New Jersey Transit at rush hour is hands down the live action representation of the Hunger Games. Although, I’ve used the transportation system hundreds of times before for personal visits, exploring the city and when I was a baby living in Chelsea with my parents, I have never commuted. My journey consists of about an hour to and from Penn Station in the morning and evening. Unpopular opinion: I actually love and enjoy public transportation. So, that factor doesn’t damper my experience.
I started this adventure a little over a week ago, and I find it absolutely hilarious. What the hell is NJ Transit at rush hour? Look at the picture below. This is a normal Tuesday at 5pm.
I swear, I think the people in charge of this system find this all very humorous.
I’ll set the scene:
As the train comes in to release its passengers, there’s easily about 300 people waiting on the other side to get on, including yourself. I honestly don’t know the number; it just feels like the entire island of Manhattan is trying to take that train with you! Now, remember this transaction is done in about 5 minutes. So, as you’re waiting with hundreds of angry, sweaty, cranky, hungry and tried commuters of all ages, you’re just trying to stay positive and get on the train without missing it or being pummeled. Yes, pummeled. I literally witnessed a grandma go flying; so hold on to your loved ones. As you patiently wait, your composure is quickly diminishing every passing minute. You know the second your number is posted on the board, you’re sprinting to the track as fast your legs can move. You transform into a shape shifter, moving in and out of crowds – everything to avoid being that person sprinting for their train at the last second.
4:58. 4:59. 5:00. 5:01. Your train leaves at 5:09..what are they waiting for!? Which track will it be? The previous tracks were 13, 7 and 10 – all high numbers. Okay, “go toward the lower tracks,” you tell yourself. Your eyes are glued to the board with the track information. Yours is still not posted. 5:02. 7 minutes to go. Weaving in and out of crowds for what seems like hours, you reach track 3 and 4, jumping your eyes from board to board. You’re standing as if you’re running cross country about to start a race. It feels like you’ve waited for this moment your entire life. You’ve trained yourself to guess potential track numbers and mastered the art of moving through hordes of people. All of a sudden: TRACK 1 comes across the board. You’re at 3 & 4. CR*P. You have to move! Your brain hasn’t even had a second to register what you just read but your feet are already moving. What is going on?! People are everywhere – infront, behind, next to you. You’re all in this together. Except, hundreds of people are moving in the exact opposite direction against your current. What?! Their train was called on Track 9…what the hell, why!? Hundreds of people are moving in every which way. Your life is spinning before your eyes. What is happening?! All you want is to just get home.
Reaching the doors, the crowd has come to halt of slow motion. You can breathe; you made it to the door. Walking down the teeny, tiny childlike stairs, you notice there’s a few stragglers getting off the train walking up those same stairs you and about 50 other people in that moment are walking down. You’re thinking to yourself, “what the hell? Why are people walking up? How are we all even fitting in these stairs? Shouldn’t they be gone by now? This is madness.”
Reaching the bottom, you see your train. It’s right there – in sight! Think your journey is over? Oh, how wonderful that would be. No. Now, you have to find a seat! Speed-walking besides the train, trying to get as far in front as you can down the platform, you’re looking through the windows as you pass to look for potential open seats. After a few aggravated minutes and growing fear the damn thing will leave you, you jump inside and continue to walk in the train. You hope you’re among the lucky few who immediately find a seat, but that’s never you. Two cars later, and finally, there it is – your seat! The most stressful twenty minutes of your life is over…finally over…until tomorrow!
*This experience is completely different if you’re late and are that guy/girl sprinting at the last second. Best of luck making the train, let alone finding a place to stand.