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Jamie Shupak

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The Night One Commute Was Turned Upside Down for #TransitGirl

Posted: 11/19/2013 4:22 pm

I'm a traffic reporter, so people tend to ask me about my commute. I'm always a little bashful about my answer because, well, I barely have a commute at all. Every weekday at 3:50 a.m. I'm picked up at my apartment in the West Village by Daniel, who takes me about 15 blocks north to the NY1 studios inside Chelsea Market. It is so peaceful at that predawn hour -- up before the bankers and the birds, there's barely another car, human, or sound.

But once in a while, in our commutes as in life, we're reminded that what we take for granted is actually so, so fragile. On October 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy washed ashore, I was told to come in three hours early the next morning, at 1 a.m. But at 9 p.m. the lights went out. No, everything went out. I thought from almost 10 years of these commutes that I knew about darkness. I thought I knew about quiet. But there is a very stark difference between dark and pitch black, between quiet and silence.

I knew Daniel wouldn't be coming and there were no Citibikes then, so I'd have to walk to work. My fiancé (then boyfriend) Brian was covering the storm in Delaware, so he had our home's flashlights with him. He suggested by phone that I open my laptop and carry it like a flashlight. Creative, I'll admit -- but by the time I made it down six flights of stairs, through a maze of basement hallways and outside, my arms were too tired to carry the laptop anymore. So away it went and I used the dim light from my phone instead. It didn't help. I tripped over something large, landing flat on my face. As I got up and tried to see what it was, I saw an enormous tree that had fallen from the sidewalk. Earlier, I was merely scared; now, I was petrified.

And then a cop car turned the corner -- sirens blaring, lights shining -- and I started shaking. "You can't be out here, ma'am." "But I have to go to work." "Where do you work?" "NY1." "Get in the car." As I thanked the officers profusely, the driver turned the wrong way up Ninth Avenue. My inner traffic reporter came out: "This is a one-way street!" He answered with a line that I swear sounded straight of a horror movie: "Today, there are no rules."

Thinking about this a year later -- especially in light of all the truly horrific scenes from Sandy -- this was just an inconvenience. But it illustrates that we take normal commutes and normal life for granted. Bus or train running on time? Nothing memorable about that. Navigating through dark streets with only the light from your phone as guidance? I'll never forget it. That's what Transit Girl is -- a book about the year in my life that everything was flipped on its head. Seems like no big deal now that enough time has passed, and I'm happier than ever. But at the time? Total nightmare.

Here are more of the worst commutes of all time:

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