Stationary reflections

So, it hasn’t exactly been a crackerjack month for the Long Island Rail Road.

Remember a few weeks ago when the whole train stopped running? (Apparently there was a fire in the control room of Jamaica Station, a fairly crucial gateway between the Island and the city.)

Welp, apparently it takes less to bring this dog and pony show down than you might think. Last night a few trees (allegedly…I’m not ruling out conspiracy theories yet) fell on the tracks between Penn and Jamaica in a storm, and all trains ceased running in or out of Penn Station.

Now, those of you who don’t live in New York or have my commute might not grasp the gravity of that statement,  so think of it this way: I would venture that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that at least half a million people commute into the city each day. That means that roughly half a million people were simply stranded as of, oh, 5:00 p.m. on a weekday.

The LIRR is in the middle of celebrating its 100-year anniversary. (I believe the slogan on the website right now is, “100 years…and still going strong!” Meaning the railroad has not lost its sense of humor with age.) This means that in one hundred years of running, it never occurred to the people in charge that maybe, just maybe they should come up with a backup plan. In case of a thunderstorm, which actually does have the power to bring down the whole kit’n’kaboodle.

I actually got to Penn before I realized the extremity of the damages, so I spent a few minutes milling about on the sidewalk with a few thousand angry commuters and curious passers-by. I must have looked like I knew what was going on (to be fair, by that point I did, thanks to numerous concerned texts from friends and the Fiance) because people kept asking me what was happening.

I’ve decided you can tell a New Yorker from a tourist in a second just by seeing how they respond to the news that the LIRR isn’t running.

Tourist: “Like, it’s turned off? Until when? How?”

Local: “Well, that’s just perfect.”

And even though the fact that I’m spending a small fortune every month for service that might be provided is stomach churning, it’s oddly heartwarming to watch this city in the face of adversity.

Instantly, we were all on the same team of stranded commuters who simply want to get home. People who would normally gruffly ignore each other chatted amicably on the train, swapping “where I was when I heard and what I did next” stories and “isn’t this just so typical” jokes.

I even got to spend a few hours with my friend and fellow commuter Laurie, and we talked more than we have in months as we scrambled to Brooklyn where the trains were rumored to still be running (they were, thank goodness).

So yes, I think what happened yesterday was avoidable and an atrocious way of running a transportation system, but it’s also one of those stories that I think will always define me as an at-one-time “real” New Yorker, no matter where I end up in the future.

And it shows a different side of the city; one that sure, always assumes the worst, but is still always ready to forgive.

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