Tag Archives: commute

I hate the PATH train

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.

path train

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.

Hillside Support Facility

EDIT: 09/01/2014 – I see that this story is getting a lot of traffic from some train forum called SubChat. This story is fiction. I am a fiction writer and I make myself write a fictitious story every day. No, I didn’t really sneak into the Hillside Support Facility.

I grew up on Long Island, but now I live in Queens, so every time I want to go home and visit my parents, I have to take the Long Island Rail Road. It’s expensive, yeah, but I don’t have to take it every day, and so I don’t really have any reason to complain about the price, seeing as how it’s fast, it runs very regularly, and I don’t have to deal with rush hour or anything.

But it always drives me crazy, there are like four or five stops in between where I live and where my parents live, and one of them is this place called the Hillside Support Facility. Every time they announce Hillside Support Facility, the conductor makes it a point to tell us that it’s for Long Island Railroad employees only. And sure enough, we pull into this mystery train station, it’s like all industrial looking, like we’ve arrived at the second level from Sonic the Hedgehog, and all of the sudden all of these guys in orange vests and hardhats and work boots are standing up and getting off or coming on.


Every time it just drives me crazy, I want to go to the Hillside Support Facility. Why should employees get their own private train station? I’m sure they’ve got like cool soda machines and maybe an air-conditioned waiting room. Why won’t they let me get off? Why can’t I just walk along the tracks and see what’s going on? I’m not going to walk into any offices or anything, like, if I find some closed doors, I’m not just going to start opening them up and peeking inside. And worse case, I do open up a door and snoop around a little, I’m not going to just leave the door open after I’m done, I’ll shut it behind me, I promise.

It’ll be like I was never there. And these thoughts, they flash through my mind and I’m like, I’m going to do it, I’m going to get off at the Hillside Support Facility, but then the doors close and I’m stuck in my head, just daydreaming about the Hillside Support Facility, I’ve blown my chance, the conductor gets on the loudspeaker, “Next stop, New Hyde Park.”

And I mentioned before how rarely I take the LIRR, so it’s not like I can really build up some momentum with these daydreams. I figured, all right, I’ve just got to do this. I’ve got to go home, I’ve got to make a plan, and I have to make this happen. So I went back to Queens and I found this store by my place that sells all of those worker looking clothes, all of that stuff I was talking about earlier, the orange vests, the safety goggles, I was ready.

I got on the train and sat down, and the conductor started working his way through the car right away. “Tickets, all tickets please.” I figured, OK, I’ve got to make this look convincing, so I’m not going to give him a ticket. I’ll just act the part, like I’m working at the Support Facility, like I’m not going to pay a ticket to get to work. Right? Those guys have to be able to at least use the train for free. Right?


“I’m uh, I’m working at the Support Facility.”

“OK, I need to see your tag then.”

“I … I …”

“Your ID? What subsection are working at? What are you electrical? Maintenance?”

“It’s just that, I just … the Support Facility …”

“Wait here a minute.”

Shit. I really didn’t plan this out too well. I should have made it seem like I had an interview or something, like I was going there for a meeting. And I should have been way more casual. But then what about all of this working gear? I could have said yes to whatever he said, electrical. The conductor came back with another guy wearing an orange vest and a hard hat.

“Hey, where’d you say you work at?”

“At the Support Facility,” I tried to act even more casual, like I was talking about before, “I’m maintenance. Electrical maintenance. Support.”

“All right, well, I’m shift leader today. Stay close. What are you a transfer? Let me see your tag.”

I froze. Just then the doors opened up. We were here, Hillside Support Facility. I made a break for it.

“Hey! Wait!”

It was just like any other stop, there were stairs leading up from the platform. I raced up, down some hallway. There was a soda machine, but nothing special, just Coke, Diet Coke, Dasani. I checked real quick to see if the sodas were complimentary for employees. Nope, a dollar fifty, just like in the civilian world.

After the hallway there was a door, outside an employee parking lot. I ran past all the cars, there was a security guy at a gate letting vehicles in. I sprinted past him too, “Hey! You!” and then I was outside. I had no idea where I was, Hillside, I guess, and I had no idea like how to get home, how to get to a civilian train station, which direction I might start walking to get to my parents’ house. What a bust.

The trampoline trail

If I ever win the lottery, I’ll start making some dreams come true. My dreams. One of my dreams is to lay out a bunch of trampolines, one after the other, all the way from my house to where I work. That would be so awesome. Getting up for work every day would be such a thrill, so full of excitement. I’d probably get going much earlier every day simply because I’d be so pumped to walk out the door and climb up on that first trampoline. Boing!

And I’d be off. The logistics of this whole operation would probably be pretty extensive. I’m sure I’d have to do a bunch of preliminary work. For example, I’d have to figure out for starters the distance I can cover in just one trampoline jump. I’m guessing it’s something like five feet, six, really, I have no idea, I’m just making up numbers. But how would I figure that out? It’s not as easy as just jumping, because what if I overshoot the test jump? I’d land on the ground and break my pelvis, maybe worse.

And then, think about it, say I do manage to jump five feet or six feet across on that first jump. My job is about three miles from my house. I think it’s safe to assume that after the first mile, while I’d still be having the time of my life, I’d naturally get a little tired, and so the lengths of each jump might get shorter, meaning that, obviously, as the route progresses, the trampolines will have to be closer together. Again, how do you figure all of that stuff out?

One solution might be to just keep the trampolines a little closer than I might need them to be. This would ensure that I don’t miss any jumps. Because if they’re too far apart, I won’t make it, and again, I could wind up seriously injured. Trampolines are tons of fun, but unless used correctly, there can be a huge potential for danger.

That being said, I’d prefer not to err on the side of caution. I’m really looking for that pure trampoline thrill, that rush of adrenaline that can only be achieved by jumping as hard as you can. And when I land, I expect to land on the next trampoline. And so and so on all the way to work, even flipping and spinning when I really get the hang out it.

As I’m typing this all out, I’m thinking of some more logistical challenges that I hadn’t thought of before. Like, how am I going to make sure that nobody else uses my trampoline network while I’m not there? It’s not that I want to be completely selfish. It’s just that, face it, this is a huge city. If I start letting one person use my trampolines I’ll eventually have to let everybody use them. And then how would I get to work? What if I open my door to head out one day and it’s so overrun with trampoline traffic, everybody’s double jumping and stealing bounces, and then I show up late?

If I’m late even once, I can just see it, my boss will say something like, “Well look who finally showed up to work. You know Rob, you win the lottery and you think that you don’t have to show up on time anymore? That you’re better than everybody else? You’re fired.” That would be terrible, not to mention a huge waste of money, seeing as I’d probably have spent the majority of my winnings on the trampolines, on getting permits from the city, on figuring out of all that distance like I was talking about earlier.

And now I’m supposed to get a new job? And what if this new job’s farther away. Am I really going to go through the hassle of setting up an entirely new trampoline trail? And now that I’m thinking about it, how are these things going to hold up in the winter? What if it starts raining? What if that rain turns into ice? Will the trampolines still be bouncy or will they shatter upon contact?

And also, what if it keeps raining, and lots of homeless people start hanging out under the trampolines, and they get comfortable, so comfortable that when the sun finally comes out again, they refuse to leave? And I’m bouncing to work one day and I wind up jumping right on some guy’s head. What if he dies? Am I going to be held liable? Will the judge send me to prison or will he just take away my trampolines?

I know that there’s a lot to consider here, and yeah, it sounds crazy, but I’d still do it. If I win the lottery, I’ll still build it. Because, come on, just think about how awesome it would be, you’re at work and they hire a new guy, and you guys are all standing around the water cooler, talking about this and that, and you’re not really friends, you’re all coworkers, and so conversation can get pretty banal, and it’s not long before somebody asks the new guy where he lives, and how’s the commute, and what train do you take. And then everybody else in the circle feels compelled to offer their residence and their train. And finally it would come to me, or it wouldn’t even come to me, I’d skip somebody else’s turn and jump right in, because I’d be so excited, I’d just be like, “I won the lottery and built a series of trampolines from my house to right here and I get to bounce to work everyday and it’s awesome!” and everyone would kind of roll their eyes, like Jesus, every day with the trampolines. But I wouldn’t care how many people roll their eyes, because it would just be a sign of how jealous everyone else is, and why can’t I just let them try it out once, just one of the trampolines, come on, just the one closest to the office. Would that be too much to ask?

Lot of people in this city

The other day it was raining when I got out of work and when it’s raining in the afternoon everything’s always a lot grosser, a lot more uncomfortable, everybody’s all wet, but everybody’s doing whatever they can to stay as dry as possible, walking single file around large puddles, carrying around giant umbrellas, even bigger umbrellas, like a golf umbrella, one of those umbrellas that the fruit stand guy uses to protect all of his produce from the rain or the sun, all at the same time, a giant picnic umbrella, really, something you would bring out at the beach to guard you and your family and your ten best friends from the harmful rays of the sun. And I’m a lot taller than everybody else, and I’m never the kind of guy who brings an umbrella to work if it’s not raining in the morning because, what am I, I’m just going to have to permanently carry around this extra two pounds of dead weight every single day? It doesn’t rain that often. If it’s raining in the morning, obviously I’ll bring an umbrella. But I don’t understand where everyone gets an umbrella from when it starts raining in the middle of the day. I go to work in the morning, it’s dry, nobody has an umbrella. I step foot outside in the afternoon, it’s raining, everybody has an umbrella. What did I miss? What am I not doing that everybody else is doing? Because I know for a fact that regular normal non-crazy people don’t just always carry around umbrellas. What else do you have to always carry around? Snow shoes? Maybe an oar in case there’s a flood and you have to hitchhike home on a passing canoe, but the only way they’ll let you on is if you can help with the paddling, and how else would you paddle if you didn’t bring your spare oar? And I’m so much taller than everybody else, so come quittin’ time when everybody races out their doors, trying to beat everybody else in the city to the subway, I’m standing at direct eye level with everyone else’s giant umbrellas, and I’m just constantly avoiding getting my eyes poked out, and because I’m so nervous about those umbrella spokes which, why are they so sharp and pointy anyway, I don’t notice all of the puddles, and of course I didn’t bring my galoshes, so my feet are soaked, and on these rainy afternoons the rush hour commute just feels a lot more crowded, like when people get wet they just expand, and they get slower, and crankier, and I can’t get my metrocard out of my wallet because my fingers are wet, and the plastic that the metrocard is made out of, it completely loses its grip when wet, but it doesn’t matter because there’s a huge line at the turnstile, because it takes people forever to fold up their umbrellas, keep the line moving, put away their umbrellas, shake out the excess water right on my feet, but my feet are already wet so, whatever, keep trying with the metrocard, nobody can really get a grip, and then going underground, on this particular day, really it was very frustrating, but this guy finally just screams out something like, “Jesus fucking Christ! You fucking people need to learn how to fucking move! Fuck fuck fuck!” and I’m just looking at this dude screaming his crazy screaming in the middle of the subway platform and he looks just like me, just like some guy who doesn’t want to be where he is so badly that the stress and the pressure boils over and it just gets to him and he starts shaking his fists at the universe, and I just started getting really angry at this guy, I really considered yelling back because, what the hell? Do you think you’re the only person inconvenienced by this mob of slow moving human beings? Or the weather? Or being wet? Or feeling uncomfortable? He was mad and he got to express himself and now I was mad and I wanted to express myself, but what would I say, “Shut the fuck up asshole!” or “Why don’t you just calm down there pal?” How confrontational would I get? And nobody ever expects these things to work out. It’ll only just escalate. And we’re underground and what happens if things got heated and somebody got pushed and, you know what? Let that guy have his little temper tantrum. I bet he feels like a big man, telling everybody off, telling everybody to stop getting in his way, making his life a little bit more inconvenient than it had to be. You know what I should have said? I should have said, “Listen buddy, why don’t you move someplace far away from the city, where there are no people to get in your way, someplace real dry, where it never rains, and where nobody has to work, and nobody has to commute, and then you won’t be pissed off. That’ll solve all of your problems my friend.” Actually, no I wouldn’t have said that either. That would have been really way too long and there’s no way I would have gotten all of that out without him interrupting me, going back at me, and then I would have gotten all flustered and my blood would have started to boil and I wouldn’t have known quite what to say so I’d just start saying things like, “Oh yeah?” but really loud, because volume always trumps substance. But that would have led to a path towards escalation also and, one time I read this article about how when too many human beings are close together and they start getting pushy that actual waves of energy start running through the crowd, like currents, like people can get crushed, lifted right out of their shoes, and then who gets charged with murder, everyone? Can you try several hundred people for the murder of one person? And how many sentences are we talking about, does everybody take turns in jail for a day or are we talking about individual multi-year sentences? Yeah, I did the right thing. I kept my mouth shut. Somebody poked me in the eye getting off the train, opening up their umbrella. It hurt, but my eye didn’t fall out, I didn’t get in anybody’s face, I just kind of went, “Ow … Geez,” semi-loudly, to nobody in particular. I’m pretty sure the person who poked heard me softly cry out, but I’m pretty sure I heard that same person say something to me like, “You gotta watch out buddy. Lot a people in this city,” all passive-aggressively, everybody hurrying home, hands in their pockets, heads in their hoodies.