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.