It’s been more than 2 months since I become a commuter bound for New York City. I’ve been reading books on my train rides, a luxury that I hadn’t enjoyed for the past 3.5 years. It makes me think, and want to, as always, share some flickering thoughts with you.
My apartment is on 9th floor facing east. It would’ve been a cover-photo quality view of Manhattan skyline, if there weren’t a crowd of old, ugly, and unorganized buildings in Elizabeth downtown that stands right in the middle. Nevertheless, I can still watch the eternal confrontation of the Twin Towers of World Trade Center and the Empire State Building on a fine day or evening. Of course on a typical morning I don’t have the leisure of a scenic outlook. If I do look outside of the window, I’ll be checking if the trains are on time–the train station is also in my view. In most of the time the trains are very punctual, except once during a blizzard the electrical wire between Newark and New York broke down so not a single train could get across the Hudson River. Unfortunately there’s also the PATH train, which is more like a subway that feeds on its rails rather than hanging wires, so I still can and must go to work instead of enjoying the snow.
Elizabeth, the city where I live, is a bit south to Manhattan. The train crosses the River and arrives in Penn Station, which is at midtown 32nd St. So the train route from Elizabeth follows a curve with a constantly changing perspective of the City. When the Twin Towers merge into one, the train descends into the tunnel and stays in the underworld ever since. Just before entering Penn Station, there’s an open area as large as a whole city block, as if King Kong happened to step on this hollow block and trap its foot on the rails. I get a last glimpse of skylight, which looks so different than the same skylight on my shoulders after I take the stairs up to 7th Avenue from underground.
There’s always some Baroque or early Romantism chamber music that permeates slowly and indifferently in the hugh Penn Station, a rendezvous of all lines of New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road, PATH train, and several subways. People walk up and down frenzily and look all preoccupied. Sometimes, mostly on rainy days and Mondays, I feel that the City I ascend into is not somewhere I belong. It’s the Matrix. I’m injected into its grid together with three million people everyday in trains, subways, buses, ferries, and taxis, and tossed out in the evening like water in a tumbling washing machine. Life only seems real to me again when I see the shimmery houses sprawled across the land on the other side of the River–my side, where my vacant but cozy apartment hides in the darkness that guards it safely from the dazzling lights of Manhattan.