I left my Upper West Side apartment at 9:53 this morning, aiming for an M7 or M11 bus -- only to see a packed M11 pulling out of the bus stop on Columbus Avenue and 80th Street, leaving a trail of would-be passengers in its crowded wake.
The Columbus Avenue bus was my stand-in for the C train, which I normally take down to Spring Street. I had adjusted my expectations about my Wednesday commute, but even in the new reality of post-Sandy transportation it was grueling.
I had ridden my bike the 80+ blocks to work on Tuesday, which I often do -- but the return trip home, in the dark, with no streetlights, was harrowing. So I was glad to see the return of some transit.
But by 10:12 a group of us were still waiting for a downtown bus we could actually get on. I was busy both talking to people and eavesdropping (overheard at the bus stop: one man complained to his friend that he was sorry he sold his car; his friend said to him "man, you don't want to own a car in New York -- it's too expensive!")
A couple of crosstown M79s went by, comparatively empty. The crosstown bus line -- often used by people getting to subway lines on either side of Central Park -- was nowhere near as popular as the uptown/downtown ones.
"The crosstown was terrific," said woman I spoke to. Sue Breger was going from her home on East End Avenue to her office at Primary Stages, on 38th and 8th. She was one of the few sanguine commuters I spoke to. "I think we've been through worse, and I love this city," she said.
By 10:20, two M7s had come and gone, too full to pack on to. A few minutes later, two M11s followed, so crowded that people were riding in the door wells. By 10:38, I was debating the merits of bailing on Columbus with another woman, only to be told by a third person that the lines -- and gridlock -- on Broadway were no better. I considered the M10 on Central Park West and discarded it, for the simple reason that I rarely see it running on a good day.
Meanwhile, I waited. I felt like a desert island castaway, ceaselessly tracking the horizon for rescue. "I think I see an M7! I think it has room! Oh, never mind, it's too crowded."
At 11:05, I was able to push my way onto an M11.
But did I mention what Columbus Avenue looked like?
Twenty-three minutes later, I had only gone 15 blocks. Which was a walk in the park compared to a man whose personal space I was invading. Newman (as he identified himself) had been on the M11 for two hours, after boarding at 125th Street. "My shift started at 10," he said. "It's terrible." He was trying to get to his job at B&H photo on 34th Street. "I don't know why, but they're open," he said. "But that's business."
At that point, I overheard a woman talking to a friend on her cellphone. "I want to go to Dubai or Monaco," she said wistfully. "Places you go to by helicopter or Maserati."
Our unMaserati-like pace gave me plenty of time to meditate on what was slowing progress: hyper-crowded roads hampered by the dangling crane at 57th Street, which had caused street closures. Another complicating factor: Columbus Avenue turns into Ninth Avenue, which runs into...the Lincoln Tunnel, the only avenue of egress to New Jersey on Wednesday morning. And there was undoubtedly a ripple effect caused by the power outages south of 26th Street on the West Side.
By 11:40 a.m., I was only on 57th Street, and had gotten the word from my editor to return home. I made it back to my apartment, on foot, in under 30 minutes.