Most of the people I sat next to were perfectly fine and are a blur. On two occasions though, attention must be paid. There was a woman who did not stop talking from the second she sat down to the moment she got off in Westhampton. She was still talking to me as she was walking towards the door. I tried giving hints by opening magazines or turning my head to look out the window, to no effect. Once she was gone, the other passengers gave me looks of sympathy and respect for making it through. I suspect that some of them would have been happier if I had told the woman to just shut up, but that is not in my DNA.
The other episode was on a holiday train, which was jammed. I had a woman in her forties next to me and her friend on the other side of the aisle. I became their instant buddy and confidant. They were going to Montauk and I still wonder if the village has recovered. They were perfectly nice, but loud…very loud, and not averse to talking about whatever came into their head, no matter how inappropriate. After ten minutes, I had learned the dating (and sexual) history of the woman next to me since her divorce. I thought about the single men in Montauk and what was coming to them. I finally offered to get them drinks from the bar car. Now, this was a holiday weekend, so you know the aisles were packed. I decided that the hour it took to crawl over all the people, endure the dirty looks, pay for the overpriced drinks and face those same angry people on the way back, to be the best time I ever spent on the train.
I said earlier that my commuting was divided between pre and post Hunter’s Point. After a few years I became a NYC school teacher. My day ended at2:30. It was then that my partner informed me of something he called the “Hunter’s Point Caper”. He told me that I could catch the4:06at Hunter’s Point and be on the train when it arrived inJamaica. I would be able to relax and know that I would not be fighting for a seat with others. Even during the off season, the trains could be crowded. There were less people, but fewer cars as well.
It was wonderful. I would leave school inWashingtonHeights, catch the 1 train down toTimes Squareand transfer to the number 7 train to Hunter’s Point. I had plenty of time to grab a cocktail and a seat. One day I began sitting up to the very front car because Bob would park in the front of theSouthamptonlot. I followed my usual pattern of sitting in the lower level. Because it was off season I noticed that there were several gentlemen who seemed to all know each other. After a few weeks, they began to draw me into their informal group. They were intelligent, nice, and made the trips out east a lot more fun.
Two years later I switched schools. My new school was a few stops further north and my school day went until 3 instead of 2:30. I now had an hour to get from 189th St. inManhattan to Hunter’s Point inQueens. I would bring my bag with me as I took my Kindergartners down to the playground to be dismissed. The second the last student was picked up, I started my sprint to the train. There were many days that I thought I wouldn’t make it. I would stand on the subway with my eyes closed, whispering
“Just go! Just go!” One day I was ordering my drink when I heard the doors begin to shut. Sadly, my cocktail was left behind as I jumped on the train.
As I look back, I am able to laugh about all the tension and stress that I put on myself every Friday afternoon. I also need to apologize to anyone I was a bad seat mate to (a rare occurrence I am sure). A year away, I can now remember a lot of the nicer things about taking the train. There was the ability to decompress after work. I was also happy that I would not be trying to get across the Cross Bronx Expressway on a Friday night driving out. But, the best thing about taking the Montauk train was that it took me to a place that I fell in love with and now call home.