Desperate NYC workers using LIRR, cars as quiet and cheap office spaces
Muriel Soenens calls the Long Island Rail Road her “WeWork on wheels.”
Every morning, the documentary film producer and director packs herself snacks in “a bag full of Tupperware,” walks the four minutes from her Clinton Hill home to Atlantic Terminal and hops aboard the LIRR to either Amagansett or East Hampton. On the train, the mom of two teenage sons gets eight hours of uninterrupted work time — except for a 15-minute train transfer and bathroom break at Jamaica Station.
Forget taking important calls from the bathroom, or hunkering down in a closet wearing noise-canceling headphones. For some industrious New Yorkers, working remotely during the pandemic has become just another thing to “hack,” another unanticipated obstacle to craftily overcome. And after months of experimenting, they’re finally figuring it out.
“My kids think it’s kind of weird that I go to the end of the LIRR line and then turn around and come right back, but the train is an impenetrable bubble,” Soenens said, stressing that she only rides at non-rush hour times when it isn’t packed. “There’s no laundry, no meals to make and no way to procrastinate.”
She said the $42 fare is worth it, because that’s the same amount of money she would spend working at a coffee shop all day — which isn’t an option right now.
“If you buy four coffees and a salad, it’s the same price as two LIRR tickets,” she said. Plus, “it’s cheaper than a hotel room.”
With co-working spaces mostly closed and nary an eat-in cafe or hotel lobby available, other New Yorkers are taking things outside.
Upper West Sider David Gold, who runs a nonprofit called Democratism, has been schlepping a Bluetooth keyboard, chair and breakfast-in-bed snack table to Central Park and working there alongside his wife since the beginning of the summer. It was delightful — until winter hit.
“When it started getting cold, we bundled up,” Gold said. “But by late November our fingers were too cold to type.”
They researched ways to weatherproof their outdoor office, but found that hauling any kind of shelter or structure to the park was problematic.
“We wanted to use one of those bubbles some of the restaurants have, but it turns out they’re not allowed in the park,” Gold said, adding that he’s now trying to winterize his beach chairs.
Braving the cold is often the best option for those trying to escape their apartments. Jackie Shapiro, founder of houseware brand French Bull, met with a textile designer colleague on the roof of a building on Union Square.
“It had been a long time since we had a face-to-face,” said Shapiro. Both sick of virtual tête-à-têtes, they “agreed to give the freezing cold meeting a try.”
It didn’t feel as strange as it initially sounded, Shapiro said. “We would never have done this before, but we’re here, so I say let’s embrace it.”
Even using your car as your corporate headquarters, which a year ago would have seemed positively crazy, has now become the go-to for some, including Tali Gillette, a jewelry designer and owner of Tali Gillette Fine Jewelry.
“My car is like my private library and spa all at once,” says the Riverdale resident, who estimates that without an office to go to, she spends about five hours a day in her Subaru Forester. “I sip coffee and people watch and feel like I can be part of the city, but I can also keep safe behind glass windows.”
It’s efficient, too.
“I drive around the Diamond District and my vendors meet me outside,” she said of her trips to Midtown.
There’s only one issue with her COVID bubble-on-wheels: “I just got a ticket because I stepped out of my car for a second,” Gillette said.
As for Soenens, she’s become so addicted to her work-from-train days that she’s considering exploring new train lines.
“My next new MTA route will be to ride along the Hudson River to Dia Beacon and back,” she said.