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An Intern’s Commute: Turnstyles, Third Rails and Tuna Fish

The alarm clock rings. Its flashing red illumination makes me think I am being pulled over by the dream police. My body jerks up from the bed like a corpse in an old John Carpenter horror film. I think for a minute why such an obnoxious and so­norous noise has awoken me on this February morning....oh yea, I have to go to my internship in New York City.

When I accepted the position in early November, I convinced my­self that the commute wouldn’t be too bad. The voice of optimism told me that the hour-and-a-half train ride would allow me some relaxation and down-time to and from the chaotic city. After a month of this twice daily routine, I think I should be a salesman for selling myself that lie.

It’s 6:00 am. After taking the world’s fastest shower and at­tempting to eat something, which is not easy at that hour, I step into the cold, dark morning. The train station is only a five min­ute drive from my apartment, but with the subarctic temperature it seems like a lot longer. Being a college student on a low income, I am forced to park on the street quite a distance from the station because of the exorbitant price of a monthly parking permit.

The walk is lonesome; it feels as if I am the only person crazy enough to be out in public at this time. Scouting the concrete for black ice like a soldier cautious­ly monitoring his footsteps on a mine field, I arrive at the station with just enough time to pur­chase the morning paper from a rusty, coin-only dispenser. Alas, the welcoming whistle of train 6612 signals to me that warmth is just moments away.

Greeting the conductor with a friendly, “Good morning,” I soon wish I could retract my momen­tary lapse of judgment. Opening the door to what I thought would be a near-empty train car, I am shockingly dismayed to see a congregation of fellow travelers, all of whom are of different sizes, shapes and from the looks of it, moods.

Knowing that I have several other people behind me, I am forced to rush my first important decision of the day: who should I sit next to. Quickly, my eyes scan the car looking for any long female blonde hair. None here. My next eye-scan is checking out for size and weight. It would be a long ride if my face were pressed against the window because of my neighbor’s horizontal endow­ment. Feeling a nudge in my back from an impatient commut­er, I have no other alternative but to take the next open seat.

Things aren’t bad for the next few stops. My luck placed me next to a medium sized fellow who seems lost in his own world, rocking his head back and forth to whatever music funnels out of his headphones. Around page six of the New York Post, my neigh­bor reaches down and pulls a foil-wrapped sandwich from a brown bag. Stealthily, I look over. Not believing my eyes, but believ­ing my nose, a sloppy, soaking-wet tuna fish sandwich is inches away from me. It’s 6:45 in the morning! My stomach turns and I begin to sweat.

After fantasizing about a cold glass of ginger ale and a rag on my forehead for the next half hour, the train finally enters the pitch-black tunnel which signals Penn Station. It is as if each per­son on the train is wound-up like a toy soldier when this moment arrives, for each one stands up simultaneously.

Like the Laurel and Hardy film, the wooden soldiers move in uni­son; not making a sound, except for the heavy stomping down the aisle of the over-capacitated rail car. I, conforming to the behav­ior of the majority, join them. In a trance, we inch our way up the broken escalator, hoping not to hear a bodily sound from the person in front of us. With each step, the glow from store-shop signs above gets brighter. The flashing colors bring me back several hours prior to when I was so rudely woken by the buzz of my alarm clock - how I wish I was back in bed.

Once the ascent ends, our uni­son brigade dissipates. We will rendezvous, however, at 0500 hours, that is certain. For now, the second half of my journey begins and I prepare to play the human version of Frogger. On the other side of the wide corri­dor are the stairs that lead to the subway which will take me three blocks from my job at Simon & Schuster Publishing. Blocking me from that staircase, though, is the multidirectional flow of speed-walking commuters, rush­ing to wherever it is they are go­ing.

Since “excuse me” is a foreign language in these parts, I attempt the only logical advance: shoul­der down and chin-up. Midway through this human autobahn, I have gathered enough speed to thwart off anybody bold enough to T-bone me. At my destination, I turn around to find a petite girl being pinged and ponged off of unconcerned travelers. I proceed underground to turnstiles and third rails.

It is now 7:45 am. I’m not even at my desk yet and my hair is di­sheveled, my shoes untied and my shirt is sweat stained. Stand­ing there, waiting for the uptown 1 train, I am asked by a man who seems to be in better shape than I am if I can “spare some change.” I tell him I only have plastic, to which his eyes light up.

As the subway screeches to a stop and blows my hair even more out of place, I see a poster of the Florida Keys with a person scuba-diving with clown fish. I pep myself up by remembering spring break is a month away. The two-stop ride to 50th Street throws me around like a rag doll and I rush to exit the brutish metal tube. Finally, after my hour-and-a-half commute, I see daylight at the top of the stairwell rewarding me for my valiant efforts.

Walking down 6th, I look around at the beauty that sur­rounds me. The orange reflection of the sun beaming off sturdy buildings, the smell of fresh cof­fee rising out of the silver street carts, the constant chirps from passing taxi horns alerting pe­destrians - I smile. Realizing that I am blessed to visit this ur­ban sanctuary for the next three months, I forget about what it took for me to get here. 

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