Silhouetted Passengers on Suspended Passages

LIRR Jamaica
The overpass at LIRR Jamaica station
New York's best-known commuter hubs, Grand Central and Penn Station, may be the ultimate spots to observe and be overwhelmed by the number of people hurrying in every possible direction, the human flow patterns, the looks of urgency and concern about time, and the diversity of the commuters and travelers themselves.

Yet, however paradoxical, these are the least likely places to consider a  link with any single person— or even think of these streams of live movement as anything but a potential hazard, were you unwise enough to impede their flow in any way.

Logistics, observation, and identification is further hindered by the eye-level interaction, with a multiplier effect if you happen to be under 7 feet tall. Despite the sheer numbers, an inquisitive nature can never be satisfied at these mass crossings of people, stories waiting to be told or imagined, pressing time, constrained space, and hurried circumstance.

Look up, there's a story there

But all is not lost for storytelling purposes in the labyrinths of New York City's insanely busy commuter network. A short ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road brings us to the less glamorous, unsophisticated by Manhattan standards, and in severe need of a serious facelift Jamaica Station in Queens.

Here is the third busiest transfer point on the city's transit network, with links to the subway system, all trains to the suburbia of Long Island, and the amazing little train to JFK International Airport.

And what else?
An overpass, of course!


Jamaica LIRR station
Silhouettes moving in and out of glass panes

passenger overpass Jamaica LIRR
Commuter silhouette, no heavy luggage here
commuters Jamaica NY
Crossing paths

As the LIRR tracks are lined almost at street level and the mere antiquity of the infrastructure necessitated additions to the station through time, it has unintentionally— but effectively— become an ideal people-watching and story-spinning spot.

This preoccupation is a pleasant diversion to hearing for the nth time that the 4:11 train to Ronkonkoma is operating on time. The announcement may be soothing for those traveling to that destination, but useless and annoying if you've been stood up by your Babylon-bound train— which was also expected to arrive on time.

passenger Jamaica station
Rolling the load across the passage

Babylon Revisited

Speaking of Babylon, it is almost impossible for the tortuous mind not to make a vague but honest connection to the Babylon (or Babel) of biblical fame. For here, in New York's most diversely and heavily immigrant-populated borough, the annoying p.a. system announcement is often the only English heard.

An amazing mix of tongues, pitches, accents, sounds, talking speeds, and words accompanied by gestures for validation and corroboration unfolds the massive collage of cultures that is unique to New York.

The Babylon train is still not in sight. But any annoyance is quashed for a while as the eye wanders upwards to the suspended overpass and the silhouettes that change places between the dusted glass panes and the clearing. Then, the story-spinning becomes more urgent, more important than the delayed train.

travelers and commuters
Crossing to the sound of music

Travelers and trains

Each of these figures crossing paths without exchanging glances has a purpose, a destination, a thought in their head. Some carry a heavier load than others, be it on their backs, on wheels, or in their minds.

Their urgency may be confined to getting to class on time, making it to a first date, a business meeting, an interview, or to the departing gate for a flight to a sun-drenched paradise.

Framed against the chunk of sky visible through the glass, they too seem as suspended as the clouds or the tiny bridge they are crossing, as if their movement is frozen for a second or two. But that is long enough to tell their story to anyone interested. It is certainly enough time to tell it to the camera, unaware of its presence as they may be.

And then, the delayed, though "operating on time,"  train to Babylon arrives and the story-spinning itself must be suspended—but only till next time.

As long as there are trains, time, and travelers, there will always be stories to guess, to conjure, to tell or not tell, to write about, or to forget.

Today it is the conductor's car that stops in front of me and his apologetic smile wipes out any thought of voicing a complaint about the delay—not in English that is! On the Babylon train, I feel free to say a few appropriate words in my mother tongue.

After all, it's all Greek to him!

Jamaica LIRR station
Coming or going? Does it really matter?