On the New York Subway, April 2016.
I love riding commuter trains, whether its BART in the San Francisco Bay Area, the subway in New York City, the T in Boston, or the Metro in Washington, DC. I like it because riding public transportation is often easier, especially if you don’t enjoy circling the block in search of parking. It also provides me with a block of time in which the wi-fi is either spotty or nonexistent, so I can do nothing but read or listen to music.
The main reason I like commuter trains, though, is because riding them makes me feel like a grownup. That might sound peculiar, coming from someone who is less than two months away from turning 50. But, if you grew up on Long Island, like I did, it might make a little more sense. You see, when I was a kid, the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) was primarily a commuter pipeline, shuttling working men (and I use the word men quite literally) from the bedroom communities of Long Island to their offices in Manhattan. Unlike its bigger sister, the New York subway system, which really, truly served the masses, kids usually only rode the LIRR on fieldtrips to Manhattan; and when we got on board, we were surrounded mostly by men in their business suits, briefcases at their side, reading the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on their way to work. For me, riding the LIRR into Manhattan, carrying a briefcase, reading the paper, and looking very important and serious was what adulthood was all about. Because he worked on Long Island and not in The City, my dad didn’t take the railroad, but, every morning, after reading the paper over breakfast, he would pick up his briefcase, put on the last piece of his suit (the jacket), and head out to the car to do the other thing that felt really adult to me, drive the Long Island Expressway to work.
Luck would have it that I’ve never lived more than two miles away from any place I’ve worked, and so I’ve never really had a commute of any kind. Maybe that’s why I can romanticize the idea of depending on public transit. It still feels to me like the people who pick up their briefcases and hop on the train to get to their places of work are having one of those singular adult experiences that I have not. This is not to say that, living in the Bay Area and seeing the stress and the cost of commuting, I actually want a longer ride to work. I know how good I have it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Still, it’s fun to hop on the commuter train and feel like a real grownup, every now and then.