds off far away.
As the train pulls underground into Grand Central, we are surrounded by darkness. Except for the occasional emergency exit sign, construction tools, or a scurrying rat, nothing is to be seen. The doors open and people flood the track. It’s like entering into a human game of Frogger, where one must weave in and out to avoid getting hit. The heavy stream of people disperse as we all come to the ground floor. If you stop, for only a moment, a montage of every movie featuring Grand Central Station will play in your head. This place is majestic with its iconic ceiling and the notion of dreams made possible. Commuters are frantic as they make a bee-line for the exit and on to their day, only to return hours later and make the same trek home.