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Expressway: Our friendly group on the 7:55 from Little Neck

Tony Smolenski visits Speonk station in summer 2014.

Tony Smolenski visits Speonk station in summer 2014. Photo Credit: Susan Smolenski

I have probably spent a total of two to three days of my life waiting for Speonk.

As an LIRR commuter I faithfully took the 7:55 a.m. train, ninth car, from Little Neck into Penn Station for more than 25 years.

Many times we paused before entering the East River tunnel. A conductor told us we were "waiting for the Speonk train to clear."

When you ride the railroad for so many years, those little 5- to 10-minute delays add up. We usually stopped in front of what is now a church but was an industrial laundry at one time.

Once retired, I had to satisfy my curiosity and actually visit the Speonk station. As far as I'm concerned, anything that far east is halfway to London. My wife and I drove out one day and found it tucked away, south of Sunrise Highway. The station was a lot smaller than the Little Neck station.

The 2-hour one-way commute from Speonk, often with a transfer at Babylon or Jamaica, made my 30-minute ride seem like nothing.

I asked myself, were the five or 10 minutes a day I waited for the Speonk train to pass worth it? It seems strange to say, but yes they were.

So how were those cumulative two-plus days spent? I met some wonderful people and over time we formed our own little group with a constantly changing cast.

At first I met Hal and Teresa. Then Hal left and she and I were the nucleus. By my count, 12 different people floated in and out of our little group over the course of my 14 years as a member. A few lost jobs, some got married, others moved or took new jobs. At one stage, my wife, Susan, took a job in the city and joined us. Some stayed only a year or two, although when I retired this past June, Teresa, Jeff and Mary Anne were still together. We enjoyed our time on the train so much that we socialized -- and some of us will even see the majority of our group for dinner this Saturday at a local Italian restaurant.

During those commutes, there were newspaper crosswords with Hal, who was always better than me and was conveniently there for me to cheat off on the tough Friday puzzles. Discussions basically concerned the mundane, exciting and depressing events of life -- a son's driving lessons, grandchildren, doctor's appointments, buying vacation homes, travel, baseball trivia, and unfortunately, jobs in jeopardy and sometimes lost. Politics rarely came up.

While the railroad had its drawbacks, the few times I drove into my Manhattan office, it took about the same time with a place to park. Driving would have prevented my doing crosswords and learning valuable information, such the fact that an "agora" was an ancient Greek meeting place.

I've read about the railroad's impending track work and two years of delays. I heartily suggest getting a group together that you can share your commutes with. You're there together for an extended period, so why not make the best of it?


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