New York City commuter winter survival kit

Since I started working in Manhattan again a couple years ago I’ve learned a couple of things about surviving the winters on the LIRR platform. This winter in particular has been pretty lousy, temperatures below 20ºF and gusty most of the mornings for the past couple of weeks when I’m waiting for the train. Here are some of the things that have made it bearable. This is kind of a hodge-podge as a result of complete trial & error, but when fully geared I’m totally comfortable in the biting wind and snow even as others visibly shiver.

Land’s End Commuter Coat (Tall)

I have this one (apparently discontinued), but in black.

Land's End Commuter Coat

When my wife got this for me in 2012 I groaned. I was concerned that it made me look like an idiot. Well, the next time it snowed I instantly got over any reservations I might have had because this coat was heavenly. It has lots of pockets, it’s waterproof and windproof, and it’s long enough to cover my butt – actually the first coat I’ve owned that was long enough for me. The only real negative is its bulk – on the train it’s hard to squeeze in a seat wearing this thing, but I often put it in the overhead rack if it’s crowded. Also it’s REALLY warm – you can’t wear it for very long indoors.

LL Bean Fitness Fleece (Tall)


I’ve owned a lot of fleeces, and while I like the Old Navy ones, the LL Bean Fitness Fleece is my favorite. It’s warm enough to be a great layer between the commuter coat and a T-shirt but not so warm that it makes you sweat. I also like the way it looks.
LL Bean Fitness Fleece

Land’s End Men’s Squall Gloves

I’ve tried many different gloves and these are pretty good. They’re best on really cold, windy days – when you’re scraping the ice and snow off your windshield at 6 AM in the dark, these are the gloves you want. They’re comfortable (even for my XL hands), pretty much waterproof and windproof, and they have a little zipper pocket where you can insert those hand-warmer packets. And they were pretty cheap – I think $10 on sale.
Land's End Squall Gloves

Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Plus

I ended up with these boots after my previous pair of boots sprung a leak and I complained on Twitter. These are amazingly warm – definitely can’t wear them indoors for more than about 30 minutes without getting swamp feet, but they’re perfect for shoveling snow or those 8º windy days. I usually wear them with some thick Hanes crew socks for ultimate comfort. On days I wear them into the city I bring some regular sneakers along for normal wear, otherwise it’s really uncomfortable.
Columbia Bugaboot Plus XTM.
I have to add that while these boots are great, having worn them fewer than 20 times, one of the leather lace-holes ripped off completely. I could contact their CS about this but don’t want to deal with the hassle. The boots still “work” but this was a defect in a product that wasn’t used that heavily.

Chaos – CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava

My latest addition. I was pretty warm most days except for my face, which was freezing. I tried a few hats and a scarf but the scarf was too unwieldy and itchy. I realized what I really needed was a crazy ski mask. Again I was worried that this would look stupid but practicality quickly won. My main worry in buying a balaclava was finding one to fit my massive head. I took a chance and fortunately this one worked out. It’s just barely big enough – if I put it on too quickly I can hear it tearing – but it’s been wonderful. On cold windy days, now my only exposed piece of skin is around my eyes. I end up with icicles on my eyelashes but that’s a small price to pay for warmth.

Chaos -CTR Chinook Micro Fleece Balaclava

Conclusion

I don’t really know why I wrote this, maybe just as a shout out to the brands that have made this awful winter bearable. But hopefully the info contained herein is helpful to someone. Anyway, thanks for reading.

Why I love and hate Citibike

When I first heard about Citibike, I had just started working in Manhattan. I walk about ten blocks each way between Penn Station and my office on 6th Ave & West 23rd Street, which takes about 15 minutes or so, so the prospect of reducing that time was pretty appealing. Also, I should add that I just fundamentally hate walking. It’s just too slow. Before I got a car at the age of 17 I rode my bike everywhere. When I went to college I rode my bike to every class, even in 3-foot snowdrifts of a New Hampshire winter. After I took this job I looked into some folding bikes that I could actually bring with me on the train to work. That’s kind of a huge pain in the ass, plus the folding bikes start at around $700, so that wasn’t realistic for me. So I was pretty excited at the prospect of Citibike.

After it rolled out a few weeks ago, I did a 24-hour rental and rode from 33rd & 7th Ave (across from Penn) down to Broadway & 24th. It was fun and it was really quick. Actually, I didn’t save much wall time over just walking, but that was due to the time I spent getting the bike and getting used to riding a bike down 7th ave and then down Broadway, which was a bit jarring my first time. But that test was a enough for me to decide it was worth the $95 to sign up for a year.

My key came over the July 4th weekend and I’ve attempted to bike from Penn to the office every day this week, and back up to Penn in the afternoon. For the most part, I love it. The main thing I don’t love is exactly what I suspected would be the entire program’s downfall: lack of bikes where you need them, when you need them. Today’s Friday, and this is the second morning this week where there hasn’t been a single functional bike in a 5 block radius of Penn Station when I got in. On the LIRR on my way in, the Citibike app showed 12 bikes available at the 7th Ave & 31st Street station. By the time I got to street level (15 minutes later) there was only one bike in the dock and it had a red light indicating it was broken or otherwise unavailable. This was frustrating, but I checked the app and it showed there were 5 bikes available at the Broadway & 29th Street station, so I walked over there. This is kind of out of the way, but even biking 5 blocks is worth it (especially since I paid for the pass, and I like to use what I paid for). When I got there, one of the bikes was completely flat and the other four showed red lights. So even though there were 5 physical bikes there, as the app said, there were none I could get. I understand that things break, and as long as they get fixed I don’t have a problem with that, but if the dock knows the bike is broken (as evidenced by the red LED) why show it in the app?

Screenshot of the citibike app showing no bikes available between 34th&7th and 23rd&6th.
Screenshot of the citibike app showing no bikes available between 34th&7th and 23rd&6th.

After that, I just decided to walk the rest of the way since there were no other stations on my way. Maybe “hate” is too strong of a word; I still think Citibike is a great idea and I think they’ve done a great job for the most part, but none of that helps me if I can’t actually get a bike when I want one. I don’t know if there’s a solution to this, maybe they could incentivize people to drop bikes off at high-traffic sites during off-peak times so they’re available during peak times? Or maybe they just need more docks at the major hub areas. In any case, on my walk in this morning I started reconsidering buying my own folding bike.

Tall Ships – Greenport, NY – May 26, 2012

We decided to go to the Tall Ships festival in Greenport a couple of weeks ago, and I found a deal the LIRR was running where the cost of a round-trip train ticket & admission to the ships cost $10.50, whereas buying the admission ticket alone cost around $15. Plus, this way we could park in Riverhead and not have to worry about parking in Greenport during a fair. Seemed like a great idea.

We boarded the train in Riverhead at 12:15. It was double-decker train with 2 cars and a diesel engine at either end. From Riverhead, the stops are Mattituck, Southold, Greenport. The trip is about 23 miles and was supposed to take about 40 minutes. We pulled out of Southold station doing about 1 mile per hour. This is not an exaggeration; the conductor was walking alongside the train faster than we were moving. This was rather tedious. After a couple of minutes of this, we came to a dead stop, and sat there for several more minutes. Then we started moving again – backwards.

Apparently we were being shunted onto a piece of side track, pictured below:

We then sat on this piece of side track at a dead stop for about 45 minutes. When someone finally advised us what was going on, we were told that, basically, the LIRR had screwed up. Our train had 2 cars, but there was already a train at Greenport with 5 cars. There’s only a single track between Southold and Greenport, and the 5-car train was too long to let us platform at Greenport, so we had to sit on the side track waiting for the other train to come back west. For whatever reason, it was late leaving Greenport and so we were stuck. At least we had air conditioning. However, the train that was supposed to get to Greenport at 12:55 actually pulled in around 2:45, so we missed a big chunk of the Tall Ships (the last train back left Greenport at 6:11, and that one left on the dot).

As we left the train we ran into the engineer, and I said to him, “well that was fun!” and he said, “we told ’em it wasn’t going to work, but they never listen to us…”

Oh well.