Friday, March 22, 2013

7 Commuting Quick Takes

Thanks to Jen for hosting the link-up! Head over to Conversion Diary for more quick takes! 
By Sophie Blackall for MTA Arts for Transit
  1. I'm no stranger to commuting. My high school was a 45 minute drive from my house, so my family developed a complex "No Child Left Behind" carpool system to get there. During my volunteer year in St. Louis, every morning I would bail out of my roommate's car at a strategic red light and then hop on the Metrolink train. When I worked in DC I took my car, then a bus, and then the Metro Orange Line to get to work from my parents' house.

    But now I have become something else  - a New York commuter. On Christmas Eve I got the call offering me a museum job in Brooklyn. So now I finally live in the same state as The Betrothed (hooray!) and travel between New Jersey and NYC every day. E.B. White once wrote about "the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night." Gee thanks. If you had to deal with post-Sandy PATH train closures too, you'd appreciate our scrappiness more, Mr. Charlotte's Web.

  2. It's funny how my attitude about working in NYC has evolved. As I was packing to leave, I was all panicky. "Ahhhhck I work in the hippest borough and everyone around me will have a fabulous Sex and the City life and all my clothes are uncool!"

    Then I actually rode the subway, and realized that New York is full of ordinary people just trying to get to work in practical puffy coats. Phew. 

    My emotions then went through this weird adjustment cycle that I've noticed every time I get to know a new city. First I am nervous and scared of dangerous things lurking around every corner. Then after a few weeks I get jaded and homesick. "This place isn't that special. They have Chipotle like everywhere else!" Then I finally do some exploring and the place starts to feel like it's mine. Maybe it was my umpteenth trip to the Trader Joe's in the 1923 bank building on Court Street, but at some point I've realized this is my town too now.

  3. This piece about "How to dress like a New Yorker" is absolutely true: people choose accessories for their functionality. After a week of commuting I knew I needed to invest in some sturdy booties and a huge bag to stuff my lunch, tea thermos, and reading material in. I always scoffed at designer purses, but now I get why women invest in a solid leather handbag.

  4. My office has been involved with a lot of the events for Grand Central Terminal's 100th birthday. It's definitely one of the best public spaces I've ever seen. The Main Concourse is so lovely it makes me cry - not just because of the gorgeous ceiling, but because I have to deal with ugly Penn Station every day! Did you know there was an earlier Penn that was also gorgeous? Legendary Gilded Age designers McKim, Mead, and White made it beautiful, and then in the 1960s they tore it down. Thanks, Madison Square Garden, thanks a lot.

    I could be hanging out here every day! You're killing me, smalls!

    The only happy ending is that Penn became a martyr for the historic preservation movement, inspiring the City to protect Grand Central from the same fate. The Garden's permit is soon up for review, and some groups are pushing for an overhaul of the whole complex.

  5. I've been playing morning Tetris with my train times, trying to figure out where I can hit up daily Mass on my way to the office. Our Lady of Victory near Wall Street is close to the subway with lots of morning options. St. Francis on West 31st is famous for its convenient confession schedule. Because of when my train rolls in to Penn, I can either be early or late for one of their morning Masses. On Wednesday I caught the end of the 7am and then the beginning of the 7:30, like a kid in an old-timey movie theater. At the Offertory I ran off to work, thinking, "This is where I came in."
  6. St. Francis of Assisi Church, from jimcintosh's Flickr stream

  7. I've gotten hooked on transit maps, especially this Tumblr of them. A few weeks ago I got to hear a talk by Massimo Vignelli, the modernist designer who made a controversial NYC subway map in the late 1970s. He made an uncluttered geometric diagram, but people still wanted the twisty, wavy spaghetti strands they were used to. As he put it "When you are taking a train, how it gets from Point A to Point B is none of your business!" He was recently vindicated when the MTA realized his design was the only one that would work for a digital app. Ha.
  8. Of course, I see all kinds of random people on the train. In the morning on my NJ Transit platform, I hear lots of bougie First World Problems like the architect coming to fix someone's door or how there was NOWHERE to get decent lamb shanks on Friday night. The subway is more diverse, of course. Sometimes there are hipsters, sometimes packs of school kids. I wonder about the conservatively dressed lady with the black Korn backpack. Did she steal it from her son? To the similarly mom-like lady rocking the fuchsia House of Dereon bag from Newark to the World Trade Center - respect.

    One night taking the R train to Park Slope, I saw a guy in Timberland boots reading a book by one of my favorite college professors. "Omigosh I know that guy!" I cried out. The reader was nice but a little weirded out. I had better luck with a well dressed older couple going uptown on the 2. They reminded me of my Mom's parents. The wife was wearing a killer pair of black boots with gold sparkly rivets all up the legs. I kept sneaking peeks at them without staring. As I got off at Penn, I just turned to her and said "Ma'am, your boots are freaking awesome." She smiled and thanked me. I was glad to be a part of her own commuter stories that day. 


  1. I wish the old Penn Station had never been torn down! It makes me furious just thinking about it!!! Love these QT. So spot on!

  2. I've always had this dream of living in a city where all I did was take trains to get places. My favorite vacation was when we went to Chicago and we took trains and buses everywhere. It was so fun and adventurous and an easy way to see everything. Alas I now live in a city with AWFUL public transit and no trains.