The Commute

Jesse Fried • Jun 14, 2017

The morning commute on NJ Transit trains has a very strange vibe, which I might identify as a feeling of shared self-sacrifice, or a solidarity in misery. Running into someone you know on the train - someone whose kids are friends with yours, for instance - seems to be a very significant social and cultural event, for reasons that I don't fully understand.

One reason for the commute's outsized emotional impact could be that it's a weak point in the insulation of the suburban delusion. Out of one's own comfortable home, but not yet in workday's corporate or professional distractions, there is an opportunity for stray thoughts to intrude. Behind NJ Transit's poor service lurk the unsavory scheming characters of our state's political cohort. The views out the train windows, of old tightly-spaced houses (previous incarnations of the suburbs) in poor states of repair, of post-industrial disarray, of an eerie and discomforting kind of beauty, are like nightmares threatening the borders of the suburban consciousness.

Commuters lock their attention on their phones and newspapers with desperate intensity. At home and at work perhaps they are figures of respect and fear. But on NJ Transit, they wait passively to be delivered across the space between their worlds.