One of the big landmarks when I think of going home is the Metro North Railroad. It is a commuter train that links a good portion of the New York City Metropolitan area to Manhattan.
I always know this transit system will be an inevitable part of my time going to the East Coast at this point in my life, and often tend to vaguely daydream about it during my flight to New York.
The Metro North public transit network is utilized by thousands of people daily. It is foremost a commuter line frequented by career people who pay peak hour fees and read the New York Post or Times or Wall Street Journal or endlessly check their Blackberries or iPhones. It is also a weekender-frequented line that is ridden by obnoxious teens with fake identification cards, all done up in high heels and make up and impractical clothing to check out the clubbing scene. Many sports fans also ride Metro North, particularly Yankees fans in popped collars who have no problem offering Scoal chewing tobacco to their fellow riders at ungodly hours.
For me personally, I think of my teenage years, when I would dread the trapped suburban cave of Westchester County, and spend all of my hard-earned money from my several pointless jobs on the train tickets to take me to a more magical place. I have countless memories of paying for tickets into the automated ticket dispensers and being angry at the gradual increase of their prices over the years. I also spent lots of my time living there standing on the platforms of Pleasantville station, the closest to where I’d lived. Or scenic Scarborough Station, where I got to watch the Hudson splash waves.
The Ossining Station is where I spent my old morning commute to Riverdale, which is in the North Bronx, where I had worked as an ESL instructor. I would wake at 6:00 AM daily, be driven there by 7:00, and wait for the 7:08 train. I would often buy the coffee from the small convenience half-store set up there in the upper deck’s shelter, then walk down the stairs, wait for the train to arrive and and watch the other commuters load onto the platforms. On the way back to Ossining, sometimes I even caught the view of the Rockland County commuters boarding their ferry to take them back across the Hudson. I would ride the Hudson Line back and forth daily, in a pre-peak hour where I would sit alone and drink my caffeinated beverage without a cup holder and correct tests and essays, or sometimes get the opportunity to daze off into the Palisades cliffs of where New York State ends and New Jersey begins (or vice versa on the return train). It was my only time being truly alone and at peace at that point in my life.
Today, I face no commute, and Metro North trains are something I always take when I’m back in New York, still having the same feeling of anxiousness to leave the suburbs and be in the city. I have pretty much memorized the Hudson Line, that goes along the river, and the Southeast Line, that goes through inland areas through the backs of many different towns that gradually turn more urban.
On both of these routes, I’ve memorized the slow-down when the train goes southward from the Bronx and crosses the bridge into Manhattan Island, where it then inevitably docks at 125th Street in Harlem.
After Harlem, the silver bullet then drives through a long stretch of underground tunnel and slows down even more, eventually weaving into the bowels of the Upper East Side and finally into Grand Central of Midtown Manhattan.
I am so familiar with the routine of getting off the train, and entering the dirty and dark, brown and grey platform station with trash cans full of hundreds of old newspapers, where all of us now-walking passengers are completely jammed and crammed through our gradually ascending exodus out of these sub-city track bowels, like some entrapped troglodyte creatures instinctively heading for the light, into Grand Central, a dome trap universe of hustle and bustle and travel and commute and overpriced fast foods and boutiques.
The final step is to either exit out the doors of Grand Central and enter the commotion of 42nd street, the reaching skyscrapers and yellow cabs and the drift-off of tourists from Times Square mixing with the thousands of commuters dressed in pressed collared shirts and shoppers carrying an abundance of brand-name store bags. Either I walk to my destination, or go underneath ground once again to the MTA subway, and ride up, cross or downtown and begin the awaited adventures.