Dispatches From My Commute

This, I think, would be a great photo for a Jersey City postcard.

I recently accepted a job at New Jersey City University (Motto: Please Notice Us!). For the past eight months, I’ve been commuting to Jersey City.

Or, to put it another way, for the past eight months I have been in eight jillion traffic jams.

As I sit there, stuck in the No Man’s Land between Newark Airport and the Pulaski Skyway (closed for repairs, apparently forever), I contemplate my surroundings.


On Route 9 there is a billboard that says “God Exists.” I wonder who this message is meant for.

I don’t think I’m the intended audience. I already agree with the sentiment, so I don’t get any new information from the message.

But I can’t imagine the message is for an atheist, either. I doubt a nonbeliever would read a billboard about God and think “I’m convinced!”

After much consideration, I’ve decided that the billboard is meant for people who are religious but forgetful. It’s easy to forget God exists on Route 9.


The closer I get to Jersey City, the denser the graffiti becomes. Most of it consists of mindless scribbles or gangland signs, but one effort never fails to catch my eye. Spray painted upon the wall of an abandoned factory is the sentiment “VEW DISTO.”

I have no idea what VEW DISTO means, but that doesn’t matter; it’s the presentation that gets me. The words are written in fiery, jagged letters. The composition is superb. The color choices are striking and effective. I am also dazzled by how huge it is; VEW DISTO is at least 40 feet long and 20 feet high. Its creation took time—and required ladders. That’s a degree of ambition not often found upon the walls of abandoned factories.

I wonder if there is a way that artist could give lessons to other vandals. Higher-quality graffiti wouldn’t make Jersey City less ugly, exactly, but it would make Jersey City more interesting.


Last week I watched a car slam into the rear end of a tow truck, which, as far as car accidents go, is pretty convenient.


I always hit a bottleneck in South Kearny. It is near a prison, and every morning I can see the inmates play pickup games of basketball and soccer in the yard. As I watch them, I think, “Convicted felons are having a better morning than I am.”


I complain, but sitting in traffic does allow my mind to wander in productive ways. I often come up with creative ideas for children’s book stories, which is wonderful. But no matter how inspired I become, I always return to the same thought: I really need to pee.

72 Replies to “Dispatches From My Commute”

  1. Mike, Congrats on the job! Sorry about the commute. At least you get some quiet time to mull over new kids stories, e.g., How to Escape from Jail, Route 9, or Both, etc. (Could even be a sequel.)

  2. Last week I watched a car slam into the rear end of a tow truck, which, as far as car accidents go, is pretty convenient. <-snorted coffee out my nose. Thanks for that!!

    My commute is 26 miles every morning and every night. Through road construction because, as you know, in Wisconsin there are two seasons: 7 months of winter and 5 months of road construction.

    However, I make the most of my commute by CRANKING MY STEREO IN MY CAR AND SINGING ALONG TO celine dion, rascal flatts, Glee, John Legend's "all of me", Whitney Houston, Gatlin brothers, THE EAGLES!!! and other misc people.

    Life is good.

  3. It is a great test for learning patience and enjoying being with yourself. Using your imagination is a great idea for coming up with story ideas. Think you have this handled, whether you want to or not. Fun post.

  4. I stayed in Jersey for BookCon and I vowed to never, ever, ever try to drive in the area. Much sympathy for your pain.

    (Also, I’m sure you know this, but audiobooks and podcasts make commutes infinitely better!)

  5. These days, I commute from NYC to NJ several times a week. I take a bus, Mike. So much easier to leave the driving to someone else! And I still get time to amuse myself. 😉 xoxoM

    1. I thought about public transit, but I didn’t want to be at the mercy of another vehicle’s schedule. Also, I probably wouldn’t get such a good view of the prison.

      So! What brings you to NJ so often?

  6. Great lemonade you’ve made with this post! Used to be, my husband and I would drive down to Seattle every six months just to remind ourselves why we don’t drive down to Seattle. Now only a medical emergency (or the prevention thereof) will induce me to venture there. I do appreciate the capacity for lemonade-making, but I also can’t help thinking … isn’t there a better way? And if not, why not?!? (I don’t mean for you personally — I mean for us as a society!) (P.S. If you ever get a gig eating waffles and need a sub, let me know.)

    1. This commute of mine is especially jarring as I previously worked out of my house.

      As for the waffle-eating thing, I have yet to receive a job offer. But you seem really nice, Virginia. If I ever get such a job, I will bring you on as my business partner. How’s that sound?

  7. My commute is prolonged by at least an extra 3 minutes since they are finally fixing the bridge which means I am at the mercy of not one but two train tracks and possible train crossings and being A line double tracks, this could mean at least an extra ten minutes of waiting. Sheesh–some days my commute is a jarring 12 minutes.
    Seriously–I could not endure the highway to double hockey sticks thingy you’re doing. You must really, really like this new gig, Mr. Mike.

      1. Tease? I was trying to commiserate. I have been known to spontaneously combust in traffic jams. A ten minute commute is all I can handle. You obviously have a quantum more tenacity than I. Is this the new job that required you to assemble an office?

      2. My apologies. I thought your 12-minute commute line was a smug boast.

        And, yes, this is the job where I was presented with an empty room and asked to put out a magazine.

  8. It’s your fault! I’m sitting here in CA (visiting and soon ordering sprout pizza) sipping a cup of tea and reading your new post and suddenly get hit with a burst of laughter that has now spread lemony tea all over my laptop.
    Thanks a lot.
    You have the kind of sense of humor that tickles my funny bone in all the right places. Humor-driven angst. Hits the spot every time. I know EXACTLY where you’re talking about. I’ve been making trips from NE to DE to visit my mom, and I get diverted by my GPS to these places. I think she (my gps narrator, Suzie) just wants me to see the graffiti.

    1. Making people do spit takes is one of my favorite things. Especially when you spit on a sprouty pizza. (In future, please keep a slice nearby before reading my posts.)

      And hold on; you’re going to DE without stopping in NJ on the way to pay me a visit? For shame!

  9. I also commute into Jersey City, so I feel your pain (coming from Route 3 though). The worst part is the unfairness of people that use an exit lane or the shoulder to cut in front of a 15 minute backup (maybe they all have a genuine emergency though). At least there are some interesting murals/street art along 1&9. I also mean to take photos some day.

  10. These were all great. Way to make use of the rambling musings of your mind. This one was my favorite: Last week I watched a car slam into the rear end of a tow truck, which, as far as car accidents go, is pretty convenient.
    And please remember to pee before you leave work next time.

  11. I totally get how “it’s easy to forget God exists on Route 9”. Here we call it the 401. It is some kind of hell! So bad that they have created a TV show about it. It’s called, “Heavy Rescue: 401”. We don’t even get to look at cool graffiti on that one.

  12. I don’t think I could handle it, Mike. Where I live, I can drive for an hour and not pass one single car. Of course, you can also disappear over the edge of the road and never be found. 😀

  13. Ugh! Worst thing ever. Going slow and being trapped in traffic. If I plan on it being that way, it does help.
    Had to laugh at envying the prisoners. In that moment, it does seem like they are the ones who have it made.

    Also had to giggle at everyone telling you to use the bathroom before you leave for work. Maybe one of those portable urinals.

    And VEW DISTO? https://www.pinterest.com/pin/474918723189929151/
    Is this what it looks like?
    I sometimes use the commute time to pray. So the God billboard would be a reminder for that. :-))
    Loved the post Mike!

  14. Your post makes a argument for good public transportation! Hey, I just wrote an email commending you for the great looking magazine in my mailbox this week. Which I would have said even without the yuuuge box of me in it. Hope you are well and not having a bad commute.

    1. Oh, Lois, it was such a pleasure to write about you in the last issue of NJCU Magazine. I’m also glad to hear you liked the issue as a whole.

      My commute has much improved, but I don’t think you’ll be happy to hear why. I have, with a little bitteresweetness, decided to say goodbye to NJCU and return to freelance writing. It’s a much better fit for me. So my commute is now a single flight of stairs, which I can manage even without my morning cuppa coffee.

  15. I’ve read ahead and I know this job is now toast, which I think is great because the traffic would have killed my spirit – glad it didn’t kill yours and you could see the humor in a car vs. tow truck accident. This is why I’ll never leave Maine. Traffic.

      1. It is a lovely place, Mike. We keep the population down with dreadful winters, which I praise God for, since it keeps our traffic jams to a minimum. Southern Maine is more like the ‘big city’ and it’s fun to visit but where I live in Eastern Maine it is the best! I’m 45 minutes from the ocean, live on a tidal river that is gorgeous, and have all the amenities. I’ve got a spare bedroom. You and Ellen can come visit anytime! Well, except for when the grandsons are here. They get very cranky when we give ‘their’ room away.

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