A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

For several summers of my young life, I commuted to Manhattan every day on the Metro-North Railroad. I was just a teen with a dream, an internship, and a closet full of office-inappropriate clothing, at least a decade younger than most of my fellow riders. And yet, despite the fact that I was still only pretending to know how to use the fax machine at my job, I somehow instinctively understood the unspoken code of the MNR commuter:

  • Don’t speak above a murmur.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone for longer than it takes to complete the “Hi, my train gets in at 6:32” conversation with your ride.
  • Don’t blast music through your headphones.
  • Don’t be that pest who skooches into the middle seat of a three-seater unless you have absolutely no other alternative.

At the time, I noticed very few in opposition of these rules. It was rare to encounter someone blathering away on a phone or screaming some idiotic story to a neighbor. With the exception of a couple of visibly mentally ill people, folks were on the same page overall. It’s how I, as a doe-eyed newcomer, was able to catch onto the rules so quickly.

I don’t know how you want to explain the more recent willingness to disrupt the Commuters’ Peace Treaty. Perhaps it’s due to the overwhelming prevalence of cell phones now as compared to ten or twelve years ago. Perhaps people are more stressed out and therefore drinking too much pre-7 p.m. Perhaps more extremely well-educated young women who went to very excellent colleges are learning to speak their minds. Perhaps our entire society has simply crumbled, and selfish, antisocial behavior prevails over basic human decency. Perhaps people are just dumber! Perhaps all of these things, or none. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the MTA caught up with the times and is now designating an enforced “quiet car” on trains during peak hours. The rules are:

  • Do not use cell phones.
  • Disable sound features on computers & other electronic devices.
  • Conduct conversations in a subdued voice.
  • Use headphones at a volume that cannot be heard by fellow passengers.
Hmmm. Those look familiar! I mean, overlooking the fact that these rules were supposed to apply to the entire train at one point in time, this is pretty good. Now they’ll just have to deal with extreme quiet car overcrowding, and possible mayhem breaking out in all the other cars. Because it isn’t long before someone makes the connection that if one car is quiet, the others must therefore be loud.
I foresee a sensational crop of iPhone-shot YouTube videos coming.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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