My Commute: A Chronology

September 2001 – January 2013

From Kindergarten through tenth grade (and, if we’re being technical, half of eleventh grade), I rode the bus. Every day.

I hated riding the bus for numerous reasons.

  • I had to get on it at 6:45 AM every morning.
  • It took almost 45 minutes to get from my school to home.
  • The people on it were annoying.
  • It was ridiculously hot in the summery months.
  • It was absolutely frigid in the wintery months.
  • I had to walk three blocks to get to my bus.
  • My bus driver insisted on taking the most roundabout routes possible.
  • He also played bad music on the radio.

However, as much as I hated riding the bus, I cannot deny that in retrospect it taught me some valuable lessons.

In the beginning of my junior year, I knew that my days of obligation to the bus were limited. I would have my license soon enough and then I could bid farewell to my obnoxiously yellow transportation for good. The most drilling month of that year, though, was undoubtably September.

September is the worst month. The thrill of buying new supplies and smelling the nostalgic (by three months) stuffiness of your school trick you into an anticipation of chilly autumn weather. You’re eager to finally bring out your uniform-approved sweaters and tights, the thought of a fresh start is ideally awoken by a cool fall breeze. But, instead of those wonderful fantasies, your reality is  just the same humid, hot weather that you’ve been battling for the past few months. The only difference is that now you can’t combat the heat with flip-flops and sundresses. You’re held in sweaty captivity by collared shirts, wool kilts, and ugly “supportive” shoes. And, if you’re me, you have to endure this on a non-air-conditioned metal rectangle on wheels for two hours a day.

I remember I would come home every day that September and exclaim to my mom that I was “DONE FOREVER” with the bus and that I “REFUSED TO GO ON IT TOMORROW” because I was sick of being “SWEATY, TIRED, AND BOTHERED BY ANNOYING CHILDREN.”

But, this was before I spent a summer in New York.

The other day, a new friend asked me why it was so hot in New York as she stood in front of a tiny window AC unit desperately trying to rid her dress of sweat stains. I laughed and explained to her that in the city, hot air is simply being emitted from every angle at every second. The window units spew hot air out onto the street, the subways radiate heat from underground, all the cars produce steamy (and stinky) gas. Not to mention that all of this hot air becomes completely stagnant because the buildings seem to block any notion of wind there might be.

But, as I excitedly told her all of these unfortunate facts, I was reminded that only a couple years ago it was me who was coming inside, dripping in disgustingness, demanding answers from the universe as to why it wanted to kill me with heat.  And that was back in Pittsburgh. Where it wasn’t even this hot outside. When I was just bitter about having to spend my afternoon on a hot bus.

So riding the bus taught me to look at my misery in perspective. As much as I am dying from this New York summer heat wave now, I once claimed to have been dying from a not-as-severe summer in Pittsburgh. Things could always be worse. Don’t freak out.

The bus also taught me that people respond favorably to food.

My mom packed the best lunches–they always included my favorites for an actual meal, and then plenty of snacks for the (exceedingly) long bus ride home. Gushers, Goldfish, chocolate, pretzels, sour candies. You name it, elementary school me had it in her lunch box.

When I began Kindergarten, I quickly realized that I was not an outgoing child. People were kind of scary. They wanted to talk to me–if they were older, talking to me generally meant just telling me how cute I was–and then they actually wanted me to respond. I didn’t like talking to people I didn’t know. Truth be told, I still really don’t, but when I was younger it really freaked me out. As a result, I struggled to make friends on the bus…until I discovered a little thing called bribery.

Okay, bribery may be a little strong of a word. But the way people gravitated towards my seat when I had their favorite snack in my possession was not lost on me. I quickly built a little group of friends on the bus, and every afternoon we would divvy up my snacks, chat, and generally act like kids for the duration of the ride.

After a few years–as I grew older–I began to realize that while my food bought me company, it didn’t buy me friends. It may have been my fourth-grade imagination, but I felt like on the days that I didn’t have an abundance of snacks, our conversations weren’t as lively. We didn’t have as much fun together if I didn’t bind us with sugar and carbs. We stayed friends though for as long as we all rode the bus, and while I would never consider them to have been close friends, they were more than merely acquaintances and they saved me from having to sit in solitude.

The bus taught me that you can use food (or, insert desired material object of choice here) to find friends initially, but in the end, it has to go deeper.

February 2013 – June 2013

In February 2013, I got my license. My bus days were over…sort of.

I had a completely unrealistic vision that I would get my driver’s license and immediately have free rein to my mom’s car, allowing me to drive myself to school every day. Obviously, I quickly realized that this was not the case. While my parents were generous with letting me use the car, it was completely absurd of me to think that I could just leave my mom with no vehicle every single weekday.

While I actually did get to drive myself to school a couple times a week, I was still at the mercy of the trusty school bus for the majority of it. I was so bitter about this. I did a fair amount of begging, which I have coincidentally blocked out of memory, each morning to take the car to school. Sometimes it worked, but most times I would find myself sitting on a pleather seat festering in my misery and disappointment while I tried to tune out the 80s music my bus driver apparently loved so much.

Thanks to my lottery each morning, though, the days on which I won were so much more appreciated. Going to school was instantly more glamorous if I could bask in a temperature-controlled pod and sing along to Lady Gaga as loud as I pleased. I could even stop for Starbucks if I left early enough. My limbo primed me for what was next to come on my transportation timeline.

September 2013 – June 2014 

 The world was on my side and, miraculously, everyone in my family ended up having their own car to use.

I didn’t have to gamble every morning. We called the bus company one last time and announced, “Liliane will no longer be riding the bus anymore, thank you!” It was a beautiful day.

At least, it was, until the allure wore off and I began to have a routine. A routine. How adult is that word? Having a routine is like the epitome of growing up. You can’t be frivolous and carefree, you have places to go and things to do. There are time restraints that one must respect. Ugh. All of a sudden, my joyous karaoke-filled mornings and afternoons began to drag on and on as I sat in traffic.

My routine was characterized by timing. Timing was my forte, and it gave me pride but also bothered me. I had everything down to a science. If I left my house at precisely 7:20 AM, I could make it to school no later than 7:45 AM and have first dibs on my favorite parking spot. But, if I left at 7:22 AM, I wouldn’t make it so school any earlier than 7:53 AM and would be forced to park semi-illegally in order to make it in time for attendance.

It boggled my mind that this was so accurate and precise. I was proud to brag that I had my life so figured out that I could even predict the world around me with ease. On the other hand, however, I felt that I was becoming boring and I tired of my scenery.

My new routine also brought out a very bad trait in me: impatience towards slow-moving people.

In order to keep my precise timing, I learned how to quickly and strategically switch lanes in order to beat the traffic. If I merge into this third lane that’s technically a parkway ramp, I can pass by all these people and still make this green light. Sure, it’s a little despicable, but who cares? I would think to myself. By the end of my senior year, I was probably one of those people that you yell at when they cut you off at the last possible second and leave you in the dust behind some other slowpoke. Sorry about that.

Eventually, I resolved to just put my precision and expert-level lane switching to good use by making a point to be home before 4 PM every day. That way, I could take a two-hour nap before dinner.

Resourceful, right?

September 2014 – May 2015

Freshman year of college was a whole new ballgame. Fortunately, it was the easiest, shortest, and most direct commute I had ever had. That was also probably the last time I’ll ever experience a commute so simple.

My college is full of pros and cons.

  • Pro: It’s in the middle of New York City.
  • Con: It’s not downtown.
  • Pro: It offers a very broad, diverse major that speaks to my interests.
  • Con: It does not offer the specificity I might need in order to get a dream job in that industry.
  • Pro: It is a very small, inter-connected campus. You don’t even have to go outside to get to class.
  • Con: It is a very small, inter-connected campus. You could go days without stepping foot in the city if you wanted to.

Though I could go on for about a thousand more words on the first two, I’ll save my opinions on those for another day. The last one is what concerns the commute in question.

My college takes up a nice two-block-by-one-avenue rectangle in Midtown. It’s great. I don’t have to run across town in the middle of the night to go to the library to print my assignment (ahem, like at some larger, overgrown institutions) and it is so easy to run back to my dorm room between classes if I want a snack. Even more great is the fact that hidden underneath that collegiate rectangle is a series of hallways connecting the four buildings, so one never has to go outside in bad weather to get to class.

It took me a total of five minutes to walk from my dorm room to my classes this past year. Five whole minutes. Sometimes less if I sped-walk through the crowd.

I doubt I will never have a commute like that again. But, I have to say, maybe that’s a good thing.

I’m all for not going outside. Remember how much I hate hot weather? Not a problem when your commute is an air-conditioned tunnel. My fair skin doesn’t beg for sunscreen because an undisclosed depth of concrete shields me from that terrible orb in the sky. Also, the dusty fortress doesn’t foster nature, so bees can’t attack at any moment.

But when you don’t have to go outside, you can get lazy. You can get away with rolling out of bed at the last second, throwing on whatever (or, pro-level: just wearing your pajamas), and making it to class with seconds to spare. This is dangerous. We’re living in the fashion capital of America! Wake up, put on some make up, and present yourself to the world in a respectable manner. Please. I came to New York to be immersed in culture, not to be surrounded by the dictionary definition of  “exhausted college student with bad priorities.”

I guess that while I loved my commute because of its brevity, I began to despise it because hindered my overall experience of the city. I love the city because it is walkable. I like to walk past the windows and see what’s new and covetable at my favorite stores. I like to people watch on my way. It is exhilarating, and to me, it is an essential of New York.

Without reason to go out, I stayed in and adapted my lane-switching abilities to suit zigzagging through my sloth-like classmates. At least I maintained my fast pace, I suppose.

May 2015 – present

And finally, the present. I’m back at the mercy of someone else–this time, the MTA–to get me to work on time in a metal rectangle. Thankfully, it’s not as obnoxiously yellow this time and it (usually) has air-conditioning.

For the past month, I’ve been interning at a product development company. I love it. I go to work every day and am a part of very cool things. Essentially, I have my dream job, and I still can’t believe how the opportunity came out of nowhere and wrapped itself up so perfectly.

That being said, working is a lot of, well, work. It’s very tiring. And, obviously, I’ve never had a commute powered by public transportation, so it has been a huge adjustment.

Commuting as a slave to the MTA is totally different. Yes, there are perks: I can get Starbucks on the corner before going into the subway station and drink it on the ride. I don’t have to worry about parking anymore. And, best of all, I get so much exercise by running all over trying to transfer to different trains! (Haha, no.) But really, the cons of my latest commute are endless. Sometimes, the trains are delayed. Or, sometimes they come and are so crowded that one cannot reasonably fit into them without suffocating. Other times, the air conditioning doesn’t work and everyone walks off of the train feeling gross. Wait, I should correct that–anytime you walk off of the train, you feel kind of gross.

So, after a morning of pushing my way through equally determined businessmen, confused tourists, and unidentified scents, I arrive at my internship and have a wonderful day. But six hours later I must push my way back through all of the businessmen, tourists, and scents to get home. While the middle portion of my day is extremely rewarding, the beginning and end leave me wanting to collapse in a puddle, take twenty showers, and push aside any person who is walking too slow in front of me.

It’s weird because this commute seems to encompass elements from all of my past commutes in some form or another.

  • From my bus riding days, I have learned to accept the stuffy subway platform air and think positive thoughts until I am safely returned to air-conditioning. It’s 95 degrees down here? So what? At least it isn’t 100.
  • Also from my bus riding days, I realize that certain things buy you points. Instead of bribing to get what you want with food (which would be completely misinterpreted and sketchy here), you can usually acquire a seat by looking like you’re going to pass out from aforementioned heat. Score!
  • My irregular presence of a car has taught me to value my shower time more. I can’t sing along to the latest Hilary Duff album on the train, so that twenty minutes I spend in the shower washing off all the subway grime is crucial to keep up my karaoke skills.
  • My previous, regular, everyday use of a car reminds me that routine is a necessary evil. I’ve already got a new timetable figured out so I can get to work on time.
  • And, my short pedestrian commute at college prepped me for sliding through crowds of people and onto the train at the last possible second. Thanks, slow-moving college kids.

I’m learning to love it, and we’ll see what threads this commute will end up weaving into my transportation tapestry.


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