September 6, 2014

Homespun Remedies For The Commuting Blues

(An edited and improved version of this piece has been printed by The Good Men Project and is available here.)


The daily grind of commuting: a cruel fact of suburban life.

The early morning rise. 
The every day repetition.
The soul-crushing delays.

It’s the Dunkin Donuts commercial guy, wiping the sleep from his eyes and muttering “Time to make the donuts.”
It’s Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. 
It’s lemmings rushing to the cliff’s edge. And then over.

If you don’t laugh at it, it will leave you a cold twitchy bitter shell of yourself, your pent up aggressions sullying your view of all humanity. 

It’s true.  I shit you not.

With that in mind, we offer a number of sanity-preserving coping techniques.  Today we will cover: (1) expressing rage through social media outlets; (2) aggressive actions against fellow passengers; and (3) various humor-based strategies.

The therapeutic effect of rage is presently under study by the FDA. 

Venting by way of social media is a terrific option.

Mocking tweets are a nice way to start for spouting off.  For NJ Transit riders (like me), @NJTSucks (location: “Stuck somewhere between Trenton & New York”) provides a nice outlet:

 A more ribald option is @FuckNJTransit:

Personally I enjoy using the hashtag: #BadAtTrains on Twitter. But let loose and be creative!

Facebook is also useful for spewing a more tempered anger and frustration, with a dash of seeking solace from non-commuter friends and solidarity from fellow commuters. Facebook posts are also a good way to start commuter games, like Wheel of Train Delay Excuses: “Signal problems,” “The Portal Bridge is down” (Is there really a Portal Bridge??  What is the Portal Bridge anyway!?), “Leaves,” “Snow on the tracks,” “too hot,” “too cold,” “just right but we're stuck anyway,” “broken down train in front of us,” “Amtrak’s fault,” "Monday," and “Total. Fucking. Silence.”

Aggressive actions against your fellow commuters are an unfortunate by-product of commuter range.  Though not recommended or condoned, this method of blowing off stream endures and can take many forms:

·      Physical altercations over with the Talking Loudly on The Cellphone Guy who shares his whole inane life with the whole freaking car while you are trying to read.  Warning: violence is ugly.

·      Disbelieving stares that devolve into verbal wars with the My Bags Are on The Seat Next To Me and Even Though You’re Standing I Am Going To Refuse Eye Contact woman.

·      Dropping of elbows, pushing, shoving as you are being herded like animals towards the just-announced track and through a corridor that is inexplicably ½ the width of a single person.

·      Constant cursing under your breath, such as the repeated and uncontrollable muttering of “Mother. Fucker.”

It is a well-known fact that Humor can soothe the savage commuter.  The possibilities are almost endless.

Pithy commuter inside jokes:

When the train dispatcher’s wife embraces her husband, do you think she thinks: ‘I am being held briefly by the train dispatcher’?”

Artistic outlets: Art can be a terrific way to pass time while silently mocking fellow commuters.  Here, some modicum of drawing ability helps.  The gold standard is this guy, who turned a yellow sticky note pad into hilarious bits of train art, like this:

If you have no artistic talent or creativity, this is why god invented smartphone cameras.  Don’t’ be bashful.  Selfie it up.

If writing is your thing, perhaps try a passive-aggressive haiku:

Hipster blocking the
train door, are you doing it

Woman next to me
Proves it's possible to do
Sudoku out loud.

Before you hang up,
Tell your mom the whole train says
She's right about you.

Playing Angry Birds
When he sets a new high score
He does a fist-pump

She pulls out her book
And nervously looks around
50 Shades of Grey

(Haikus courtesy of @commuter_haiku and

One of my personal favorite categories of humor is Quiet Car Humor:  The invention of and the nature of human interactions in The Quiet Car can inspire funny bits of goodness:

This can range from musings pumped out as Facebook status posts, like this: 

The great paradox of The Quiet Car: It is literally impossible to say ‘Um...Excuse me? This is the quiet car,’ without sounding kind of douchy."

… to full length New Yorker style essays, like this:

“This initiative is an expansion of our Quiet Car program and will be known as Hush Plus. Each car on every rush-hour train will be designated one of the following: Quiet, Almost Quiet, Normal Amount of Noise, It’s Getting Louder, or Insanely Loud.

QUIET CAR: For many commuters, the Quiet Car has never been quiet enough. Now it will be. Sounds once tolerated, such as a cell-phone whisper (“Can’t talk—I’m in the Quiet Car”), will now result in a fifteen-dollar fine or deboarding at 125th Street. Screen swiping on any wireless device must be silent. Passengers with long fingernails and jangly jewelry should think twice before taking a seat in the Quiet Car.

ALMOST QUIET CAR: A car reserved for people who tolerate eye contact. The exchange of a few daily pleasantries will be permitted, although sustained conversation will be banned. Absolutely no jokes are allowed, especially the one about the husband who regrettably misspeaks to his wife at breakfast when he merely intends to say, “Please pass the marmalade.”

NORMAL AMOUNT OF NOISE CAR: The place for old-fashioned face-to-face conversation with colleagues, neighbors, and other acquaintances. Older passengers can rest assured that other riders will not roll their eyes when they rustle and fold their printed newspapers. The Normal Amount of Noise Car will provide a sound buffer, so that you can speak frankly without worrying that your words might be overheard and come back to haunt you in a securities investigation. Here, too, you can safely tell your seatmate that your kids turned out to be total assholes.”

So remember kids: Don't stand in the vestibule, walk up for the station platform, please make sure to have your electronic tickets out and loaded before we leave the station, and Stay Calm and Commute On.