Thursday, July 25, 2013

When Thirty-One Minutes Becomes Two Hours

During my commute home yesterday, I planned this post for today where I extol the virtues of Metro North Railroad and my daily commute from Westchester County to my office in Manhattan. I had all of these nice things to say, and as I mapped it all out in my head, I was feeling so sorry for all those poor souls in New York City still commuting to work every day on the subway while doing their best to avoid the sticky floors, stifling hot cars, sweaty fellow passengers, and incessant train delays.

It turns out, karma's a bitch.

I caught the 6:52 train to White Plains last night right on time. I could probably have caught the 6:33, but I was running a little late and just didn't feel like attempting the anxious sprint through midtown that the earlier train would require. So I made my way to Grand Central at normal speed, figuring that if I missed the 6:33, the 6:52 would be just fine.

After almost nine months, I have my commute down to a science. When I get on the train in the afternoon I sit in the quiet car, pull out my book, and start reading. I have come to treasure this time, and rely on it pretty heavily to decompress as I make my way home. I read without pause until the train passes the Honda dealership, which is precisely one minute before we pull up at the White Plains station. I am a creature of habit, and this system works for me beautifully.

Until it doesn't.

The first thirty minutes of my thirty-one minute train ride went exactly according to plan. I sat in the quiet car and read my book, pausing only for a second when a man who obviously enjoys the quiet car as much as I do got up out of his seat to shush two teenage girls who didn't know that they were carrying on an intense conversation about their love lives in a car where talking is strictly prohibited. And when I say strictly prohibited, I mean that while the conductors will politely ask you to keep it down, the passengers in the quiet car will come at you with flaming swords and pitchforks if you so much as utter a word or allow your cell phone to do anything except vibrate quietly. Silent mode is strongly encouraged.

And when we passed the Honda Dealership I put my book away and gathered my things in preparation to get off the train.

And then something weird happened.

Just when the train should have been picking up speed to roll into the station, it started to slow down. At first the slow-down was hardly noticeable, but as each second ticked by, the train got slower and slower until we finally came to a complete stop. The roar of the engines came to a sudden halt, all the lights in the train went out, and we heard the conductor on the radio saying something that sounded suspiciously like "we're dead in the water."

The conductor got on the loudspeaker and told us that we had "lost our third rail connection," couldn't go anywhere, and that they were going to send another train up from the south to literally push us into the White Plains station.

No problem, I thought. I mean, a little annoying, but I had a book to read, and 5 full lives in my Candy Crush game, so I was set. How long could it possibly take?

My question was answered almost 2 hours later.

Yes. For one hundred minutes, we sat on a train looking at the White Plains station, but unable to get there. We were stuck in a packed car with no electricity, which meant no air conditioner, and no way to open the doors for ventilation. People were sweating, it was nearly impossible to pay attention to my book, and the conductor kept telling us, "just a few more minutes" for an hour and a half.

Finally a full sized train came up behind us and the mechanics somehow connected the two trains, allowing our train to be literally shoved into the White Plains station. We all got off into the blessedly cool evening air, and left the crippled train behind.

As I was driving home, I marveled at the fact that even though it was hot and supremely annoying, no one seemed to be too upset or worried about anything, and pretty much just went about their business as the conductors figured out a solution. The quiet car, it turns out, is remarkably calm in the face of a commuting crisis.

The other cars? Not so much.

I did some searching when I got home, and came across this string of tweets from one of my fellow commuters who was, apparently, sitting in one of the not-so-quiet cars, and he was infuriated.

Turns out, there's more to the quiet car than just a silent ride home and a place to get lost in a book.


  1. Ugh. Glad you handled it well. I get texts from my husband like Gary's tweets. It happens fairly often that NJ Transit has delays like this.

  2. The quiet car sounds right up my alley! Reading and quiet and calm, a lovely combination. Thank goodness Gary wasn't in the quiet car, or he would have gotten soundly shushed!

  3. Oh, I remember the days of NJ Transit well. There are unspoken rules involved and I, too, enjoyed the decompress time on the way back to my then apartment. Character can be revealed in the strangest of ways, it seems. :)