Saturday, June 02, 2018

On the Job But Not on the Railroad



Monday is the big transition day for me. After riding Metro-North to New York for over 22 years, I’m becoming a telecommuter, at least for the next two months. This is happening due to an office relocation from Sixth Avenue a few blocks to 42nd Street. The move is complex and my floor is closing on June 15 to prepare space for the new tenants; who will get my view of the News Corp. building across West 47th Street? I’ll never know. Rather than use the “free seating” option on other still-open floors, I opted to cancel my $369/month ticket and work at home.

While I’ve had the option of working remotely for years, I always liked going into New York for 3-4 days a week and working at home 1-2 days. Despite the time and expense, I liked the sense of belonging, of resources, of a place to WORK that I left at day's end. And I always enjoyed being in the city—walking through Times Square with my camera, the parades, the demonstrations, the museums, the splashy marketing promos, Broadway music in Bryant Park in the summers, the cops and crowds around Trump Tower, the sirens, the sense of something always about to happen, the sense of history happening. And, as Irwin Shaw titled his 1939 short story, I noticed the girls in their summer dresses.

The monthly ticket’s absence is disorienting. I had temporarily cancelled it before, while between jobs and after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, but I always felt relieved when I hit the rails again. The ticket gave me freedom, like a pass to Disneyland. I’ve even used it like a subway pass, getting from Katonah to Pleasantville or White Plains, or running into the city on a whim to buy halvah on the Lower East Side or go to an event. When I lived in Westport, Connecticut, I used it to ride from Grand Central to Katonah, on the Harlem rather than the New Haven line, because they are in the same ticket zones.

I estimate I spent $66,000 on tickets and traveled at least 200,000 miles, Over the 22 years, I forgot jackets, gym bags and tuna-salad lunches in Tupperware on the train. I found and returned other people’s wallets and cell phones, although I never lost my own. I’ve stood on platforms in weather so cold I thought I would get frostbite; that only happened this winter when I spent 15 minutes shoveling the snow and ice off my car so I could drive to the station. I put money into a boot carried by a fireman as a donation after 9/11. I’ve heard voices raised but have never seen a fight on a train, or an arrest. Chatty or dotty people will start conversations with me, even when I’ve got my nose in a book. Usually I’ll listen, at least for a while. One snowy Saturday night something seemed off on the train—then I realized the moving train’s doors were open and snow was blowing in.

I’ve slept through my station only once, when I sailed past Greens Farms in Connecticut and barely got out in time at Fairfield. I could have easily gone all the way to New Haven.

I’ve pondered what’s worse: riding in a car without heat in the winter, or without air conditioning in the summer. No AC is definitely far more uncomfortable. I felt like I was suffocating.

Then there was the train ride I didn’t get to take. That was in August 2003, when I was in the city when the blackout struck. I went to Grand Central with a vain hope of getting a train to Stamford, but that wasn’t happening. I wound up walking five miles, over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Carroll Gardens neighborhood and spending the night with friends. The next day I got to Grand Central and hung out until I stormed on to the first train back to Stamford.

So now—no monthly ticket. I’ll need to find things to get me out of the home office so I don't turn into a hermit; you may see me more often at the Katonah Village Library for lunchtime bridge lessons and chair yoga.

I’ve brought files home from work, tossed unneeded papers, moved books to the basement and will try not to raid the fridge too often. I’ll save $369 a month, although I may get a 10-pass ticket and I’ll check out the new office when it opens at the end of July. I’m going to visit my company’s Stamford office. I may do morning workouts at the New York Sports Club in Baldwin Place, where I now go on the weekends. Or I’ll switch to a closer gym.




And what have I gained: Time! I’ll have endless vistas of time. I spent close to four hours commuting daily, and lately I’ve been passing out once the train reaches Chappaqua or North White Plains; I just can’t keep my eyes open. I can now go back to bed after feeding the cats at 6 a.m., and start working at 7 a.m. if the spirit moves me or keep working until 7 p.m. I can blast bossa nova and Texas swing without putting on ear buds as a courtesy to my officemates. I’ll have to swat the cats away when they want to walk on my keyboard and “accidently” step on the on-off switch on my laptop.

And now I have no excuses for not writing the Great American novel at 6 a.m. I’ve made outlines, thought about material, and even tried writing short stories involving a commuter. If anything results, I’ll make sure the Katonah Village Library gets a signed first edition.



Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link .] My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called ...