Since the day I got my junior license at age 16 in the late 1950s, I have been a driving fool. If you asked me directly or just hinted, I would take you to the airport, to the beach, to Montauk or anywhere you needed to go.
Among my most memorable treks was in the late 1980s: a trip to Indiana to take a dear friend’s son to his freshman year at the University of Notre Dame. There also have been countless trips to the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing, to Shea Stadium and then Citi Field to see my beloved Mets, and to Pennsylvania and Virginia to visit my daughters.
One of my favorite destinations also has been Manhattan. I would never consider getting there any way but by car. Whether it was going to Broadway or the opera or dinner with friends and family, my means was my faithful automobile. When I reluctantly traded in my 2000 Honda Accord, it had clocked 260,000 miles and was only 7 years old!
My most frequent destination in Manhattan was the apartment of my best friend, who lived on 58th Street. For almost 50 years, I took the Queensboro Bridge, made my way to Sixth Avenue, parked in a garage and enjoyed a great visit.
Then, nearly two years ago, the unthinkable happened! My friend moved several blocks south to Chelsea. Her new apartment was only a 10-minute walk from Penn Station, the place I’d always said I wouldn’t use. Even though I was born in Queens and have lived in Dix Hills for more than 40 years, I very rarely took the Long Island Rail Road, except for an occasional show or social event at night. Now, however, pressure was being applied. Traffic is so bad and parking is expensive. I had resisted for a long time, but decided to give it a try.
On my first train ride to see my friend in the summer of 2016, my life flashed before my eyes. As we left Jamaica Station at midday, the train was moving slowly when all of a sudden I saw that we were passing the street in Richmond Hill where I lived until I was 7. I had a life-changing experience there around age 6. Two boys and I who usually played in front of our houses decided to climb to the LIRR tracks at the end of our dead-end street. Luckily, a neighbor reported our escapade to our parents, and they averted disaster by coming to get us. I remember quite vividly a very stern reprimand from my parents — and a bad case of poison ivy!
And so my life as an LIRR traveler has begun, and it has been an amazing experience! I have downloaded the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s eTix on my phone, I have met some very interesting fellow riders, and I have been treated respectfully by helpful railroad employees. I took the train especially frequently when my friend was in a Manhattan hospital and then recuperating at home.
Of course, I usually travel at off-peak times, so when I read about the chaos and delays and frustration endured by the tens of thousands of commuters who rely on the train every day, I am troubled. They struggled through the “summer of hell” during Penn Station repairs last year, and now may face more trouble because of winter track work at Penn.
I am concerned because I’m now a train-riding fool. I hate to think what Long Island would be without its railroad.
Reader Marian Russo lives in Dix Hills.