Wraiths in the night


Thursday, January 19, 2012


          I’m at home working as I wait to make the trip to Journal Square to visit my eye doctor.

          I spent a good portion of last night navigating the public transportation system after the council meeting, choosing to make the trip to the light rail rather than chance the bus system along Kennedy Boulevard.

          The last time I went to take a bus after a meeting, I stood in the dark for an hour until the bus came – no, not one bus, but two – and I was so desperate I got on the first one, finding myself like a refugee among other refugees, stuffed between packages and people while watching the second nearly empty bus pass us by.

          The walk was not significant, even in the cold, but the station at 34th Street was something out of Graham Greene novel, stark and empty, with the “Next Train” sign indicating a 25 minute wait for one bound to Hoboken.

          An out of service train rushed through the station as if on fire like the train in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, beeping his horn the whole time.

          Rather than sit in the cold, I hopped the train bound the other way, figuring it was better to be warm and seated than to stomp my feet on a platform alone. Passed my office the train went, then down to the new station on 8th Street, where we piled out, and the conductors separated some of the cars, reducing the size the train by half, then let the few passengers waiting there into the remaining cars.

          As we waited another train pulled in on the other side, turned off its lights to wait out the night for the rush the next morning.

          We took off a few minutes later, stopping at the stops I had passed on the way down, frigid people piling in like the refugees from my previous bus trip, all of them cold, all of them needing to catch this train than wait for the next one not due for a hour, each stop adding to the fullness of the car so that I struggled to get out at Liberty State Park where I had to change to the Tonnelle Avenue train.

          This was more populated, but not greatly. A few people on the far side waiting for trains to either West Side Avenue or Bayonne, a handful on my side waiting for the train I needed.

          In the parking lot across the street, the security guard’s vehicle – now decorated in orange lights along its side – continued to prowl the lot, checking on empty spaces, like one of those bored tigers I used to see pacing its cage in the zoo.

          The wait wasn’t long. Although again, missing this train meant more than a half hour wait until the next one, so there was a rush to get a seat since everyone knew that the density would only increase with each additional stop, which it did, people piling in at every stop until I could barely elbow my way out again when I reached the 9th Street station in Hoboken for my ride up the elevator and my walk through Jersey City Heights to home.

          Driving, the trip would have taken my less than a half our. This trip had taken me an hour and a half.

          Walking on either end of the trip to or from the train, I was struck by how lonely the world is at night. Jersey City, Bayonne, even Hoboken haven’t changed to the degree we all believe, still a stark landscape after dark, with isolated characters like myself making our way through dark streets headed to unknown destinations, trying to sort out in our heads, why were are here at this time of night, and what in the end have we gained by the experience, people who are still wraiths in a gray world seeking answers to questions no one can answer.


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