Learning to Love the Lincoln Tunnel on a Daily Commuter Basis

By Anthony Buccino

The great leveler in using the one and a half mile long, 13-feet tall, 21.5-feet wide Lincoln Tunnel is getting there. After you've bucked it all, you find the congested helix. ... you could arrive here at 3 a.m. on Easter morning and there would be a wait to pay your toll ...

The fire extinguishers in the Lincoln Tunnel are numbered. You can read them in the ambient light as your bus moves sloth-ly through the morning rush hour bubble of congestion. Or in the slow parade of buses on your way back to the sweet pace of New Jersey heading home through who-knows-what kind of traffic.

View of Manhattan from Lincoln Tunnel helilx - photo by Anthony Buccino

Makes you wonder why there's no bus lane out of the big city, doesn't it?

We didn't build the tunnel but it sure makes it a lot easier to go under the river to the other side.

As a hapless commuter high up in a tall bus you can look down at car drivers and see how they grip the wheel when driving through the Lincoln Tunnel.

Some drivers use one finger, (no, not that one), some a clenched fist. Some drivers are hands free when we are going nowhere fast in that long, dreary cavern. Their windows are rolled up tight against the fumes that gather here and must be sucked out through huge ventilating towers to the outside air above the Hudson River overhead.

Strange, but it seems that cell phones work even here, under the earth, away from cell towers. Either that, or a lot more people are talking to themselves than we ever suspected.

We've seen the DeCamp buses with their "no cell phone" signs. NJ Transit hasn't gone that far yet.

Inside the Lincoln Tunnel - photo by Anthony Buccino

One of the scariest things about traveling on a commuter bus through the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning rush hour is the traffic despite the fact we aren't driving.

Approaching from Lyndhurst on Route Three eastbound, the buses veer onto the NJ Turnpike where a special lane is set up to bring inbound buses onto the westbound portion of the highway. There, a buses-only lane sometimes speeds the commuter traffic through the tube to the Port Authority bus terminal a hop, skip and jump from the city-side exit.

When you look out one side of the bus, the traffic is moving in your direction, but it is on the far side of a concrete Jersey barrier. Look out the other side and the oncoming traffic is merely a whistle and a prayer away. Makes you wonder how many rearview mirrors end up cracked from the pressure of reverse direction mirrors.

The great leveler in using the one and a half mile long, 13-feet tall, 21.5-feet wide Lincoln Tunnel is getting there. After you've bucked it all, you find the congested helix. We have strong suspicions you could arrive here at 3 a.m. on Easter morning and there would be a wait to pay your tolls and travel through the tubes.

From the first time we traipsed through the Lincoln Tunnel in 1963 to see Charade, starring Cary Grant, at Radio City Music Hall (it was a reward for kids who sold the most Christmas cards at school,) we all drew silent as we approached that famous marking somewhere under the Hudson River where it says New Jersey and New York on the other side. We kids were thrilled and excited that now we were in New York, another state.

Well, nowadays, as we hapless commuters dream of other times while our bus hums through the claustrophobic tunnel, we're not so excited at the famous demarcation. You might be surprised at the end of our trip how many passengers have a kind word to say to our professional drivers who daily take us safely through one of the most harrowing drives on the East Coast.

Maybe on Friday morning, every Friday morning, when your bus pulls into Port Authority, how about, just before the first passenger takes that step to steady land, how about a spontaneous round of applause for the driver. Here. Here.

First published on NJ/Voices August 12, 2009

Adapted from: This Seat Taken? Notes of a Hapless Commuter

Copyright © 2009-2014 By Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved.

This Seat Taken? Notes of a hapless commuter, by Anthony Buccino

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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards. The Pushcart Prize-nominated writer has been called ' “New Jersey’s ‘Garrison Keillor” or something to that effect.’

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