Sunday, January 13, 2008

Out to Get Me

That's the view from my kitchen window. When the 7 train goes by, you can see it peeking through the buildings. After I took this shot, I thought to myself, "Oh, hey, I should wait for a train to go by. That would make a much better picture. I could use the zoom. I wonder how long it'll be before a train goes by. Oh, right. It won't be until TOMORROW."

Last Thursday morning on the train, as we were a dead stop between stations, they announced that there won't be any express train service on the 7 train for the next 5 weeks starting the next day. Just when I'd been managing to get to work exactly on time, or even a little early. (There's also no 7 train at all over the weekend past my stop. I can get into Manhattan on the weekends, but anyone wanting to go further out is shit outta luck. Oh, there's shuttle buses and whatnot, but those are really rather quite unpleasant. And infrequent. Weekend plans can be adjusted (thank gods I don't work weekends). But I fear I may become mentally unglued over the no express train thing during the week.

A little context here. I grew up in the boondocks of Brooklyn. My commute in Midtown Manhattan from there required taking a bus to the subway station and then a train. The whole thing took 1 hour and 15 minutes each way. It could take even longer on the way home if I went out with friends afterwards and came home at a time when the buses were coming every 20 minutes instead of every 10.

When there were service changes lasting a couple of years while they did work on the Manhattan Bridge, my trip became an hour and a half each way. I decided enough was enough. I moved closer in. I was paying twice the rent, but my trip in was more like 45 minutes to an hour.

I've moved a couple of times since then, but it wasn't until HA convinced me that the Great Shacking Up of Aught Seven should be in Queens that I began loving and hating the 7 train. It goes straight into midtown! It connects with all sorts of other useful trains! It's above ground, so it doesn't flood when it rains!

But when it rains, something mystical occurs to the 7 train. Maybe it runs more slowly. Maybe more people decide to take the train instead of the bus. Maybe the raindrops hit the train platform and people spring into life, fully formed, with a soggy umbrella under one arm and a damp newspaper under the other. The trains come, but damned if I can squeeze in.

Most bosses in Manhattan know that the subways go all weird when it rains and cut their employees some slack. This includes my current employers, even though I'm an hourly contractor now. The one day I was 10 minutes late (thanks to a problem on the 6 train, of course), I worked 10 minutes late to make up the time and it was all good.

At my old job (where I was salaried), 9:01 was considered late. The kind of late that no amount of working late could make up for. The day last summer when all the trains flooded and half the people in the city were at least 20 minutes late to work, I actually got a talking to from my manager. Who lived a 12 block walk from the office. The day after I'd been screamed at by another manager, I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning (on account of not wanting to go to work) and was a little late because of that. I was spoken to again. It got to the point that I was biting my tongue from stress on the way in to work every day. Every time a train arrived in the station that was too full to get into, I'd consider taking a cell phone picture to show my manager. Every time I changed trains, I'd feel my manager standing behind me, bitching at me to walk faster. In fact, as I was going in to job interviews, or even going going into my job now, I can feel her there, unreasonably egging me on to beat the clock.

At my current job, they're very nice about all sorts of things, but I'm paid hourly and I'm brand new, so the least I can do is make every effort to show up on time. Especially since I know that at some point I'm going to start leaving the apartment just a couple of minutes later one week and then a little later the next. I want to be in as good a position as possible before I start backsliding.

And then the MTA scheduled construction that will mean no express train at all for 5 weeks. With one day's notice. As it is, to get in at 9, I've been leaving the apartment at 8. These changes mean I'll have to leave earlier. My commute could go back to 1 hour and 15 minutes! Even though I live within walking distance of the train station and am paying a helluva lot more rent than I was out in the boondocks. Honestly! It didn't take much longer than that to walk to work during the Transit Strike (which I did exactly once because I got sick from walking that many miles in the December cold and had to call in sick until the strike was over, so it's not really a viable alternative).

Clearly, the MTA is opposed to my getting to work at 9 AM. Not just me, of course. They don't want anyone to get in at 9. Why else would they make it so damn near impossible? Don't even get me started on the day I was 45 minutes late for a job interview thanks to major problems on not one, but both trains I had to take.

I wanted to cry when I heard the news, but I find that I don't have many tears lately. I'm less emotional and stressed because the wedding is over and done with, but I also feel like I've kind of had it. It's sort of a dull, burned out feeling. I'm trying to remember how I was ever able to leave for work as early as I did back when it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. Mind you, I started at 10 for many years, but when I was a young and energetic college kid working summers as a Kelly Temporary, I started at 9.

I can see why people are reluctant to take public transportation. I have no control over the situation. When I was driving to work in NJ, if I was late to work because I'd had to drive slowly because of bad weather, that was just safety. And my choice. And I worked for people who traveled to work the same way, so they understood. The day two tractor-trailers got into an accident on the Goethals Bridge and all traffic was stopped and I was a couple of HOURS late, the only people who said anything to me about it were the 2 co-workers who were stuck on the bridge ahead of me. But now they've decided to do incredibly disruptive trackwork and I have minimal warning and no way around it.

If public transportation is going to save us from the looming environmental crisis, it's going to have to get more reliable. And employers are going to have to become more laid back about punctuality. I suppose they already are, but after 4.5 months of working for people who thought that 9:01 was late (well, alright, 9:10, but I am long past the point in my career where it should matter), I'm still jumpy. I mean, even the spoiled-sounding girl on the train I had to listen to Wednesday morning works for a boss who doesn't care if she's a little late as long as she's in by 9:15.

Employers are also going to have to get more on board with Flex Time. Since most people have to be at 9, when I go in at 9, the trains are more crowded and uncomfortable and the trip takes longer. Aiming to get in at 9:15, 9:30 or 10 leads to a shorter, less unpleasant commute. (It's probably the same for people coming in at 8:30, but since I'm not a morning person, I understand that people might do it, but my brain refuses to accept the information.)

Friday, I made it in just on time despite the rain and lack of express train. I got an e-mail from my new manager discussing logistics, since we hadn't had the chance to discuss those yet. And the sun came out and angels began to sing. Because it turns out that I actually do have the option of starting my day at 9:30. It's a good thing the conversation wasn't taking face to face, because I could've kissed her and I'm trying to make a good impression.


  1. Oh boy do I feel your train pain. When we were living in Jersey City I had quite the commute and with the trains being as crowded and unreliable as they are I was late some of the time. This was not ok with my employer and I ended up a stressed out mess after months of rushing to work. I made the decision that where ever I worked next had to be walking distance or from home. I'm so much happier now.

    It's so nice that you have the option of coming in at 9:30am! :)

  2. Wow. I never realized how lucky I am to be able to make my own schedule (well, within reason). I had no idea that it could chip at someone a little more each day. Lots of little things to that to me, but not my commute...
    I have a friend who has a reverse commute: she takes the 7 in Astoria, deeper into Queens, so she's always grumbled about never having the opportunity to take an express 7.

  3. How frustrating! I don't think I could take it. I'm phobic about being late to anything.

  4. You do a great job of describing that other type of stress I feel on public transport, the one that's different from being able to control the accelerator when I'm running late but driving myself. I know how you feel about being late; I'm constantly one or two minutes behind (or was when I was driving) in a work culture where 'on time' is 10 minutes early! Enjoy the 30 minute later start time!

  5. I have a boss who's the same way about being a few minutes late especially because we have to punch in which is dumb because we're salaried. I try to leave on time and stay calm but there's always that little panic there when it's real crowded or slow that you'll be late.


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