On Commuting

Living in Pleasantville, New York, meant commuting to work via The New York Central Railroad to Grand Central Station six days a week.

It was not unusual in the late ‘40s to work on Saturdays.

American Artist Magazine, where I was then Graphics Editor, was located on Forty-First Street, with Bryant Park and The New York Public Library as neighbors.

It was a convenient short walk from the station.

One Friday, having closed the next issue, I had nothing of significance on my desk, so decided to skip the Saturday routine and head for Bear Mountain for the week-end. It had snowed that week and the ski slopes were reported to be in top shape.

My wife and I headed out early on Saturday, checked into the lodge, and a message was handed to me.

“Call the office.”

I did. It was Mr. Watson, the publisher. He was a kindly, gentle, talented artist, formerly a teacher at Pratt Institute and, as it turned out, my mentor for many years.

But this was early in my career, and, in his usual, quiet, very polite manner, he informed me that, were I to repeat this unauthorized absence, I would have to leave the company.

I heard no more of the incident, but a month later the company dropped the Saturday work day.

At that time the railroad was still using steam locomotives to haul the commuter cars. The soot-spewing, chugging, antique behemoths, after pulling their complement of cars from the northerly communities into North White Plains, were unhooked and replaced with more refined, cleaner, quieter but characterless diesel-electric engines for the remaining trip into the City.

There was romance in the sounds of the high-pitched signal as the steam locomotive approached the Pleasantville station from the north. The clatter of the wheels, the shrill whistle when releasing air in braking, the steam spouting from the intricate piping and the heart-beat, slow thump, thump, thump, thump of the resting engine gave the elephantine black metal hull an aura of a living thing.

But the romance ended with the trip itself. It helped to have The New York Times or similar reading matter bought at the station along with the paper cup of hot coffee. Very few contemplated the bucolic passing rural scenery after their first few trips.


And I was one of them.

Edwin B. Kolsby
Southbury, CT © 2015

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