What I Learned from My “Worst Commute” Award

Jennifer Tang, Assistant Professor
Library

 

Since I won the “Worst Commute Award” from the Riders Alliance, I’ve been interviewed by Reuters, the New York Times, the New York Post, WNYC and a Canadian radio station. I was quoted by WABC Eyewitness News, NPR, amNewYork, and all the Brooklyn and Queens papers. My interviews were translated and appeared in the UK, Latin America, China, and Nigeria. In terms of television, I was a guest on “Mornings at 1,” a NY1-sponsored talk show, and CBS sent a camera crew to Hostos, where I was filmed chatting with the reporter outside the 149th Street and Grand Concourse station.

The media onslaught has been surreal. I can’t believe I’ve gotten more attention for a few lines of text than I did for several peer-reviewed articles, including one for Newsweek.

When I entered the contest a few weeks ago, I never imagined I’d win. Having had many stressful experiences on the subway, I laughed when I heard about the contest. I quickly sent in a few lines describing my nightmare commute on Jan. 20.  That day, I boarded the R train at 59th St and Lexington Avenue, expecting to get home (Forest Hills) in 30 minutes. Instead, the train suffered a power outage as it approached my station and I was stuck in the tunnel for nearly two hours. What was particularly painful about this experience was that I was so close to home when I got trapped. That, and the fact that I needed to use the restroom, were two details that apparently made the Alliance decide that my commute, hands down, was the worst.

I received my actual award in the mail – a chocolate bar shaped like a Metrocard. I have to say, however, that the media attention was the best prize of all. My only regret is that my two book projects aren’t yet ready for publication and couldn’t benefit from all the free publicity. However, I’m getting tons of practice for future book tours: talking to reporters, mastering the sound bite, and learning how to look natural and composed on television.

My friends’ and colleagues’ reaction to my award was quite amusing. This is perhaps the only award where “Congratulations!” is immediately followed by “I’m so sorry this happened to you.” It’s like winning an award for having the highest blood pressure. “Lucky you, you might get a stroke.”

The best lesson I took away from all of this, however, is that your voice counts. Never underestimate the power of one person’s opinion. For years I had suffered in silence from the crumbling subway system and felt no one (except my husband and cat) was listening. When I won, I was gratified that someone had acknowledged my pain and actually empathized with me. Since my new-found celebrity, countless people have come up to me and said, “I feel your pain.”

As they say, no man is an island and the more you are willing to speak out, the more you will find and connect with others who share your concerns and are eager to work with you to make the world a better place. It’s a powerful lesson, and one that I hope to share with my students and the rest of the Hostos community.

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