I want to start out here by saying that this isn’t anything against New Jersey. I’m not going to waste my breath belittling the denizens of Jersey City or Hoboken. I’m sure they’re all terrific places to live. No, my beef isn’t with the Garden Sate. It’s with the PATH train, the sort-of subway that links Manhattan to various locations across the Hudson. It’s a sorry excuse for public transportation, and I hate it.
I’ve only ever taken the PATH three times, and each occasion has been seared into my memory. No matter how hard I try to shake the experience, I still find myself haunted by the little engine that couldn’t. Each time I’ve taken that trip to and from New York, I’ve found myself breaching the surface afterwards like a prisoner who’s seen the light for the first time in years.
If you’re not from New York, or if you’re lucky, if you are from New York but you’ve never had to take the PATH, you might think I’m being slightly dramatic. I’m not. If anything, I’m sugar-coating the experience. I can’t believe that people actually use this system as a means of a daily commute.
You start out at a regular NYC subway station, one that connects to the PATH. You can’t really find the PATH, and I think that this is a safety mechanism, constructed so that unknowing New Yorkers don’t find themselves accidentally heading toward the PATH. If you really must take the PATH, you have to follow miles of signage, underground tunnels that get narrower and tighter, all making you feel like the subterranean world is about to close in on you at any second, and then right before you really start freaking out, there you are, it’s the PATH entrance.
Standing in that PATH station, it’s like traveling back in time, in some other city, like Cleveland or Washington DC. Everything’s laid out as if by an architect who’s never heard of the subway before, or maybe he’s heard of it, but he’s never actually been to one, he’s only seen footage of stations on TV.
The ticket machines are relics from another century. The unfortunate looking piece of equipment that I tried to purchase my fare from read in stenciled-on wordage that it didn’t accept any bills bigger than five dollars. And then even after I went to buy some candy from the newspaper guy to make change, the machine almost refused to take my money. It was only grudgingly, after smoothing out each dollar bill, having them go in and out, the stupid machine making an obnoxious beep each time it considered, then rejected my less-than-pristine bill.
Finally it spit out a MetroCard. It looked almost identical to its NYC counterpart, but it read “PATH” on the back, “Cannot be refilled.” Whatever, I don’t want to refill you’re stupid wannabe MetroCard, OK PATH train? Getting through the turnstile was a huge pain. The reader ate my card, said OK, but then refused to let me through. Apparently only after taking your card out of the other side does the turnstile unlock. Why the confusion? Why not make the system uniform with the rest of the regular subway? Why does everything in the PATH have to be stubbornly, annoyingly, just slightly out of whack with everything else?
This is my biggest issue with the PATH. There already exists a whole etiquette involved in riding mass transit. The subtle flick of the wrist used to gain access with your MetroCard, the process by which I can navigate a touchscreen blindfolded to buy more fares, the way that the tracks are labeled so that you know in which direction you’re traveling from any station in the system.
The PATH takes all of regular subway convention and throws it out the window. I waited at the end of the platform because on every other train in New York, the cars in the middle are full while the two ends usually have some empty seats. But not on the PATH. In fact it was the exact opposite. I watched several empty cars pass by until the last one stopped in front of me, and it was jammed with commuters. What the hell people? You guys are all choosing to sit on top of one another?
And you get in the car, it’s not the same type of train used on every other line. These are like baby trains, it’s making me feel like I’m riding a shuttle in between parks at Disney World. There were these TV screens positioned along the top that looped the same asinine clips over and over again. Some genius transportation planner must have been like, “We’ll make the PATH train entertaining! We’ll put in TV screens and we’ll scroll through random pictures of celebrities for people to look at! And we’ll do games and stuff, like word scrambles! But we don’t want to make them too challenging, so we’ll cycle through the same three word scrambles every two minutes or so!”
I hated everything about the PATH. It took forever. It smelled bad. They don’t let you know in which direction you’re going to be headed, so you have to stand there like an idiot and ask people, “Excuse me, is this one going to Jersey?” Every public service bulletin uses the ridiculous slogan, “The PATH to success,” like, OK, I get it, you’re using PATH as path, but it’s coming off as really forced.
And what do you have to look forward to after having been subjected to one of the worst transportation systems in the world? New Jersey. Again, I’m not trying to bad mouth New Jersey, but come on, if I have to go to there, if I can’t get out of it, it would be nice if the blow could be cushioned somewhat by getting there without taking the PATH. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should be ashamed of itself for running such a horrible subway. I hate it. I hate the PATH train.