Thursday, July 14, 2011

Your commute is *how* long?

My friends often tease me about my commute, which is something of a doozy-- about 4 & 1/2 hours round-trip (and that's if I'm "lucky" and the MBTA gods do not compound insult with the injury of delayed an/or disabled trains).  As I did my best to try and stay awake on this morning's ride into town my friend Genie couldn't help but comment:
"That would actually be my game plan if I had a commute like you do. I would get dressed, bring a pillow and go back to bed on the train."
While the thought of getting an extra hour or two of sleep in every day is tempting, the fact that I snore like a forest full of jumberjacks would probably result in my being 86ed from the train at the behest of my aggrieved fellow commuters by the end of the first week!

But it's not all bad.  Unlike sitting in a car, where my options are listening to the radio, talking on the phone, or raging out on the jerk who just cut me off in traffic, traveling from Gloucester to Cambridge via public transit gives me a nice mix of long uninterrupted stretches of time and opportunities to stretch my legs and get some exercise.

I start my day by leaving the house around 7 o'clock AM and walking down Stacey Boulevard along Gloucester Harbor to the downtown commuter rail station, which is a smidgen over a mile away.  Depending on the time of year and the weather there is almost infinite diversity in the views I get treated to every morning, so I always try to take a picture or two if I can capture one of the many familiar landmarks along the way in a new light.  I also like to trade pictures of the sunrise with my dad, who takes morning walks of his own down at the Jersey Shore or at his winter digs on the Florida Panhandle.

With any luck I'll get to my train in time for its 7:34 departure and settle in for a little under an hour of writing time.  I try to be as disciplined as possible about devoting the morning commute to writing, as I've always done my best writing when I'm still not quite awake enough to be too critical of my own creative efforts.  Also, it's easier to secure a good seat for writing on the inbound trains, whereas the return trip is more or a crapshoot.

Assuming the train is on time, I will arrive at North Station in Boston a little after 8:30.  At this point I have a choice-- jump on the Green Line to Park Street and switch to the Northbound Red Line for Harvard Square, or walk from the station up through Boston's former West End and catch the Red Line at the Charles/MGH stop.  If the weather is even remotely nice I like to opt for the walk, which at 3/4's of a mile makes a decent counterpart to the first leg from my house to Gloucester Station.  There's also no guarantee that taking the trolley to Park Street will save me any time, as I learn time and time again to my chagrin.

Whether I take both the Green and Red Lines or just the Red, the subway is my reading time.  I've found that there's nothing better than taking advantage of the spare minutes of my day waiting for trains to arrive, depart, or sit on the tracks idling by reading.  Most of the time I'm passing dead trees for Kindle editions, which I just find increasingly more convenient, especially in situations where I may not be carrying around my backpack but I do have my smartphone handy.  I try to alternate my guilty pleasure fiction reads (Right Now: A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin) with some edifying nonfiction titles (Last Book Read:  Reality Is Broken- Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by Jane McGonigal).

Finally I get to work, usually a bit past nine.  Then I pretty much reverse the route around 5:15 or so, which usually gets me back to the homestead in Gloucester by half-past seven every evening.  Fortunately I get a ride home from the commuter rail station, as my wife and daughter come to pick me up-- always a welcome sight for someone who's been gone for more than half the day at that point.

As I mentioned before I don't always get a chance to secure a nice quiet seat for writing on the train home, and most days of the week I'm usually still a little too wound up from work to manage any decent writing even if I do manage to score a good place to sit.  What I usually do with the evening commute, then, is make sure that I haven't left any lingering problems or issues at work, answering what email I can using the commuter rail's crappy wifi, and then generally winding down so that when I do get home I can my family my undivided attention and not feel burdened by anything back at the office.

Well, there it is- how to make the most out of four-plus hours of captive time every day.  It certainly doesn't work for everyone, but I think I've made it work for me...  on most days, at least.  There will always come a time in the summer (oh, say around now!) when I think of what else I could be doing with that lost 16% of my day and I start to feel a little caged in by my commute, but that's easily solved with the occasional "gone fishin'" day here or there...

Albert Einstein famously once said:  "Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater."  While I can't vouch for math, rest assured that there's someone out there with a more heinous commute than yours-- and that person is in all likelihood me.


Genie said...

On the one hand, I am not a morning person and cannot drag my ass out of bed before 7am most days. On the other hand, structured writing time sounds really appealing to me. :)

Tom said...

It is definitely a struggle to get out of bed as early as I do, though I find that the prospect of being able to lose myself in my writing for an hour is enough inspiration to get me out the door. Thinking of one of your recent blog entries, writing is one of my best defenses against feeling down in the dumps as well, but more on that in upcoming post!