Death on the Tracks

I took the 4:36p New Jersey Transit express train home today from Penn Station. It was supposed to arrive at 5:50p in Trenton. Instead, I arrived in Trenton just before 8 o’clock.

It started like a typical train ride. Tunnel, Newark, Secaucus. As we approached the New Brunswick station, though, the conductor announced that there was a fatality on the tracks at Hamilton station. I was initially confused because everyone in the car started laughing; then I realized there was a completely nude man running alongside the tracks. Bizarre turn of events, even for Jersey.

The conductor informed us that we’d be stopping indefinitely at New Brunswick until further instruction from dispatch. Everyone was slightly put off; and understandably so, their schedule was messed up. So I didn’t think too much when the guy behind me started complaining loudly that they should just clean up the mess and move on. Annoying, but you’ll always come across people like that on a train.

After about an hour, we started moving again, only to be stopped again just before Princeton. During the forty-five minutes of uninformed waiting, the guy behind me harangued Amtrak customer support on his cell phone, making it clear that someone dying wasn’t nearly as important as his hypothetical emergency. He asked for information, asked for supervisors, asked where he could send the invoice for the money Amtrak was costing him.

The train finally began moving again, but that only seemed to whet his hostility. Worse yet, I realized that he had his pre-teen son with him. Loud and clear, this boy was being taught by one of the most influential people in his life: “The death of another human being is less important than my schedule.” I couldn’t help imagine the boy with a gun to his head, thinking “My death is less important than my father’s schedule.”

A friend told me that area of the Northeast Corridor is infamous for suicides because the Amtrak trains reach their maximum speed of 140mph between Hamilton and Princeton Junction. This suicide was no exception; it was a 140mph mess. They wouldn’t even let us stop at those stations because of it.

“Good thing she’s dead or else I would have killed her,” the guy behind me proclaimed to his son and the rest of the car.

As we approached the gruesome scene, he merrily told his boy to move to the window so they could “finally see what caused the hold up”. With their foreheads against the glass, he hugged his son and stroked his hair as they waited for the payoff: the guts of the inconvenience. He cheered and took a picture when he saw whatever it was—I wasn’t looking.

And I couldn’t take it any more. I stood up and told him that he was a disgrace and that I pitied his son. I turned to leave the car and he shouted: “Oh yeah, well what’s that make you?”

Someone who doesn’t revel in the death of another human being.