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Commuting Suicide: Volume XVIII (Part 2)


This is part two of a two-part recap of a recent ride home. You can read Part I here, but that is not required.

When we taxied from our gate to the Lincoln Tunnel, it was considered great progress. “What great progress,” I remember thinking. Still, it was a long way home. We’d already logged an hour and still had an hour to go.

Our bodies are conditioned by the commute. The average journey takes 42 minutes; I can do 42 minutes in my sleep (and sometimes do). But the second the trip can be measured in hours, my body begins to break down. Subtle things, like a sore lower left sacroiliac joint (”back” for the layman) and the need to reposition my legs. Though I’m working without a protractor, I’d say my legs were locked at an acute eighty-seven degrees for the entire first hour. My legs needed a change.

So I stretched out, hitting 150 degrees and feeling fantastic. I should explain the seating arrangements, lest anyone liken my commute to a British Airways commercial. Mine was the only seat allowing such plentiful legroom. The back row goes five across, with me the keystone. The roominess aside, this is the least desirable seat on the bus, and most unsafe. Any accident would create a Jason-shaped hole in the windshield twenty-one rows ahead. And they really pack you in.* When my cellphone vibrated in my pocket, the Cheetos-gobbling man raced his nasty hand toward his tight-fitting pants. The confusion was inexplicable, as he was talking on his own cell phone at the time.** If elbow room was a widely accepted measurement, I’d tell you mine was negative.

Just as I got comfortable, so did the man to my front-right. As I said, our bodies can’t handle commuting overtime, and he was a fellow regular. For him, getting comfortable meant relocating his hefty briefcase from his lap to the aisle. Except the aisle had just been claimed by my outstretched legs. What we had here was a standoff. Something had to give.

Imagine that Conan O’Brien had quit Saturday Night Live and gone to law school, not aged particularly well, dyed his hair black and embraced public transportation. That’s whose eyes mine were trained on. No words were said; none were needed. This was akin to a staring contest, the kind a five-year-old has with her middle-school babysitter. In my mind, legs trumping briefcase is as universally accepted as paper trumping rock. No jury in the world would see it his way, my lack of legal training notwithstanding.

After a few minutes (or more likely 10-15 seconds), he gave up, stuffing the briefcase under his seat. We both displayed a seasoned ambivalence. Mine helped me win a staring contest. His must kill him in court.

And eventually, after two hours, I made it home. As I gathered my belongings, the woman beside me said a few haunting words. The moment I processed them, I knew they’d end up ending this post.

“You think this is bad? I’ve been doing this since 1971.”

* What’s with the footnotes? During this commute, I was trying to read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” a citation-riddled essay by David Foster Wallace. Printed out, it was 34 pages with 33 footnotes at the end. Trying to flip ahead in my limited space proved first frustrating, then impossible. I thought adding footnotes here would be fun. Plus this story could use the help.

** Yes, there is a strict NO CELL PHONE policy, a policy I champion. But the general rule during extenuating circumstances is to ignore this specific one.

*** This has nothing to do with this story, but I’ll tell you while you’re here. A recent development in the morning commute is the presence of a chain gang.**** In 2004, after years of stolen car stereos and stalked female commuters, the county built a massive park-n-ride facility . Busing in the local felons strikes me strange. It’s like spending thousands of dollars for an exterminator to eradicate a fire ant problem, then going online to order an ant farm.

**** That must not be the accepted term nowadays, as the gang is not chained.

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