Unattended Bags Are Still Scary

On every NJTransit train, there are posters that urge passengers to report anything suspicious that they see on the trains.

Apparently, I’m not one of these passengers. When catching a train at Penn Station, I’m always caught between wanting to sit down for the twelve minute ride to Secaucus and simply standing up at the doors. (These are among the banal questions that run through my head on a daily basis.) But on one particular Wednesday, the train was emptier than usual, which allowed me to snag an aisle seat without much thought. I settled in, gazed into space, and caught sight of a backpack on the seats across from me.

A shuffle of people passed and lingered. The bag was still there. I opened a book to pass the last five minutes that stretched between now and the scheduled departure time. Other passengers squeezed into the vacant seats, and my eyes flicked back to the backpack across from me.

The most vivid scenario that my brain concocted involved the train imploding in the Lincoln Tunnel. The Lincoln Tunnel, which is probably a marvelous feat of engineering and human ingenuity, creeps me out, mostly because it’s claustrophobic and burrows underneath a frightening amount of water.The thought of the train imploding as we cross the tunnel makes my hands sweat a little. I glance at the backpack again and try to return to my book.

Leave it to me to be so desperate for a seat during the ten minute ride from Penn Station to Secaucus that I sit across from a potential pipe bomb. I should have known better, and after letting myself succumb to my paranoia for a few seconds, I looked around me to see if anyone else noticed that anything was amiss. Business-casual everywhere. Ears stuffed with headphones. Eyes down at old newspapers and smartphones.

Then, as the doors began to close, a middle-aged man in a purple collared shirt comes waddling down the aisle. He grabs the unattended backpack by its handle and opens it to produce a tablet before sitting down. The train lurches forward.

Clearly, the only goal of this poster campaign is to strike fear in the hearts of paranoid people like me.

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