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Commentary: Morning Train

By John McClester

Buffalo, NY – It was Saturday morning and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority subway train was sitting at the end of the line - University Station, the stop where I get on. Detractors of Buffalo's little shuttle subway, of which there are many, call it the subway to nowhere. I wonder how many more miles of track would have to be laid to what destination for those people to think the subway went somewhere?

A man slouching in the seat in front of me sat up, grinned broadly, and shook his head. "Wheeyoo. I fell asleep. Man, good thing I was on this train. On the bus I be waking up out in the Tonawandas somewhere. My, my, yes. Thank you Jesus for the train that goes back and forth."

The man's gratefulness made me think of my own for this little train that runs back and forth. I walk ten minutes to the subway station, ride the train seven stops, about 4 1/2 miles, to where I get off and walk 25 minutes to work. I did this for the first time last December when I was having car trouble. It took me 49 minutes and a dollar and a quarter one way. Then it was an alternative, my back-up to a car in the shop. Now I save money leaving my car parked in the garage.

I suppose like many Americans I am first and foremost a consumer and in my attempt to be wily in my consumption I have traded driving my car back and forth for riding the subway train. I have worked it out that whenever gas prices are higher than $2.75 a gallon I save money taking the train and walking. No, I have never counted out my daily steps or marched around the mall in laps but I am aware walking is good for me. I have come to believe that I arrive at work calmer and with more energy when I take the train and walk than when I drive.

Admitting all this, there is still something else about riding the morning train.

Taking the subway, walking, leaving my car behind I am Whitmanized:

"I have heard what the talkers were talking..."

"Trippers and askers surround me..." "I am old and I am young, of the foolish as much as the wise..."

"I am a free companion..."

Leaving behind the trumped up power of my own personal vehicle I turn into Kerouac on the road seeing:

"The beatest characters in the country swarmed on the sidewalks..."

"Wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm..."

Without that automobile that was supposed to take me anywhere I wanted to go I listen to unrecorded harmonies, walk through scenes that will never be filmed, smell unconditioned air, run my hands along the stitched-up seams of life re-upholstered for the umpteenth time and just as good as new.

On the morning train I am always riding home.

Listener-Commentator John McClester lives and works in Buffalo. Click the "listen" icon above to hear the commentary now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.