When I announced my plans to return to work, my parents were concerned. Would I be able to push doors open on my own? What if my crutches slipped on the ice? How would I carry my lunch?
Mom quickly came up with a plan: She and Dad would accompany me to my office, deposit me at my desk, spend the day in nearby coffee shops, and then pick me up at 5:30.
"Mom. That's impossible. I need to be a responsible adult at work.
"Well then, maybe your brother could take you instead?"
"He has a job, Mom! He can't drop me off at work! And that would look just as weird!"
"I think it would impress your co-workers if your big strong brother came to get you."
My brother is three years younger than me and works as a lawyer downtown. He usually leaves for the office before 8 and works well into the night. Why am I even explaining this?
On the morning in question, I ordered myself a Lyft. Mom and Dad followed me out of the apartment. "We'll just drop you off outside the office and go to a museum," explained Mom.
"O.K. But then you can go home, after that. You don't need to pick me up."
"Well, we'll be nearby in case anything happens. Daddy and I both have our phones."
We all piled into the Lyft, and headed into Manhattan.
The traffic moved fairly well on Queens Boulevard, but grew clogged as we approached the bridge. A bottleneck developed at the merge with Northern Boulevard. The constant stopping and starting made me queasy.
My window was fogged, so I rolled it down to clear the view. A gust of carbon fumes entered the back seat.
"Upper Deck is closed," announced the driver.
Enormous trucks crowded us on all sides. We inched forward. A food truck called "India Jones" was next to us. It moved a few feet ahead and then fell back a few feet behind. The menu was painted on the side of the truck. We read it over and over again. Veggie Coconut Curry. Saag Paneer.
"There's an accident on the bridge,"
Foolishly, I had hoped to arrive early on my first day back. I would enjoy a cup of coffee in the empty office - then casually wave to my coworkers as they arrived. It would be as though no time had passed at all.
A moving truck muscled it's way in front of our car.
We finally made it to my office building about 2 hours later.
Mom and Dad were so pummeled by their first NYC commute that they didn't even try to escort me up to my office. The LYFT car took them on to the MET, and they had a nice morning at the Michelangelo exhibit.
Total cost of the ride? Over $50.
The next day, I decided to take the bus.
Prior to my broken leg, I would never have considered busing my way to work. Buses are notoriously slow. They stop at every corner. They get stuck behind taxis. They make weird huffing and beeping noises. Buses are for short hops, not long-hauls.
However, the subway was totally out. My friend, Amber, told me a story about her co-worker who tried to take the subway on crutches. Someone bumped him on the stairs and he fell all the way down. He re-injured his leg, broke both of his arms and ruined a Yves Saint Laurent cashmere coat.
OK.. maybe he only broke one arm, and actually, Amber never mentioned a cashmere coat. But you get the idea. IT'S NOT WORTH THE RISK!
Mom and Dad were pro-bus.
"You can see out! And there are no stairs!"
They decided that Dad would chaperone me on the first morning. I didn't argue. I knew it would be a long ride and I needed moral support.
On Friday morning, It was damp but not especially cold. Mom drove Dad and me to the bus stop. We waited a good 20 minutes for the right bus. Then we got on.
There were so many seats!
My normal commute, on the 7 Train, does not involve much sitting. The subway has become so over-crowded in the past few years that I feel lucky when I can hold on to a pole. Heck, I feel lucky when the nine other people who are also holding the pole do not smell terrible.
National Geographic published an article about personal space. Apparently, personal space isn't just a mental construct - it's a biological imperative. When humans feel inappropriately crowded, they become frustrated, upset and angry. We don't just prefer to have space around us - we need that space.
So when Dad and I got on to the near-empty bus and sat down at least 4 feet from any other humans, it felt like a revelation. We were not exactly comfortable - the plastic seats were hard and it was impossible not to stare at an ad for bunion surgery, but it definitely beat the cramped Lyft. It was so nice to be high up - above the cars. Best of all, the bus took a special lane on to the approach to the bridge - skipping at least 2 blocks of traffic.
As we went over the bridge - Dad noticed landmarks.
"Where are all those tall buildings down that way? Is that lower Manhattan?"
"Yes. You can just make out the Freedom Tower over there."
We had a nice ride. It took an hour and a half to get to work, but I didn't feel frazzled or upset when I got there.
That night, I hopped across 8th Avenue on my crutches and took the same route in reverse. It was much faster in the outbound direction. When I transferred on Madison, the same driver from the morning ride picked me up. We recognized each other! He was almost friendly! I felt like I had discovered a secret - the civilized sport of busing.
The next day, Dad let me go it alone. Everything was fine, but not quite as shiny. The wait for a transfer was really long. There was no one to talk to.
Over the next few commutes, the views out the window became familiar. I got fussier about my seat.
Everyone who has ever ridden a NYC bus knows that the most desirable seats are the single window seats in the middle on the left. But for a person on crutches, those seats are too far away from the door. Drivers don't always wait for everyone to find a seat, so it's best to plop down in the nearest place available. That means the "accessible" section.
At first, sitting up front made me uncomfortable. I didn't want to think of myself as impaired. When I got onboard, people stared at me. "What happened to her?" is not the question I want to inspire in strangers. On the first rainy morning, the bus filled up. A man had to give up his seat to let me sit down. Wet, irritable people looked jealously at me as I accepted the courtesy, as if to say, "Are those crutches for real, or are you faking it to get a seat?"
However, there are a few advantages up front (aside from accessibility). The people-watching is excellent, and you are close enough to hear the driver curse.
"What kind of asshole changes lanes like that? I mean, what a fucker! None of these fuckers ever learned how to drive. Fucking assholes."
If you have ever found your job frustrating, consider the trials of the average NYC bus driver. Imagine steering a vehicle the size of a small convenience store through the densest traffic in the US. Then imagine doing it in January in the rain.
How did our society learn to accept the whole concept of a "commute"? If you think about it, almost no one commuted 100 years ago. Farmers lived on their farms. Shopkeepers lived above their stores. Servants had little rooms in the attic. Even if you did travel away from your home, it was probable that you lived close enough to walk there.
My great grandfather was a businessman in San Antonio Texas at the beginning of the 20th Century. He drove a team of horses to the office. When automobiles became more popular he bought one, but he couldn't learn to drive it. His horses had been trained many years ago - they already knew the way to his office, but the new car needed to be steered. Instead of making the adjustment on his own, he took his eleven year old daughter to the auto dealer where the mechanics taught her how to drive. She figured it out quickly, and became her father's chauffeur.
All around the country, other people were adjusting to the new circumstance as well. The car made it possible to live miles and miles away from work. Today, we don't even question it. We aren't paid to travel to work - in fact, we pay! I pay over a hundred dollars a month to crush myself into strangers on the subway.
My office is in midtown Manhattan. My cube is on the 37th floor. I'm in the corner facing a huge glass window. Opposite the window is a luxury apartment building with a swimming pool on the top floor. Sometimes, on tough days, I find myself staring at the lucky swimmers in that pool. What gives? How did they end up swimming in a rooftop pool at 11am on a Tuesday? I fantasize about living in that building. My commute would last a minute tops! Then, at the end of the day, I could jump in that pool! Those two factors would reduce my daily stress to almost nothing!
This dream is counter-productive. It is unlikely that I will ever have 10 grand to drop on rent every month. Also, I've looked into it, and the building with the pool doesn't accept pets. I need to focus on more realistic commuting solutions.
For now, the bus is working reasonably well. It's slow - it costs me an additional hour and a half every day, but it's the best solution for me right now. However, this, is my plea to the geniuses of this world:
"Please! Invent something better! SOON!"