the commute

If you told me, years ago, I would commute 4 hours every day I would have concluded either a.) you were joking or b.) that ‘commute’ was millennial slang for ‘eat Twix bars.’

It is one of the first questions you get when you start a new job: How’s the commute? Which is just a way for the questioner to benchmark how awful they should feel about their own commute. I’m guessing my Connecticut-to-the-West-Village commute makes a lot of people feel pretty good about their lives.

And I get that. But I should point out that I’m on a train, not driving for two hours each way. That, my friends, would drive me to lunacy. I have a hard time with traffic. I’m a Waze junkie. Waze could direct me to drive through the Big Gulp machine at a 7-Eleven and I wouldn’t think twice. If I could have one super power it would be the power to levitate traffic with my mind and just speed underneath all those cars. (Not only would I arrive in record time but nobody would even get mad at me because they’d be clawing at the doors to try to leap out of their cars which, they would probably assume, had been caught in a rogue tractor beam shooting out of the Death Star.)

The Metro-North? It’s chill. It’s easy and comfortable and has a nice view for the hour-long journey, through trees and over water. Now, granted, at some point I have to pull into Grand Central and take the subway downtown. Which, let me tell you, isn’t great.

For those of you not familiar, the NYC subway is, admittedly, sort of amazing because it goes everywhere and runs all night. But it is also insanely overcrowded. It’s like you pulled a Jetta up to the Michigan football team and hollered for everyone to climb in. That, on top of all the delays. (Last week we were delayed at 23rd street and the announcer told us calmly that there was an unruly passenger at the station ahead of us and the police were currently chasing him down and I couldn’t help but hear the Benny Hill theme song in my head.)

I complain about my commute. But I was thinking about it the other morning, and I realized I was sort of missing the point when I complained about it. Because our commute tells us something about ourselves and our values and what we hold dear in this world.

I lived in different cities for much of my life. I enjoyed it. But I’m at a point now where I want trees. I want my kids to have a yard. I wake up early, and I love seeing the sun rise through the trees. I love our privacy.

If I value that, and if I sacrifice for that, then for every minute I complain about the commute, I should, in fact, take a minute to extol the virtue of that joy I get from the suburbs.

You think I do that? Of course not.

Complaints come so easily. Joy can be hard to find. Complaining is slick like a waterslide, you barely have to think about it. Gratitude can be like scaling a rock wall.

So I’m going to try this: I’m going to tell you the five things I don’t like about the commute. But before that, in order to train my brain, I’m going to have to give you five things that the commute has given me that I’m grateful for every day.

I love driving an SUV, loading up groceries, and driving them straight into my garage.

I love letting my dog run outside and poop to her heart’s content without having to walk her around the block at 2 a.m. carrying doggie bags.

I love watching my kids get off the school bus at the end of our driveway, knowing they’re in an incredible school and running around in a giant field at recess.

I love the clean smell of spring, the fireflies at night in summer, the apple picking in the fall, and making snowmen in winter.

I love the people of our town. Our church community feels like a literal family who takes care of your kids and lets you pick French fries off their plate. I don’t know what we did to deserve the radically loving community we’ve been put in, but I’ll take it.

Okay, that was six things. Good. Gratitude is a powerful thing. I have it, I just don’t use it – like my treadmill. But even writing those few sentences make me more joyful in the moment.

So, now, with joy in my heart, I feel completely justified to share this…

The Top Five Things that I Could Do Without On My Commute:

1. Bag Plunkers.

Who are these people who think their bags need a seat instead of the human who is looking to sit? I’ve got some breaking news, folks – bags don’t have legs. They don’t get tired. They don’t need to sit. That’s why they’re called bags.

2. Coffee Balancers.

We’re pretty snug on the otherwise very comfortable train. I’m not complaining. I am saying that if you bring a coffee on, unless it’s in one of those canisters made with the specs of an Abrams tank, you need to keep two hands on it. People are balancing these Dunkin Donuts cups on their knees while they rifle through their bag, and I’m staring at it like I just encountered a grizzly in the Yukon.

3. Phone People.

These aren’t people who look like telephones. These are people who chat away at full volume on their phones. I don’t get it. If I get a call that I absolutely MUST take, I’m putting the phone so close to my mouth that I’m practically ingesting it.

4. Guy Who Sits Next to My Wife.

Okay, I’m not actually present for this one. But Liz tells me sometimes she’ll be on the train and there are loads of empty seats and some guy sits right next to her. Let me tell you something – that dude needs to stuff himself into a crate and then he needs to mail that crate to Burkina Faso.

5. The Sun.

It feels like if there are two things that should be predictable in this life, it’s the direction a train goes on a track and where the sun rises and sets every day. And yet every morning and evening somehow the sun is blasting its iris-melting gas-fire into my face, no matter where I sit on the train. I blame astronomers.

I’m writing this on the train right now, as we speak (I just took that photo above) and the conductor is coming. He is my favorite person-I-don’t-actually-know. He seems incapable of not being joyful while at work. He looks the way I would look if I was stuck in an ice cream igloo and was forced to eat my way out. He chats with everyone and when we pull into the station he plays the harmonica to welcome us to Grand Central, every single morning. (It’s sort of like riding the Polar Express to work every day.)

And that makes up for the phone people, and coffee balancers, and the bag plunkers. That feels like a gift, every day. 

By | 2018-05-09T09:49:43-04:00 May 9th, 2018|24 Comments


  1. Laurie Klein May 9, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Ha! Just read this on a train ride into NYC! Thanks for reminding me to find the beauty and the gratitude in the trip!

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      Awesome Laurie! It’s a good reminder for me!

  2. Marcy Prager May 9, 2018 at 10:35 am - Reply

    I never had a commute. If I did, I would have had time to read, do my work without distractions, or just sleep. The train does capture the beauty of the land.

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      Apparently it’s a well-kept secret that some folks genuinely love the quiet of that commute to decompress or get ready for the day. I kind of wish is wasn’t FOUR HOURS but I do get it…

  3. Gayle May 9, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

    My commute was driving. I listened to many, many books on that commute including Little Princes,,,,twice.

    • Liz May 9, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Love this!

      • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:17 pm - Reply

        I feel like this should be what we listen to on every roadtrip, Lizzie….

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Holy cow, that’s awesome! Thanks Gayle!

  4. Marisa Wright May 9, 2018 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Awwwwwwwe. The SUBWAY. It once ruled 5 years of my life. I could write a novel all about crazy subway stories

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      So many, right? The NYT needs to have a daily column.

  5. Irene Hendricks May 9, 2018 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Being in the city absolutely makes me appreciate coming home and each of the things you mentioned! Especially the dog one.

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Totally on the dog. And add to that our building in NYC was one where a human operated the elevator -we had to wake him up every time our dog had a midnight emergency…

  6. Laura May 9, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Every time I get on the train or the subway, my inner Elaine Bennis comes out and it’s all I can do to keep that thought reel stuffed inside!! I so admire your ability to do that every day Conor and I totally feel grateful that I don’t have to. And totally guilty that I just said that!!

    • Conor May 9, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      No guilt! Only love. We all have our part to play, friend. Mine involves four hours of travel every day. Which I can imagine would make people want to claw their eyes out.

  7. Ann May 9, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I live in Louisville, KY, a short commute compared to NY standards, but I am in the car for at least 30 minutes each way. I enjoy listening to Audible books and that’s how I found your wonderful book Little Princes! Loved the book and love your blog! Thanks Conor!

    • Liz May 9, 2018 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      Awesome Ann!

      • Conor May 10, 2018 at 9:42 am - Reply

        @Liz – more roadtrips!!

    • Conor May 10, 2018 at 9:41 am - Reply

      It’s hard to imagine somebody listening to my voice for 11 hours. But maybe Lizzie has gotten used to it, so I guess others can too?

  8. Liz (yep!) May 10, 2018 at 5:33 am - Reply

    I like the haircut! 🙂

    • Conor May 10, 2018 at 9:42 am - Reply

      You can thank my Lizzie! She is my haircut muse.

  9. dorian May 10, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

    I couldn’t love this more! It’s a perfect description of what to love about CT and what amazes about that train commute. Miss you all so much. And, who WOULDN’T sit by Liz?

    • Conor May 11, 2018 at 8:09 am - Reply

      Exactly!! We miss you Dorian!

  10. Maz May 11, 2018 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Thanks again, Conor! Love your perspectives and writing style. Life’s a journey and I’m glad to tag along with you every now and then.

    • Conor May 11, 2018 at 8:09 am - Reply

      Life is a commute! Does that sound too depressing?

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