Nick Buono is just another Brooklyn kid, born and raised in Marine Park, who never imagined he’d sell out and move to New Jersey.

“It’s just that stigma, you know?” Buono told WNYC. “You’re in Brooklyn. You’re like, I’m never moving to New Jersey. They have diners and ‘The Sopranos,’ nothing else for me.”

But boy met girl (a Jersey girl, specifically), they married, found out they had a kid on the way, and moved to the suburbs last fall. That turned his 20-minute commute from Brooklyn Heights to Union Square into an hour-or-more tango with NJ Transit.

“My first week on New Jersey Transit, I had a three-hour commute,” Buono said, already sounding world-weary, leaning forward in his seat on the 8:18am train from Rahway to Penn Station. “And then two weeks later, I had one where I got home at midnight.”

Buono chose the exact wrong time to become a NJT commuter. Last November, the first full month that he and his wife Sara started taking the train regularly, NJ Transit riders suffered their worst month of delays in 15 years. Nearly a third of all rush-hour trains ran late, in part due to a federal deadline to install positive train-control braking systems.

As a coping mechanism, Buono turned to Instagram to post photos and videos of his commutes, mostly to prove to his nay-saying friends that NJT hadn’t broken his generally upbeat spirit. But the most challenging train commute that month—“I started my commute on November 15th and it ended on November 16th.”—inspired Buono to start collecting his observations in a blog unambiguously titled "Your Commute Sucks!"

“It’s not funny being on the train,” Buono said, explaining why his go-to approach is humorous. “But what’s funny to me is when you’re on the platform, what goes through a person’s head when you’re freezing, when you’re hungry...it’s 19 degrees outside, you can’t feel your hands, you forgot your gloves, you’re screwed.”

“And guess what?” he added, with a gleeful glint in his eyes. “You’re at the mercy of New Jersey Transit.”

Listen to Shumita Basu's report on WNYC:

Buono is following in the footsteps of many diehard New Yorkers who thought they’d never trade their corner bodegas for shopping malls, but were lured to the suburbs by the siren call of backyards and a homeowner’s certificate. Of the 900,000 city-dwellers who move every year, about a third relocate to a New York/New Jersey suburb.

For the past five years, real estate agent Jessica Fields has catered specifically to the Brooklyn-to-the-’burbs crowd. She started “Beyond Brooklyn” as a series of educational events for people considering a move.

“The issue of not knowing where to go, and needing and wanting to recreate your New York City or your Brooklyn life seems to be particularly a concern of the brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods,” Fields explained, referring to the sweep of neighborhoods from Park Slope to Ditmas Park.

She said one thing a lot of Brooklynites prioritized: walkability, both to the town center and the nearest train station which made sense considering some towns had decade-long waiting lists for a station parking spot.

And, given the downturn in service on some NJ Transit lines, it’s hard to blame people for wanting to minimize their commute times. A similar calculus comes into play for people eyeing suburbs on Long Island or in the Hudson Valley.

On the Long Island Rail Road, both the number and length of delays have increased in recent years. Metro North’s average on-time performance dipped to its lowest point in five years last summer. The MTA said both the LIRR and Metro North have seen improvements in on-time service in the past few months, with trains running on-time at about a 95 percent rate in April 2019.

NJ Transit said a good chunk of their delays can be attributed to Amtrak, since they operated trains on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. From April 2015 to April 2018, the agency estimated that Amtrak caused 42 percent of delay minutes suffered by NJ Transit riders every month.

And starting on June 17th, NJ Transit commuters will face another summer of Amtrak-related track work that will take two tracks at New York Penn Station out of service until the first week in September.

Now that Nick Buono has a five-month-old daughter in the picture—“unlike a NJTRANSIT train, she came early and ahead of schedule”—he said every minute of every delay takes on a whole new meaning. His blind goal is to get home as soon as possible.

But if delayed, at least it’s an opportunity to make content for his blog.

“If I can get home early, I’m gonna get home early,” said Buono. “But if I can’t, I’m gonna go viral doing it. Hopefully.”

This isn’t the last you’ll hear of Nick Buono. "We the Commuters" is looking for commuters of all kinds we can check in with periodically, for observations, tips, and dispatches. Sound like something you’d be into? Shoot us an email: wethecommuters@wnyc.org. And run with this question: What do you do to make your commuting time (and delay time) productive?

Shumita Basu is a host, producer and reporter in the newsroom. You can follow her on Twitter @shubasu.

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