Matthew Hickerson and his eldest daughter, Sarah, commute together on...

Matthew Hickerson and his eldest daughter, Sarah, commute together on the Long Island Rail Road in June 2019.  Credit: Hickerson Family Photo

When I left my midtown office on the evening of March 12, 2020, I said good night to the security guard at the front desk and muttered something about not being sure when I would see him again. Now, two years later, I have been back to the office exactly once since then.

That has meant that, after more than 25 years of commuting to work on the Long Island Rail Road, I’ve been on a two-year forced LIRR respite. And I don’t mind it one bit.

I’ve never been one of those full-time LIRR haters — too much negative energy. If you have to do it every day, you better come to grips with the commute or it will drive you crazy.

On its best days, the LIRR can be tolerable. My train is normally waiting at Huntington Station when I arrive, and a seat is easy to find. I crack open my iPad and read the daily newspapers, sipping coffee. An hour later, I arrive at Penn Station, escape as fast as I can and make the short, 15-minute walk to the office.

On other days, the ride presents challenges: loud talkers and phone conversations, smelly egg sandwiches, tasks normally reserved for one’s home done right out in public (toenail clipping, makeup applications and worse), bare feet on seats, drunken and disorderly passengers, and other bad behaviors that fail to acknowledge the presence of other humans.

And at its worst, one must deal with breakdowns and "signal troubles" that cause hours of delays, the ever-unhelpful LIRR announcements that provide no clear directions to get home, and the always-fun, overcrowded Penn Station.

Ah, Penn Station. Let’s not forget that part of the commute. I’ve seen many ups and downs of its physical state, including lack of heating and cooling and rampant homelessness. Its present condition is the worst in my memory. Construction has rendered it even more cramped and claustrophobic. Penn Station is an embarrassment to New York City. I suppose someday it will finally improve, but that’s not likely during my commuting days.

Expressway essay reader Matthew Hickerson, who wrote about the end...

Expressway essay reader Matthew Hickerson, who wrote about the end of daily trips on the LIRR. Credit: CFA Institute Photo

And the LIRR’s plans to go into Grand Central Station? Maybe it will finally occur in 2022. And don’t be fooled by the cheery stories about the new Moynihan Train Hall. It’s done almost nothing for LIRR commuters.

Without the LIRR commute, I’ve regained three hours every workday. I can ease into my work at home after getting in some exercise. I did so much during the pandemic, I ended up in physical therapy after overdoing the rowing machine -- and my dog, Lilah, a chocolate Lab, now limps from so much walking. But when I close my laptop at the end of the day, that’s it. I’m already home.

I realize how fortunate I am to have been able to stop riding the LIRR and work from home with little interruption or risk to my health. My admiration goes to everyone who had no choice and had to still travel to work during this pandemic.

When life returns to "normal," I will no longer be a daily LIRR commuter. My employer has been gracious and flexible in its approach; mostly remote working will be the new reality. For me, that means I am done with the daily commuting grind and LIRR monthly tickets (at more than $350 a month, no less). So when I get down about the state of the world because of the pandemic, I remind myself: You do not have to ride the LIRR today. And that’s a big upside.

Reader Matthew Hickerson lives in Huntington.

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