The Hoboken Light Rail is an integral leg on the morning commutes of many of the Hoboken-Jersey City-New York-bound commuters who take the NJ Transit train to Hoboken. NJ Transit’s Light Rail is northern New Jersey’s halfway compromise between San Francisco's cable cars and Mumbai's local trains. It connects the Hoboken Terminus to the major parts of the greater Hoboken-Jersey City area, such as to the commercial “Mini-Manhattan” hubs of Newport and Exchange Place or to the Indian enclave of Journal Square or to the, well, shitholes of the rest of Jersey City and Hoboken.
Those living the American Dream of an eight-to-12 hour work day preceded and followed by two hour commutes are familiar faces on the 7:25am Hoboken Light Rail on the 22nd Street Line. There’s the clique of middle-aged men in suits who are always armed with this morning’s copy of The Wall Street Journal. There’s the guy who’s either so invaluable or so worthless to his company that he can and always does wear Hawaiian shirts. There’s that admittedly sketchy fellow with a black plastic briefcase who always wears wrangler jeans, a solid tucked-in button down, and a plain black baseball cap. There’s the redhead who looks like an overgrown (and overweight) toddler. There’s the woman whose snobby disposition and egregiously excessive makeup, French nails, perfume, and black (eek!) skirt-suit just screams “I’m a assistant who claims to work in ‘finance’ at parties.” There’s the clique of the Indian tech workers. And then, of course, there’s a lowly summer intern.
Over the years, these people have probably spent entire days standing or sitting together on the Light Rail, just five to 15 minutes at a time, Monday to Friday. And despite this, no one ever talks. The sketchy fellow with a black briefcase, jeans, and black baseball cap everyday pulls out the same issue of a random, no-name local newspaper to read from his briefcase (literally, the same exact issue with the same exact cover page, every day). The WSJ-subscriber clique obviously read their WSJ, sometimes taking a momentary pause to scoff at something they just read. The snobby woman checks her Blackberry.
Sometimes when one of the regular commuters hadn’t made the 7:25am Light Rail, the other regulars — well, at least that lowly intern — would pass the time by entertaining countless scenarios explaining his or her absence. Indian back office crowd isn’t here? They were probably up all night stopping the Chinese from hacking the New York Stock Exchange. One of the middle-aged WSJ readers isn’t here? He’s probably doing some “client interface” on the golf green. No Hawaiian shirt guy? He probably either got poached by a rival company or was replaced by a cheaper high school dropout.
Don’t be mistaken, though. The7:25am Light Rail commuters are a cheerful, friendly, and helpful bunch. The men are as gentlemanly and chivalrous as were the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. One morning, for instance, a new and unfamiliar woman had hopped on the 7:25am Light Rail. Her shining blonde hair, turquoise miniskirt, blue tank top, and youthful complexion made her a spectacular anomaly within this strictly business casual crowd. Nearly half-a-dozen gentlemen got up to offer her their seat. She instead chose one of the other empty two dozen seats. When she asked if this train would stop at some obscure station on the edge of Jersey City, nearly a dozen gentlemanly commuters went into a map and iPhone-checking spree to ensure the damsel was headed in the right direction! The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen of the 7:25am Light Rail had exhausted themselves saving this damsel — so much so that, a few minutes later, when an unadorned, portly, middle-aged woman came in and asked a similar question, only one gentleman could muster the strength to look at the overhead map of destinations and respond to her (it was the sketchy guy with the black briefcase and jeans).
The Hoboken Light Rail on the 22nd Street line also had a fairly scenic stretch from the Hoboken Terminus to right before its first stop. The track for this stretch was on a bridge of sorts to bypass pre-existing buildings, roads, and a small stream below. One could see most of the Hoboken Terminus’ rail yard and the NJ Transit trains constantly entering and departing Hoboken from and to places in New Jersey as exotic as Newark and Camden. Midway through this stretch, one could see, down below, a poorly maintained road lined with the symbols of late American capitalism — chain stores like Staples and BJ’s, the never-reliable Applebee's. Also midway through, one could, out ahead, see the skyline of awesome uptown Manhattan. Right below this beautiful skyline were the sparkling, greenish-brown waters of the sacred Hudson River.
The Hoboken Light Rail’s a mixed bag. On some days, it’s amazing. On other days, even for the summer intern who’s traveled on it for barely two weeks, it’s a hellhole of drudgery. But once one gets off at his or her station and starts to get yelled at by the local Light Rail station’s resident crazy homeless person, an uneventful ride on Light Rail train doesn't seem like too bad a thing after all.