Sweaty clusters of people stand in between silver terminals waiting for the train to Montauk to be announced. Everything about train stations is constructed to give me anxiety. If a train stations were a mode of communication, it would be the broke-ass beeper I inherited from my dad back in 1997. That damn little terminal with only three platforms announced at a time, the paper maps that are the only way you can figure out what your line is called, the hovering for crumbs of information. I’m not good at this.
I stand alone, my acid-wash denim sack at my feet, watching all sorts of Labor Day randos congregate in the same subterranean space. There are the twee gay men in front of me are trying to figure out if they need ice for their cooler or not, the girls with the Louis Vuiton totes and Chanel jellies, the bros wearing Rugby shirts from their college alma mater. Then there’s the man in the orthopedic shoes and the polyester pants. Every part of him twitches, his cheek wrenching up towards his lower lid with the frequency of a speedy reliable metronome, hands shaking a black leather wallet. He’s a rattling, nothing of a vision, transparent if he weren’t so matte, dusty as an old shelf.
Platform 19 scrolls along the screen and everyone starts running down the stairs like there’s an emergency greater than snagging a seat for the 20 minute train ride to Jamaica station, where we will transfer to another train for the 2 hour continuation to Montauk.
Speedy, selfish asshole that I am, I score a seat near a window and spend the next ten minutes listening to the conductor tell the scrambling masses behind me to “MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE TRAIN, PEOPLE. THE BACK OF THE TRAIN.”
Dudes in fedoras are piled into the aisles like refugees on a boat. Girls clutch medium-sized roller bags to their chests, awkwardly wrapping their arms around boxes of canvas and wheels. I’m saddled in between surfers and small families, fratty investment bankers and their punishingly high-maintenance girlfriends. We’re the Labor Day stragglers, fancy enough to be on a train en route to the Hamptons, but not fancy enough to take a car.
“THERE ARE NO SEATS IN THE FRONT. NOT EVEN STANDING ROOM. WALK BACK.”
Despite his persistence, the conductor does not seem increasingly irritated. I suspect he expects the worst, always, and operates on an even-keeled level of mildly annoyed for the better part of his workdays.
“WALK BACK. WALK BACK.”
Through my filthy window, bodies scramble along the platform, juggling bags and chairs and all sorts of travel things. Something dings, doors close, and we glide sluggishly towards a tunnel, blackness giving way to weeds and graffitied walls, fleets of numbered school buses.