When I was about to graduate from college, the idea of working in the New York publishing scene was one that always intrigued me. My father had worked in Rockefeller Center at NBC for 30 years commuting on the Long Island Railroad all that time. There was a seductive allure to working in the big city that made me feel like it was something I needed to do to begin my career in the publishing capital of the world. So on a rainy morning in November of 1984, I set out on my first day of work in my publishing journey.
I do not go to school for anything remotely resembling a career in publishing. I went to a small state school in upstate New York (SUNY Potsdam), originally thinking that I would major in music before switching to a European History major with an English Literature minor. Now you may ask yourself: What are you going to do with that type of educational background? And that exactly was my dilemma at the time. In the early 1980s jobs were scarce, and since I had absolutely no interest in becoming a teacher, the career paths for someone with my educational background were limited to say the least. When anyone would ask me what I was going to do when I got out of school, I would always tell them that I would look for a position where I would be trained within the industry (“on the job training”). With my Liberal Arts background, publishing was a natural fit. I began the long search of New York Times classifieds every weekend starting in the summer of 1984. At the same time I had gotten a position at a Hess self- service gas station, and was making ends meet that way until my big break came along. That big break came in the form of an acceptance for employment at the New York Yellow Pages (the Blue Books) which had offices right off Union Square.
Little did I realize that this first day in November would be the start of 7000 other days where I would be riding the Long Island Railroad to my final destination in Manhattan. Other friends who were working in Manhattan always wanted to get an apartment in the city somewhere Queens, Brooklyn, even Staten Island. I never wanted to live in the city limits. I liked having that difference between work and home so I always wanted to live in the suburbs of Long Island and commute into the city. For 16 years I commuted from various towns along the south shore of Long Island into Manhattan. I would not wish this commute on my worst enemy.
To start out with the monthly ticket cost at that point was exorbitantly high. For someone who was barely making $13,000 a year, there was absolutely no way I could move out and get an apartment on my own. My monthly ticket price was basically my apartment money. Then there were the hot cars in the summer without air conditioning. I would normally just stay in a hot car because then I knew that I would have a seat, and if I was on my way home it didn’t matter whether I was sweaty or not anyway. There were the strikes, where neither side seemed to be one that was worthy of any type of sympathy, especially when the people who swept the cars started at $50,000 a year. There were the dirty bathrooms, which were all too unpleasantly real when you walked in and got a seat. Only then you would notice that the stench of the bathroom was filling the car right around you.
All these things pale in comparison to the real fear that took hold after December 7, 1993, when Colin Ferguson decided to shoot up a train car on the Ronkonkoma line. For months after this heinous attack on innocent commuters I had an uneasy feeling every time I entered the train car. I was always looking around to see who was in the car with me, always keeping vigil, always making sure I could possibly have an easy escape route to another car if I needed a fast getaway.
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Even with all of these items I’ve listed above, I would not change one iota of my experiences in commuting because taken as a whole they were the impetus to force me to rethink my life and move to a beautiful part of the country. Thanks to the internet and social media, the New York publishing scene is becoming less and less important in the overall schema of industry content, products and distribution. I have not been commuting on the Long Island Railroad for the past 14 years. I do not know how things are in the commute these days but I am hopeful that they are much better than they were when I was riding the train back in the late 1980s and all through the 1990s.
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Riding that train, oh what a pain, Casey Jones you better, watch your speed, trouble ahead, trouble behind…