More fun travelling through storms yesterday. I got on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR)train at Rockville Centre just as the Nor’Easter Athena(apparently they name them now as well) was in full force. The train which was already 10 minutes late, did not leave the station right away. As I moved to a seat closer to the front of the train, pausing near the open doors, a woman in a seat nearby commented on the train’s status. Realizing this could end up being a long and boring trip, I sat in a seat nearby and continued our conversation.
The woman was reading updates on her phone and was kind enough to share them with me. What she was reading was that the LIRR was temporarily suspended due to overcrowding at Penn Station. When we began to move, and the conductor came by to collect our tickets, she asked him if this train would be remaining in service. He jokingly replied, “when I told them you were on the train they had no choice but to continue the service”. At first I thought the conductor was just being flirtatious, the woman was definitely flirt-worthy, but then he asked me if I knew who the woman was. He told me she was a reporter for NBC 4 in New York, at which point she introduced herself to me as Pei-Sze Cheng. I shamefully confessed that I do not generally watch NBC which caused her to inquisitively ask me why. A word of advice. If you ever meet a reporter, don’t tell them you don’t watch their station. There really is no good answer.
Although nothing she told me was particularly private, I will still give her that basic respect and not recount everything that she did tell me. I will say that I was somewhat taken aback by how down to earth and pleasant this woman was. We spoke of the storm, some of the issues facing the city, and debated as to what was the best way to make into Manhattan. At this point nothing was certain because we were stuck outside Jamaica station for a solid 15 minutes and still seeing reports of system-wide suspensions. When I commented on how we are the lucky ones, she smiled sincerely and said something along the lines of how we certainly need to constantly remind ourselves of that fact no matter how frustrating or inconvenient things become.
After 2 1/2 hours in transit I finally made it home. My encounter with a local celebrity just another result of one of the strangest times I’ve experienced during my time in New York. This would almost be fun if not for the fact that for so many people yesterday’s storm was a lot more than a delay on a train. For so many others it provided the challenge of finding enough food and shelter to survive another day.
I could not have written the book Jew Face without a basic appreciation and empathy for what my parents’ experienced between 1940 and 1945. These past few weeks in New York put things in an even clearer perspective. Imagine a 5 year period of, at best, uncertainty. Imagine not knowing where you are going to sleep, if you are going to eat, and what natural elements will cause you even greater obstacles to finding life’s most basic needs. And oh yes, add to this the fact that your life is constantly threatened by the most hostile enemy imaginable, and you have their life over those 5 years.
I want to thank Pei-Sze Cheng for the short and pleasant company and acknowledge her wonderful perspective on the situation. More importantly, I know we all hope that those suffering today get relief soon and have the opportunity to rebuild their lives with safety, dignity and a secure future.