the daily commute

for three years, i worked at home (most of the time). my daily commute consisted of rubbing my eyes, crawling out of bed, and ambling across the room (or through the house) to my computer. maybe i had an early conference call, maybe i didn’t. maybe i had to get going early. maybe it just didn’t matter. i think what you’re sensing is that the pace of my life was, more or less, my own.

and then i got a real job. and a real commute.

the days of working in my pajamas ended, and i had to adjust my life accordingly. the commute adjustment was one of the more radical changes. no more sleepy-eyed swaggers across the bedroom. no, i had to get with the program and get my rear in transportation gear. as it turns out, i work in a part of town where parking runs about $300/month, which is a little rich for my blood. so that means public transportation is a part of my everyday life.

out the door. down the hill. wait for the MUNI. get on a crowded bus. get off at 24th street BART. wait. get on a train. get off the train. walk 10 minutes to my office. up the elevator. across the office to my desk. best-case scenario: 30 minutes, door to door. worst-case scenario, one hour (usually at night or early in the morning, when public transportation runs less frequently).

i like the whole theory of public transportation. it saves energy, pools resources, and brings people closer together in their daily routines. and then, of course, there is the practice of it all, which diverges just a bit from the theory. i’ve noticed a few things in these few months on public transport:

  1. there’s no nice way to put it—some people just stink (literally). and when you’re crammed onto a bus or a train like sardines, this fact becomes pretty apparent. elaine gets it a lot worse than i do. she’s at about armpit height for most of the stinky dudes, and sometimes you can just see her wilt.
  2. standing up on a swaying bus is overrated. ditto for the train.
  3. contrary to popular belief, reading on public transportation, particularly while standing up, is not easy.
  4. when you’re late for work, the bus is too. which makes you even later than you already were.
  5. there is an inverse correlation between enjoyable weather conditions and how long you have to wait for the bus. the colder and darker it is, the longer you’ll wait. ditto if it’s scorching and humid.
  6. the toughest thing to do after a long hard day at work is slog through the trenches of public transportation to get home. usually, you just want to be there.
  7. public transportation brings out both the best and the worst in people. one the one hand, you’ve got perverts who can’t leave women well enough alone. on the other, you’ve got people who give up their seats for old folks and pregnant women. it’s a really mixed bag of humanity.

the thing i find most interesting about public transportation is people watching. i try to see if they look happy or sad, resigned or vacant. most of the time, people just look numb and vacant to me (if they’re traveling alone). they could be having the best or worst day of their lives; i’d never know. for the most part, i think people like to put on their poker faces and hide in the crowd. in big cities, at least, i’d guess most people have no interest in meeting anyone else on the bus or train. they meet enough people. they just want to get from point A to point B.

point A to point B. it doesn’t sound very far when you say it that way. it sounds like a safe little jaunt. maybe that’s why people do what they do on their commutes: they try to make things as mundane as possible so it just feels easy, like going from A to B.

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