For ten years, five days a week, I have commuted from Western Connecticut to New York City. It is a long commute, two and a half hours one way. Of those two and a half hours, an hour and fifteen minutes is on a Metro North Harlem Line train. The ride is repetitive and often dull. You see the same faces day after day. The same scenery flashes by the window. You read the newspaper or a book. You sleep. You scan social media. You watch a movie or listen to music. You pass the time. You take the same train every morning and the same train coming home at night. It’s a routine, in-grained and predictable.
Until one day it isn’t. Until one day you call to say you are on the 5:43 but you never arrive home. And your family needs to use dental records to identify you.
I usually take one of two trains home in the evening, the 5:43 or the 6:04. I worked late last night and took the 6:29 instead. The train stopped somewhere in the no-mans-land before White Plains and we sat. People started to get antsy and annoyed. Finally, an announcement that there was no service north of White Plains. There were trains ahead of us and once they were emptied, they would be moving us into the White Plains station where we would disembark. We would need to make alternate arrangements to get to our destinations. Groans and cursing and demands of “What’s going on?” Must be signal problems. Happens a lot in the winter. Usually they get it fixed pretty quickly. Maybe I’ll just sit tight in White Plains and they’ll have us back on another train in an hour or so. What a pain.
The conductor makes her way through the car and every few rows is made to stop and explain what’s happening. I can hear bits and pieces. “Valhalla.” “Train hit car.” “Police investigation.” “Won’t be service for quite some time.” By the time she gets to me, I have only one question – “Will they have buses to take us to our stations?” “Probably. Eventually. But right now, we have no information.” Shit. How the hell am I going to get home. This is going to be a nightmare. I hear a ping and flip open my IPad. There’s a news push from my local TV News app. SIX KILLED IN METRO NORTH CRASH. What the…? I go to the full story. There is a photo of a train exactly like the one I’m on except it’s an inferno. I scan – “SUV.” “Driver killed.” “Explosion and fire.” “Five others confirmed dead.” I stare at the picture. I could have been on that train. Did I know any of those people? What about their families? Do they know?
We finally start moving and slowly pull into White Plains. I look out the window. The platform is packed. I forget about the other train for the time being. I’ve got to figure out what to do. We get off and everybody mills around, unsure of where to go. The smart ones rush down the stairs to grab whatever taxis are there. I head for the rest rooms. It’s going to be a long night. Everyone is on their phone. “Can you pick me up here?” “I’m going to stay at Aunt Ella’s.” “I don’t know what’s going on. They’re not telling us anything.” I call my husband, leave a message. Call me back. I dig through my bag. I have a granola bar left from lunch. Some dinner. My phone rings. “Hi. What’s going on?” Did you see the news? I sent you a link to a story. There’s been a crash. No service north of White Plains. I don’t know how the hell I’m getting home. “Can’t you take a taxi?” Are you kidding me? There’s thousands of people in the street trying to get a cab. This place is a fucking madhouse. I’ll just wait for the buses. “I’m sorry Honey. I wish there was something I could do.” There’s nothing you can do. You’re in New Jersey. I just wanted to talk to you. You know, ‘misery loves company’. “Well call me back later and tell me what’s happening.” OK. I have to stop talking. My phone is dying. “Love you.” Love you too.
I stand against the wall. My legs are starting to hurt. That’s cause you sit on your butt all day, Dopey I watch the people around me. A few cluster in groups, working together to figure out how to get home. “My husband will pick us up and we can drop you at your station.” “Come home with us. You can call you son from there.” Some are yelling into their phones. “How the hell do I know how to get here? It’s the big station in White Plains. Google it.” Others are making the best of it. “Well, let’s go find someplace to eat. We can figure out what to do later.”
I walk outside. It’s freezing. There are still crowds of people trying to get into the few taxis still there. There’s a lot of yelling going on. I look for signs of shuttle buses. Nothing. I go back inside. More people are coming down the stairs. How many trains were behind us? It’s been over an hour. Maybe I should try to call a car service. I wonder if there is a hotel nearby? I might have to stay here. I hate this. I hate this commute. I don’t want to do this anymore. I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I just want to find a corner and cry. Shit. I’ll never survive a natural disaster. I’m not tough enough or pushy enough.
I stay inside where it’s warm. The crowd begins to thin out. No more people coming down the stairs. That must be it. The last train. I’d better pull myself together and try to find a way home. I go back outside. Where are the taxis? I see one at the curb. Other people rush there first. One, two, three cabs. I don’t want to fight. I look in the opposite direction. More taxis, fewer people. I walk down there. I see a guy I think I recognize. Yeah, he gets off at my station. Maybe we can share a cab. Hey, Hi. Don’t you get off at Purdy’s? ” Sorry, I already have two passengers. My wife is picking us up.” Oh. OK. I want to cry again. His wife better pull up in a Mini Cooper. He can’t fit one more person in his car? Karma Buddy. Karma.
I want to punch someone. At this rate, I’m never going to get home. I’M NEVER GOING TO GET HOME! Boom. Silence in my head. Yes, yes I am going to get home. Eventually. This is a major inconvenience. A monster fuck-up. It’s miserable. But it’s temporary. There are six people who are never going to get home. People who were reading the newspaper. Who were watching a movie. Who called and said they were on the 5:43.
I see some people getting into a taxi. I catch the drivers eye. “Where you going to.” Purdy’s. I want to go to Purdy’s. “Where is dat. Dat on 684. Near Somers?” Yes. Yes. Exit 7. He looks at me. He’s thinking. The others in the cab are going places that are closer. He’ll be gone an hour. “OK Miss. Get in.” Thank you. Thank you.
We ride mostly in silence. I’m the last to be dropped off. How much do I owe you? He looks at a clipboard. “To Purdy’s, sixty-five dollars.” I hand him the fare and an extra twenty. Thank you for getting me to my car. He looks at it. I’m the only one who didn’t argue about the fare, the only one who gave him a tip. “Thank you Miss. Get home safe.”
Yes. Get home safe.