Commuting from the Heart


dani-wideAt 6 a.m. my alarm rings and I begin to stir. Sitting up, but still under the warmth of my heavy Mexican blanket, I stare out my bedroom window. The winter months have arrived in New Jersey. The sky is still dark and the birds are sound asleep. Daylight won’t come until around 7 a.m., but I can see a thick, engulfing fog, common to Central New Jersey. The fog creates a quiet, magical, peaceful environment. I close my eyes.

The horn of the 6:10 a.m.- New York-bound train sounds in the distance as it arrives at the New Brunswick station, one mile from my small apartment. The sound is my cue to get out of bed and drink my morning tea, spiced with cardamom and ginger. I sit in my rocking chair and and sway forward and back. The heat of the mug cupped in my hands, combined with the spice in the tea, warms my body and my soul. The steam rises out of the mug and I watch it. I’m thinking, but at the same time, I’m not thinking about anything at all. I’m lost in thought and it makes my heart and brain feel at ease.

With the last sip of tea gone, I begin the routine of nearly every adult in the world — getting ready for work. By 7 a.m. it’s daylight, and I begin the one-mile walk to the train station. There aren’t any convenient buses at 7 a.m. from my house to the train station, so I enjoy my walk through downtown New Brunswick and marvel at the fact that I arrive at the train station at the exact same time every morning: 7:23 a.m. — just in time for the 7:24 train. It’s not rocket science that it takes around 20 minutes to walk a mile, but every morning I’m pleasantly surprised when I check my phone for the time and see 7:23.

The 7:24 a.m. New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor line towards New York’s Penn Station is always the older train interior, with brown, leather seats that are surprisingly comfortable. If I sit on the right side of the train in the second car, I enjoy the company of a young Indian man who boards the train in Edison, sits in the seat behind me, and listens to the morning ragas on his headphones. The morning ragas are soothing, energizing, and inspiring. He doesn’t know I can hear them, but keeping secrets in this way is good — I don’t want him to turn the volume down.

Switching to the PATH train at Newark’s Penn Station makes my morning commute into New York cheaper and quicker. It is also quite comical. The PATH train’s little blue seats become high value real estate during a commute, and obtaining a little blue seat becomes an art. Some people are very skilled in this art — they look left, right, up, down, and move their feet in a marching motion, looking for various markers that map the exact location where the doors will stop and open. Then they eye their competition and place their bodies so they can be the first to enter.

The brief chaos that ensues while boarding the train disappears quickly and the train eventually travels on tracks completely underground. Hundreds of us are together, silent, thinking about nothing and something, traveling through a darkened tunnel. We stabilize each other and lean into one other as the train lurches back and forth between Newport and Christopher Street.

At 14th Street, I connect to the F, a New York subway line connecting to the Lower East Side’s Delancey Street. At Delancey, the two-block walk to my office shows off historic six-story tenement buildings. I picture the once-crowded streets of the 1920s, filled with new immigrants, pushcarts and animals that made this neighborhood the most densely populated in the world. I stop for my favorite cappuccino at Tiny’s Sandwich Shop and sit on their outdoor bench, watching people going somewhere; others staying stationary.

I reach the office by 9 a.m., water my office plants, and start my day, awakened and revived.

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Erika Dani
Erika Dani is a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. She enjoys hiking, pet rescue, reading and attempting to be good at finance.


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