My editor asked to comment on the debate between telecommuting from home and hyper-commuting into New York City. I didn't feel right weighing in as my daily commute consists of crossing the hall from the bedroom to my office in a t-shirt and boxer shorts.
There is the occasional three minute bathroom detour or a cat to walk around, but for the most part, I can roll out of bed at 8:29am and be at work by 8:30.
On my desk, two laptops are arranged so I can do my writing on one, and watch movies on the other. I thought commuting this assignment would be a great opportunity to get out of the house and see the other side of the laptop.
I got up early the next morning to catch the 6:15am train out of Poughkeepsie; it’s rumored to transport only the most hardcore of hyper-commuters. Armed with my leather writing journal, the leather strappy things that wraps around it, a Dr. Grip pen, and my man purse (don’t judge, Indiana Jones had one), I headed to the train station.
After purchasing my ticket for $42 from a machine that was bathed in a white sticky substance that, for the sake of this column, I’ll call ‘vanilla milkshake,’ I headed to Track #2.
The 6:15 was idling yet the doors were closed. I smiled at my fellow commuters who looked like participants in a sleep deprivation study. I quietly sipped my coffee and waited.
The doors eventually did open and I grabbed a window seat. I knew someone would take the aisle and, just like in the movies, the protective space between strangers would remain vacant.
The seat was at a 90 degree angle and the recline lever was broken so I remained in the fully upright position that yoga heads call erect dog. This posture would have made it easier to drink my coffee except for the train jerking back and forth on cue every time I put the cup to my lips.
The train was scheduled to make nineteen stops, covering about 80 miles or 110 kiloliters, whichever came first. At 6:25, an older man named Bill took the aisle seat. Bill didn’t recline his seat and I asked if his was broken too. He remarked that the seats didn’t recline and the handle I’d been pulling was probably a few pieces of hardened gum. I placed my man purse between us to discourage anyone from sitting there.
As we made our way to the city, commuters wandered onto the train like the undead. Hyper-commuters aren’t fully awake until they’ve had at least three cups of coffee. Until then, they’re safe from zombie attacks as zombies don’t eat their own kind.
By 6:35, the middle seat was taken by a ‘wide’ woman who, when she sat, was partly on my thigh. You’d expect to see her in WalMart at 3am being orbited by three children who are wearing nothing but diapers and holding sippy cups of Coke.
She was on her cell phone in full shout mode and I’m convinced whoever she was talking to could have heard her just fine without the phone. I spent the next 100 minutes observing, recording, and getting the feeling back in my leg.
-Sleeping Sam - unconsciously leans on the person next to him
-the Friendly Family - never been to NY and they’re taking one picture for every second spent on the
-Traveling Tyler - hasn’t shaved and carries more luggage than Paris Hilton moving into the Paris Hilton – he may live on the train which makes sense as a monthly train pass at $443.00 is cheaper than Manhattan rents
-iPad Isabel - the iPad/Kindle/Nook reader who is too pretentious to pick up an actual book
-Book-reading Betty - this is like seeing Bigfoot (the ape man and not the monster truck) – neither has been seen since the early eighties – she also buys used records and writes letters with an ink well by candlelight
-Should-have-retired Ray – wears three piece suits that make him look like Bogart - he might actually be dead because he hasn’t moved in four stops
-Bright-eyed Ben – new to commuting and hasn’t had his dreams smashed by the reality that this short term commute to the city is a long term sentence with him not passing ‘GO’ and collecting $200 – for a reality check, he should sit next to Ray
-Bathroom Brian - has to make it to work but can’t afford a ticket
-Perfume Penny– thinks a bottle is single use
-Raunchy Ryan – believes deodorant and bathing is optional
-Laptop Larry – clicks away the entire ride
-Pampering Paula –her petite pooch must have its own seat no matter how crowded the train gets
-iPod Ian – we can hear the music three rows away
There are also different kinds of train cars;
-the refrigerated car – hot coffee is iced by the time we hit Croton Harmon – unavoidable in the winter
-the sauna car – bring your Bikram Yoga gear – common in the summer
-the Pig-Pen car - hasn’t been cleaned since the Johnson administration; not Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Johnson in 1865
There are a few things I learned from my train ride
-don’t sit near the bathroom
-if you must use the bathroom, the train
driver (editor, find out who drives the train) will wait until you enter to hit the brakes followed by the gas
-when you try to sip your coffee, the person next to you will raise their elbow at the same time bumping yours
-some seats have perpetual body odor
-hot coffee in your lap will wake you faster than drinking the coffee
-if a big woman sits on your man purse, it will take 10 minutes and a slipped disk to get it back
-if everyone on the train seems crazy, it’s because sane people don’t take the train
On arrival into Grand Central Station, we waited in the aisles like a tightly packed conga line. The doors opened just as the opposing trains doors opened so its occupants flooded the platform at the same time we did; this is called the Great Merge. This also released the garbage smell and that 50 mph gust of Miami air that kicked my head back like a Tyson jab.
And this was all by 7:47am.
Did I help settle the debate or just raise the temperature in the sauna car? I’m too exhausted to think about it. The real question is, how do I get back home?