Though we only live 50 miles from New York City, sometimes it is a daunting struggle just to get there.
I know this after 35 years of commuting there every day. I know it sometimes takes a steely determination to keep on going in the direction of the office or home. I’ve been roasted, toasted, blacked out, smoked out, flooded out, crowded out and wrecked; and still I got to work everyday.
I have literally stepped over bodies to keep moving toward my job.
I had plans and counter-plans to deal with every possible contingency. I had car routes, alternate train routes, bus and ferry schedules. I knew every back street that led to every tunnel and bridge. I have ridden between cars exposed to the elements in a blizzard. I have perservered through derailments and accidents and kept moving. I have slogged through snow covered farm fields. I have hitch-hiked.
I was, I am proud to say, a fierce and savvy commuter. Once I turned to a badly shaken companion as train personnel led us past the mangled remains of a woman who ended her life by jumping in front of our train, and said: “We can’t help her. We have to keep moving and connect with that train over there before the coroner arrives and shuts everything down.” Yes, I had been ambushed by the coroner on other occasions. We made the train and I was proud that I had navigated a suicide with only a ten minute delay. Usually, a suicide is two hours at least.
Yesterday, I blinked.
It was a roasting hot day with the temperature hovering near ninety. I was planning to take 2:50 bus out of Clinton, NJ, to attend a six o’clock cocktail party in the city hosted by a group of friends and former associates in the association management field. I have not seen some of these people since I stopped working three years ago. I was really looking forward to it.
As I was sitting in the air-conditioned ticket office along with five other people, an attendant announced that the enroute bus only had four available seats remaining and we might want to get on line outside. Instantly, my old juices kicked in and I bolted for the door nearly bowling over a grey haired woman with a peace decal on her pocket book. I was the first one out. So far, so good.
Once outside, I discovered there were already four people ahead of me. Great, I thought, all I have to do is elbow past one person, unless they decide to move that old guy with the walker back there ahead of me.
The bus pulled in and savage jockeying began. I held my own in fifth place but was not able to improve my position. This was the first sign that I might have lost my edge.
I decided to play it out anyway. When the driver collected my ticket he said there was one seat left all the way in the back. Ha! I’m in! As I made my way rearward, I saw that what looked like a family of migrants had set up house-keeping all along the back seat. There was a man, a woman, a dozen or so snotty-nose brats, and one empty seat all the way in the corner.
Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that the so-called empty seat was occupied by yet another snotty-nosed brat in a carrier.
Screwed. Now my choice was either to ride for an hour and a half on the NJ Turnpike standing with my crotch in the faces of the migrants and my ass against the bathroom door, or leave the bus.
I left. I got my ticket refunded and hopped into my car to execute Plan B: drive to Hoboken and take the Path to the city. I still had plenty of time.
The car was roasting after having sat in the sun for 45 minutes. Then I remembered the air conditioning didn’t work in the old Volvo. I decided to push on anyway. As I rolled down the highway with the windows wide open and the roar of trucks and traffic drowning out the radio, I felt a pool of perspiration building up along the top of my abdomen and sensed the onset of the dreaded Belly Sweat. If I showed up like this I would either look like I was a few drinks ahead of everyone, or I’ve slobbered on myself.
Suddenly, I had an inspiration and would adopt Plan C: hop off Route 78 at the next exit, head for Kathie’s office, stick her with the non-air conditioned car, and take her comfy Subaru into the city. She was a trooper about it, and I was back in business rolling down the highway.
Soon it became apparent that this air conditioning wasn’t working either and the Subaru was even hotter than the Volvo. Now the belly sweat was hooking up with the armpit sweat and all was headed south to create the even more dreaded Soaked Pants Seat. This was not going to work. By the time I got to the city I would look and smell like I had swum the Hudson.
I glanced at my watch and saw that I had plenty of time to get back to Clinton and execute Plan D: catch the next bus at 4:30. For some reason, this bus takes two hours to get into New York, but this would still get me to my party for the last hour.
I arrived at Clinton with a half hour to spare and headed for the air conditioned waiting room. It was locked. My choices now were to sit in the overheated car or stand in the sun for a half hour.
Suddenly, sitting on the front porch in my shorts with a beer sounded like the best option. Good old Plan E!