Saturday, June 25, 2011

The horror, the horror: Commuting from New Haven to New York

Every day between June 6th to June 17th, I commuted from New Haven to New York. Nobody should ever have to endure the pain I did. Here is my story.

The week after graduation, I’m crashing with Daniel Ayele; I’m a mendicant with a suitcase of clothes and twice as many books. My summer plans are in flux (read: I have no idea), so I spend my days waking up at 2:30pm, eating at Booktrader, playing Bubble Trouble with Zach, thinking about inner confidence, and watching the NBA finals in the basement of Pierson.

Fast forward a week: I’m crashing at Warren’s sublet, a beautiful apartment stocked with a guitar and vocabulary flashcards, and I hear back from Abrams Books – yes, they’re willing to hire me, can I start on Monday? I sign up for housing at a college dorm. Problem is, I can’t move in until 2 weeks after my internship starts. So to bridge the gap, I go online to Craigslist and let subletters know I’m up for grabs. I even use Padmapper, that’s how serious I am. Nobody responds positively. So on Sunday night at 1am, I’m still in New Haven, when I have to be in New York on 18th and 6th Ave in 7 hours.

The first train ride isn’t so bad: I’m brimming with adrenaline, ready for my first day of work, and proceed to conquer the day. On the train ride back, I fall asleep, and come back home rested.

The second day is when it gets ugly. The routine for the next 9 days looks like this: wake up to alarm at 6:20 a.m. Dress and pack and preen in 10 minutes. Run to train station by 6:37 a.m. Board train with 2 minutes to spare. Find a window seat. Prop my backpack between myself and the window and lean my head against backpack. Prep myself for wave of sleep that will inevitably hit after my heart has stopped beating because of mad dash to station. Give conductor my ticket. Fall asleep, and wake up when train arrives.

Simple, right? The only problem is that I felt like crap the entire way. The 6:20 wake-up call left me soporific. Leaving the apartment without eating anything left a gnawing feeling in my stomach part physiological and part psychological: I was hungry, and felt hungrier knowing I wouldn’t be eating until 8:45 a.m. Running to the train station in business casual was discomfiting and uncomfortable, not to mention sweaty. Sleeping on the train was awkward, especially considering that every seat gets taken. I needed to stretch my legs underneath the seat in front of me, and would inevitably play footsie with a 45-year old investment banker. There was nothing to prop my head on except for the vibrating window panel, so I used my hand instead, which is too untrustworthy to serve as a pillow. I would squeeze my hands between my thighs because it was so cold, which made it look as if I needed to pee really badly. When I woke up, I had a dry, desiccated, scratchy feeling in the back of my throat.

I want to say there were positives: that it felt great waking up so early; that I met some interesting people on the train rides; that the experience made me appreciate how close everything at Yale was (20 minutes to the top of Science Hill? No problem!) But that would be lying. Mostly, I spent the first two weeks while on the commute feeling like my brain was wrapped up in gauze, pathetically thinking to myself that I just needed to make it through these first two weeks before I could really start living. When I returned to New Haven, I’d discover (ironically) a second wind of energy and end up staying up until 1 a.m., or, on one night, setting up this blog, until 4 a.m. And I’d have to wake up at 6:20 a.m., regardless.

I never did end up finding a sublet. I found a promising lead, except that the guy was slightly crazy. And I don’t think I was ready, at least mentally, to move to New York eiher. As for the commute, I ended up adjusting. I realized that I didn’t have to sprint-stop-sprint-stop to the train station; a steady, slow jog the entire way would do. I un-tucked my shirt while jogging, realizing I could tuck it back in before I got to work. I realized that the front car of the train, which is always closest to the platform entrance, was always absurdly empty (maybe because everyone always assumes it already filled up!). Sleep onset became instantaneous, and my dreams were always on the waking surface of my brain, playing themselves out, so that I could remember everything afterwards. Finally, I developed the uncanny habit of waking up right as the doors opened to let everyone out at Grand Central.

Small victories, of course. I was losing the war: the commute to work took from 6:20 a.m to 8:45 a.m., and the commute back was 5:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Once, I was riding one of those new Metro-North trains, the brakes failed, so we had to de-train and wait an hour for a new one. That day, my commute was 6 hours and 10 minutes, work was 8 hours and 45 minutes, and sleep was 5 hours and 30 minutes; I had 3 hours and 35 minutes for myself.

Needless to say, no matter how much I loved living at Yale, I was stoked to move to New York. My commute is a measly 12 minutes each way. Of course, now that I’ve been here for exactly a week, a different set of concerns have cropped up (for example, today I woke up at 3:14 p.m., and never left my room). But that’s a story for another day.

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