Note: According to commute’s Latin stem cells, it’s a hybrid of “altogether” and “change.”
In the years prior to my status as an urban denizen, I took an extraordinary amount of pride in performing the New York Power Walk on my occasional ventures into the city. A combination of a jutted out chin, lengthy strides and inability to perceive people, their strollers, little ones, luggage, and pull-carts as anything other than barriers on an obstacle course, the Walk seemed equal parts strategy and conceit. Self-important and solitary, for the Walk cannot be performed with a partner—much less a family, and routinely prone to self-justification, I nevertheless coveted the steel-willed a.m. energy it evoked and vowed to myself to strut my stuff come my 20-something professional days.
What I had failed to realize also accompanied said jaunt, was the New York Push and Squeeze. As a day trip tourist bus bum, I’d only rarely participated in weekday New York City commute patterns and notably, never from the Outer Boroughs at half past eight o’clock. What a bear hug I had waiting for me the day I transferred from the 7 local at Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Avenue for the E and F Express. MTA men with flashlights stared up and down the platform, keeping the peace, while dozens of bodies anxiously crowded the yellow line, oblivious of one another and yet totally cognizant that if they did not run straight into (or around) these individuals—if they did not, in other words, dehumanize fellow straphangers in an attempt to land inside a subway car before the doors closed—they could be abandoned on the platform until the next train arrived. (Three minutes later.)
I suppose it’s incorrect to speak of such incidents in such a detached, third person fashion, that invokes a sense of neutrality, omniscient narrator, when this narrator has been quite complicit in the New York Push and Squeeze herself. Indeed, it may have been used as recently by the narrator as last Thursday when she horrifyingly woke up at 8:05 a.m. and had to make the Jackson Heights transfer at 8:29 a.m. and several days before that at Grand Central / 42nd Street, attempting to shove and shoulder and corner her way into a cattle herding 4 Express train at 8:36 a.m.
But if this essay, seems to hint at some sort of internal unease about these commuter habits, let me return, at first to the New York Power Walk. When I at first moved to a Corona duplex last August, I reassessed my new idea and decided I had no desire to adopt such a strident stroll and indeed, mapped out a personal, moral framework that governed commuting and timeliness.
My reasoning was such: rushing, that is the act of feeling pressured for want of time, skewed my sense of moral agency in a given situation. Suddenly, what may have been perceived as choices when given copious amounts of time, become contexts where I had convinced myself I had no other option, but a self-interested mandate. In other words, I became flooded with the awareness that under time-related pressure, the selfless choice was often squeezed.
Related example and necessary confession: A hunched over, elderly man attempted to cross the street last night at 12:45 a.m. at 1st Avenue and 23rd Street. I, as a bicyclist, was in a prime position to dismount my vehicle and escort him across the street—shielding him from any drunk motorist that would barricade into him. But, I was quickly able to quash this humanitarian (and inconvenient) gesture because it was already so late (!) and I needed to get back to my Queens home at a reasonable hour.
Very related example: If I don’t make this E train, I will be late(r) and shame my bosses and make their life miserable because they will feel like a failure for having hired me so there is nothing wrong with me shoving the masses (who are also shoving me) to make sure that I get on this subway car. Damnit.
Other very related example: That poor woman struggling to lift her stroller, with baby, down the stairs, I wish I could ask if I could help her but I might miss my train and I would stop the traffic flow of commuters marching behind me if I paused to ask her about this and that would be ugly so I won’t even go there instead I will just go.
Other very related example: I’m just going to pretend I don’t see the misery of New Yorkers all around me (person that has the same bangs as my sister sleeping on cardboard boxes outside Grand Central, pregnant women with sharpie signs and a sad story, feeble looking elderly folk clanging and jingling plastic cups) because This May Interfere With My Commute And I Am In A Rush. (Also, I Am Self Important, See My Walk.)
Ah, but see the detriment and discharge of rushing. The dearth of self-reflection on steps, the lack of holistic movement, the tendency to turn commutes into routes where morality and self-awareness may lay dormant without reproach and the sense that all this mindlessness really abets some sort of evil, if only thru our apathy.
We are not animals and the 4 train is not where the cows come home. To move is to be alive; to commute is to be human?