It’s funny and heartfelt and exceedingly well written. It’s the story of a boy who is raised as much in a Long Island pub as he is in his broken home. His father is a famous New York DJ. His mother struggles to hold their lives together. The bar, Publicans, provides an array of role models, positive and not so positive, for the boy. The boy defies the odds and goes to Yale and becomes a New York Times reporter. But he never loses his connection to the pub.
As the book is set largely in Manhasset, the Long Island Railroad plays a big part in the story. J.R.’s father is but a voice on the radio to him. His cousin McGraw–who ends up being the talk radio personality McGraw McGrath–satisfies his jones for a father through the railroad, believes J.R.
“I suspected, however, that whenever a train went across the trestle spanning Manhasset Bay, making a clacking sound audible from one end of Manhasset to the other, McGraw couldn’t help but think about his father, a conductor on the Long Island Railroad. Though McGraw wouldn’t say so, I believed the sound of the train affected him the way radio static affected me. Somewhere in that white noise is your old man.”
As a teen, Moehringer gets his first taste of commuting while working a summer job as a file clerk at a law firm.
“At sixteen years old I defined myself by the company I kept, and commuting to Manhattan meant I was keeping company with hundreds of men. Perforce and ergo, as they said at the firm, I was a man.”
He and his cousin Sheryl would have a nip in Penn Station before boarding the train back to Manhasset.
“After work each night we’d stop at a grungy bar in the bowels of Penn Station, where the smoke and the darkness made everyone look like Charles Bronson, so the bartenders never questioned my age. Sheryl would treat me to a couple of cold mugs of beer, after which we’d buy large plastic cups of double gin and tonics for the ride home. By the time we stepped onto Plandome Road, our feet weren’t quite touching the pavement.”
Later in the book, Metro-North is Moehringer’s link to Yale and New Haven.
Like I said, it’s a terrific book, as one might expect from a Pulitzer-winning writer. You’ll enjoy it more if you hail from Long Island and enjoy a drink on the train–though Moehringer ends up paying dearly for all those gin and tonics on LIRR, and scotches back at Publicans.