Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Not-So-Great Trainless Robbery

THE IDES OF MARCH bore ill tidings for my morning train today. I actually arrived at the platform in haste, having run through my morning routine (emerging from a box of my native earth, feasting on the caffeinated blood of the living, kissing the various succubi around the castle farewell) in less time than I would have hoped for. I reached the station with what I thought to be about 3 minutes to spare.

When it turned into something more like 10, I began to wonder what the problem was. The weather was warm and moist, with none of the threatening rain or snow we were in store for later in the week. I hadn't heard anything on the radio, although it takes a massive problem on the commuter railways to reach the traffic reports. None had been broadcast, though.

Eventually, I and the other assembled commuters heard the speakers at the station crackle. These speakers, which judging by their muddled fidelity were post–Cold War surplus from a Kazakhstan officers' lounge, never bear good news. This time, they informed us that our train would be delayed for about 40 minutes.

I was in motion before the end of the squawk. To where, though, I wasn't sure yet. The bus station, right across the street, would accept my monthly train ticket for passage to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. From there, I could use my MetroCard and zip downtown to Chelsea. The other destination — my apartment — also had powerful appeal. I have no layout work. I left early twice this week without backlog or recrimination. A slow day of resume work, housecleaning, job hunting, and a long stretch on the elliptical trainer all looked like good options.

By the time I reached the bus line, the argument for work had won out. My last piece of layout work was set to be done for the first time at the outsourcing shop, and I figured I might be needed to unfuck any fuckups. I admit a perverse glee at doing so. So I decided to snag an express bus and roll over to the salt mine.

The driver of the first bus in line had good news. Aware of the train snafu, NJ Transit had designated her bus as an express to Hoboken. She hadn't gotten all of the details yet — which made her a little anxious — but she had been told to make stops at the train stations until her bus filled, and then hit the highway. As I got on the bus, I heard her ask one of the passengers how to get to Hoboken. Not good!

I sat there for a while, wondering if I ought to wait for another bus. I had visions of the driver wandering off of the Turnpike at the wrong exit, then either getting mired in the labyrinthine one-way streets of West New York or Union City, or missing the 495 exit completely and barreling past the industrial wasteland of Elizabeth and the airport, down into the green heart of New Jersey, and across the Delaware Water Gap into Philadelphia. Then I'd be stuck dealing with fuckin' Eagles fans.

Fortunately, a NJ Transit car pulled alongside our bus. The bus driver chatted with her coworker, then returned to let us know our final destination would be Secaucus, site of the train transit hub, from whence we could finish the journey to Midtown or Hoboken by rail. This was an easy trip on the Turnpike, so I settled back, fired up my iPod, and awaited our next move.

That turned out to be parking next to the train station to admit the stranded commuters there, who now learned for the first time that this bus could get them down to Secaucus. (Such an elaboration on the plan had not been announced over the speakers.) Those choosing to come along all but filled the remaining seats on the bus, and we only made one more stop for riders before we jammed onto the Turnpike.

The rest of the route was routine. I caught the first train out of Secaucus, edging along with most of my fellow bus-mates past a ruddy, middle-aged conductor who commented that we looked like a parade. Humor may or may not have been the best choice there, but I didn't give a shit. From Hoboken, it was the usual PATH tube in, and a moderate walk to the office.

Depending on where my next job is, I may be heading into my last 2 weeks as a train passenger for work. I have to say, as compared to the bus, the train on average has been far more consistent in mechanical function and schedule than the buses I took for 5 years into the city. During that period, obscenely disruptive construction during both drive times would turn Route 80 between Hackensack and the Turnpike into a slow-motion deathmarch. Snow or heavy rain would render each ride a swerving funhouse attraction. And the assemblage of jokers they would certify to handle the buses . . . though most were conscientious enough, occasionally you'd get one whose idea of a good time was taking an overpass curve at 60 and feeling a full bus rock onto its outer-edge wheels. So trading over to the train, despite the higher cost, was no sacrifice at all, and on the whole, those few disruptions don't really register.

I can't say, from the vantage point of early afternoon, that I would have missed much had I opted to sleep in. I'm assuming the conditions that snarled the southbound trains won't pose a threat to the northbound homeward ones. I'm finally jumping back into the poker fray tonight, and I'd hate to have my chance to slowplay a hidden set of 3s curtailed by someone tying a damsel in distress to the tracks.

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