The Commute (Hoboken, 1996)

If commute you must—and hey, eight million a day do—going home nights on the PATH train from World Trade Center to Hoboken isn’t too brutal. Crowded, alright, this time of day. Packed so you can’t move, sure. But that’s New Jersey; it’s all relative. There are longer commutes, deadlier rides home. NJ Transit to Trenton; good God. Driving the GWB to Fort Lee and 80 beyond; have mercy. The PATH; well, pay your buck, what the fuck. It’s just under the river.

You don’t even try to find a seat, this time of day. Slip in the door, sidle over, grab the overhead rail. It’s all slamming elbows and assholes, but less than fifteen minutes, who cares. Don’t breathe too hard and steer clear the sneezers. Actual illness leads to a waste of valuable sick time, sweet precious sick time, and you can get sick on the PATH this time of year, you bet you can. Hold your breath, hold the rail, and hang on those fifteen minutes.

The PATH, she rolls back and forth, back and forth, picking up that dark and weightless underground speed, steadying out faster she goes. PATH doesn’t rattle like the NYC subway, she rolls. Her cars are cleaner, too. That’s something, anyway.

"Hoboken, laststopHoboken." Then again as she pulls into the old blue-tile underground station. "Hobokenstation. Hoboken."

Two things born in Hoboken, New Jersey (hardly the only two things, but a good representation, as good a place as any to start), the memory of both births enshrined almost randomly on steel signs scattered like jacks across the mile-square city: the game of baseball and Francis Albert Sinatra. The former birth disputed by a small, insignificant, yet surprisingly powerful burg in upstate New York, the later birth disputed by none, yet mostly spurned by the birthee himself.

Hobokenstation, laststop, leddemoff first, leddemoff first, leddemoff first—Hoboken.”

Crowded, the commute. Packed. But late nights—that’s a better story: late nights the PATH train is a shiny railed limo. Empty and spacious, your smooth, cheap cruise below the Hudson. Couples coupling sometimes in the front car or back, deep kisses, hiked skirts, furtive glances. Never a cop on the PATH, so it’s just whether you care what a fellow rider sees or hears.

"I got laid on the PATH last night," one overheard young commuter tells another.

“Laid?”

“Well. Close to it.”

"You put the ‘ho’ in Hoboken, my friend."

A pause, then, "I think that’s the sweetest thing anyone’s ever said to me."

But not evening rush hour, no. Not the commute. The commute, we’re all fish in the stream. Pushing and rubbing and pressing in all the wrong ways.

“Leddemoff first, leddemoff first—Hobokenstationlaststop.”

From the inside out, then; released from the open doors of the PATH train and packed up the stairs to the street. Follow slow, if you’re smart, hands in overcoat pockets and head up. Rise from the train. Allow the world to flow around you. A smooth stone in a rushing eddy, all that torrent racing by, rising up to Hoboken. Slide by, take her slow, unaffected.

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