Once again, tragedy grips my brave yet battered stretch of New Jersey corridor. This has not been an easy two weeks for New Jersey Transit or the millions of citizens who can call its trains and tracks and parking lots and platforms their second home. On the heels of a bombing incident at Elizabeth station and the subsequent capture of the bomber in Linden just a few miles down the track, a horrific accident at the Hoboken station left one dead and over 100 injured yesterday morning.
As part of the proud and populous cross section of society known as The Commuters, I live my life with the thought of trains somewhere in the front, back or constantly calculating corners of my mind. Each day, there is a voice inside that doubles as an inspiring life coach and ruthless timekeeper, asking: how long do I have to get ready before I have to get to the station? What train do I need to take to get to work on time? Which train will I make tonight? What time will that make dinner be? Which train am I missing because this meeting just won’t wrap? Can I make the train in time to pick up the dog from daycare? Can I make it home in time to take a quick bike ride before sundown? And so on.
As commuters, we spend a shocking amount of our days contemplating trains, and they are (both literally and metaphorically) the engines that make our lives go, go, go. But if trains are such an integral part of our everyday routines, the people we share them with must be as well... and that’s another fact I am just coming around to noticing.
A tragedy like Hoboken makes me realize that, like the trains themselves, we really don’t grasp how much the fellow citizens who ride the lines with us are part of our lives. If you ride the same trains at the same times every day, you are sure to see the same people again and again. The same cheerful (or, yes, maybe not-so-cheerful) engineers collecting tickets… the same harried businessman checking stocks on his i-Phone… the same industrious young woman touching up her makeup while taking a conference call… the same loving couple swapping pages of the New York Times… the same ear-budded upstart scrolling through his music folder. To them all, I’m surely “the same middle-aged neurotic guy audibly sighing and talking back to his inbox.”
As commuters, we spend a shocking amount of our days contemplating trains, and they are (both literally and metaphorically) the engines that make our lives go, go, go.
They’re with us every day, these familiar strangers. It’s both a habit and a comfort to see them in the same place at the same time, although nary a word is spoken or sentiment expressed. We don’t know their names or their occupations or their life stories, although we probably know exactly what they eat, drink and read every morning, which stop they get off at or which way they turn when they reach the top of the escalators at Penn Station.
When yesterday’s tragedy struck, I hadn’t begun my morning commute. Hearing the news, my first thought was for friends and colleagues living in Hoboken (all of whom are thankfully safe) along with those nameless yet familiar faces I ride the trains with every morning – and every single community of commuters just like us. Even though our particular train line doesn’t pass through Hoboken, the worry gripped me nonetheless – are they okay? In a horror that hits so close to home, they were the piece of “home” I longed to hear from, connect with. But in a tale all too familiar in modern day living, I don’t actually know them ― we merely co-exist in a choreographed dance known as the urban/suburban commuter grind.
First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those injured and affected in the Hoboken tragedy. And beyond that, another sentiment grips me as never before. To all those friendly strangers who I walk by and wait with and ride next to every day ― as well as the heroic, hard-working conductors and transit staff who make it their life’s calling to take those journeys with us ― you are a part of my life and I am so glad to “know” you. And I’ll see you soon.