A New York Story - Leaving New Jersey
It was 7:30pm in a small office park outside of Princeton, NJ. It was dark, 50 degrees and I was 75 miles from where I was supposed to be staying the night. I had left mid-town Manhattan earlier that afternoon in an exorbitant Lyft ride so that I could have a one-hour meeting with a potential client. The meeting had gone on three hours and seemed like a good fit. However, I was exhausted, hungry, and had very little idea how to get back to New York City.
Lyfting again didn't seem like the right choice. It had felt justified in the afternoon in order to get down there in time for our meeting but I didn't imagine it would go over well if I charged them for two rides.
- Is there a train around here that I can take me back to New York?
- Sure, you can take the New Jersey Transit. It'll get you there.
- How much is it?
- 10 or 12 bucks. Not much. It's the Jersey commuter train, so it'll make a lot of stops, but you'll get to Penn Station in about 70 minutes.
- Do I have to change trains?
- Okay, that'll work.
- Yeah, it's so much more cost-effective than Amtrak. That's like $100 or something.
- You're kidding.
- Nope. It's crazy expensive.
I hitched a ride with my potential client to Trenton's train station, got my ticket and sat down on a bench near the tracks. Ten minutes later, the train came. I found an empty seat and sighed as I flopped down for a 70min foodless, drinkless trip to NYC.
I realized I was on an Amtrak train about 20 seconds after it started moving. Suddenly, everything made a bit more sense: the plush seats, the pull-down tray table from the seat in front of me, the outlet wall socket. Ah, shit, I thought, it's too late to actually jump off, isn't it?
I got up. I wasn't really nervous. One of the nice things about getting older is that nearly everything bad that might happen to you is some variation on some other bad thing that has happened to you. This wasn't the first time I ended up somewhere I shouldn't have been, it definitely wouldn't be the last. The worst thing that would happen is that I would be dropped at the next stop with a stern warning not to jump on random trains.
It should also be said that the other nice element of getting older is I have more money than when I was younger. Years ago, being dropped at a darkened train station in New Jersey 60 miles from Brooklyn where I was staying would have been a tragic, somewhat risky, and possibly adventurous way to get back to NYC on the $4 left in my pocket. Now, being a left in Nowheresville, NJ would be a 10min wait before I took another exorbitant (but doable) Uber ride. Money may be the root of all evil, but it also provides choices to the soon-to-be tossed-from-the-train.
I stood at the back of the train car as the conductor came up. He was young and seemed to have a lot of energy for 8pm on a Wednesday. I held up my NJ Rail Pass.
- I'm sorry. I seemed to have gotten on the wrong train.
- Where ya goin'?
- Penn Station.
He looked at my ticket for a moment and then yanked it from my hand.
- I got 'ya. You're fine.
And he was gone. I wanted to say thank you but then realized I didn't actually know where this train was going. And then I sat back down in my seat in a tragic, somewhat risky, and possibly adventurous way and waited to find out.