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The Commute to Work: A Reflection on Mortality

It’s 7:03 AM, and I’m out the door of my Midtown apartment.  I wave at the doorman, bound down the steps, and start my journey to the wonderful land of work, work, work.  Unlike many New Yorkers, I don’t wear headphones on my morning walk.  My walk is an excuse to travel with my thoughts, sans the distraction of Lady Gaga imploring me to dance.  I think about my job, my personal life, and the latest news… but mostly, I think about what I want to get for breakfast.  Thus, my career anxiety is often interrupted by the everlasting muffin vs. bagel debate.  By the 9th avenue intersection, muffin usually wins. 

pigeonAlong my usual route, I sidestep many of the treasures of New York City.  Outside of 53rd street, there is always at least one food product that has made its way into the road.  One day it looked like a tub of mac and cheese.  Another day, it appeared to be some kind of chili.  My curiosity never gets me too close to the mystery slop though, mostly because a pack of pigeons is constantly steeped in the mess, devouring its breakfast.  The sight of winged rats picking at day-old mashed potatoes is both horrifying and humanizing: horrifying because it’s gross, but humanizing because it makes me glad I’m not a pigeon.  (I did some research, and my pigeon aversion is justified: urban pigeons only live for 3-5 years on average.  I’d guess that obesity contributes to their short life span as much as reckless taxi drivers.)

Unfortunately, my encounters with pigeon folk don’t end on the mashed potatoes corner.  Across the street from the Midtown North Precinct of the NYPD, there is a flock of pigeons that sit along a row of fire escapes above the sidewalk.  Because cop cars are parked outside the precinct, the walkable sidewalk space is very narrow.  There are always a few unknowing pedestrians who walk directly underneath the pigeon latrines.  I narrowly missed becoming a target when a dazzling white drop splattered a few feet in front of my shoes.  So now, I just walk through the middle of the street, instead of risking it on the brightest sidewalk in New York.

gwbridgeBy 7:09 AM, I reach my shuttle stop on a corner outside of a McDonald’s.  The shuttle picks up every day at this corner, to drive all us Manhattan-based employees into New Jersey for work.  So at 7:10 AM, I climb into an unmarked white van and sit uncomfortably close to co-workers.  The shuttle driver weaves through West Side highway traffic, honking, cursing, and checking text messages.  One shuttle driver managed to swill a gulp of Listerine and spit it out while still navigating the road.  The passengers hide our fear by making small talk about the weather and swine flu, although more than a few can be seen with their eyes closed tightly, just hoping that it’ll all be over soon.  

 Around 7:30 AM, we turn onto the George Washington bridge, the gateway between Manhattan and the dirty Jerz.  At this time, our shuttle driver reaches for his Bible, which he keeps in a cupholder.  He holds onto the Bible for the entire length of the bridge, then puts it away once we reach the other side… about two minutes later.  Apparently divine intervention is not needed for Jersey.  But the rickety shuttle keeps us all praying.  With every lane change, I reflect on my mortality as if I were a potato-fattened pigeon: Well, I’ve lived a happy life (shuttle swerves).  My parents would be proud (car honks).  I hope they use my latest Facebook photo at my funeral (obscenities hurled).

Our shuttle finally turns into the office parking lot at 7:40 AM, discharging a group of relieved passengers and a shuttle driver with minty fresh breath.  One might question why I, along with so many others, put up with a commute filled with pigeon poo and pious shuttle drivers.  Well, having such a harrowing commute is like flying on a turbulent flight, or hanging out with Ahmadinejad.  There’s the stress once you’re there, but then the extreme exhilaration once you’ve gotten the F out.  So, once I get into the office, work is easy by comparison.  And plus, I have a muffin to look forward to.

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