Monday, October 13, 2014
Platform 9 and 7/16ths
For years, for almost my whole working life, i have had a not inconsiderable commute. Typically i am behind the wheel and music, NPR, or an Audio book is playing to drown out the road noise and to keep me from being too awfully alone with my thoughts. I've driven through snow, over downed trees, in suburban Jersey traffic all to get to a place which wasn't paying me enough to do something i usually would have preferred not to do. For a brief wondrous moment i was an Inn Keeper in Vermont and my commute was the distance from my one room living quarters to my restaurant quality kitchen. That was my favorite ride to work, the only music was the humming...or cursing...i did as i got to work making breakfast for hungry tourists and fisher-folk. The only gas i needed to put in my tank was coffee. You can't beat that, the best commute is no commute.
When i left, in what ..when the story of my life is written...will be described as the single act most deserving of a dunce cap, i came to Jersey with the understanding that my life here would not be spent in a car spending 30 minutes to drive 6 miles. I would not be double fisting "croissant" sandwiches and horrible drive through coffee. I would not have to purchase a car just for the purpose of moving me from point a to point b just to afford to pay for a car. And for a while, i made good on that promise. My job was one i shared with my ex-wife (current wife at the time) and we would commute together, which is far less awful, still needed just the one car. But then circumstances required one or the other, and ultimately both, of us to get a second job. At first that was okay, my job was 3 train stops away and the train was 3 blocks from my house. Easy peasy, lemon squ...but yeah, that didn't work out to be the case for too long. Eventually it became necessary to get a second vehicle. Eventually it became necessary to drive that second vehicle to a second job, and a third job, then eventually back to just 2 because the business we were in sort of collapsed. After it collapsed my marriage did as well. There is a great lesson in causality/correlation in there somewhere.
From that moment on my mornings and afternoons were a drudgery of exhaust fumes, horns, erratic lane changes, 2 accidents, and absolutely abysmal fast food. For years i started and ended every day in a car that was, on a good day, questionably safe, especially after accident #1. I drove what, for a single man in his 30s, is a very creepy vehicle. A white minivan which may as well have said "creep who probably has candy and balloons" all over it. But it was a free vehicle. Parents grabbing their children and running in fear is a small price to pay for transportation for 5 or more years. So i would creep to and from work with a phalanx of angry villagers behind me shouting at me to keep out of their town or trying to throw their children, soccer balls, and orange slices in the back because they thought it was my night to transport the team.
All in all, it was a glum experience. I tried finding ways to make it better, Pandora, the aforementioned audio books, a digital voice recorder to collect my writerly thoughts, a fist full of MDMA for the fast traffic and a cocktail of Klonipin and This American Life for the bumper to bumper*. Singing, i do miss the singing actually. It made me most happy when i was espied by another driver who was either listening to the same song or started jamming out and singing along with me. Instant community for the duration of a red light. I also enjoyed what i call "the one handed airplane" which is not, as it sounds, a masturbation technique, but the almost compulsive need i have to stick my hand out the window and let the wind kind of blow it around matching the plane of my hand to maximize lift and drag as if i were an experiment in physics. At the end of the day though all these distractions couldn't take away from the fact that driving to work sucks. It's bad enough you have to go to work at all, let alone having to endure the soul crushing boredom, and tiny rage inducing injustices of a commute.
Recently I took a job working a 2 block walk from a train stop in Center City Philadelphia. Every morning i drag my tired bones to the train station i sit in my seat and prepare for a 35 minute train ride into the heart of a forgotten metropolis. 35 minutes of train noises, sneezes, conversations i have nothing to do with, garbled stop announcements that make you wonder why they bother, people shoving up next to you, or not and looking at you like it's your fault they wont,terrifyingly abrupt and banshee-esque wails of the trains horn as you enter and leave, and just basically move, through tunnels, escalators that are temporarily stairs**. Awful just awful.
And I would be utterly lying to you if i told that it wasn't one of the best things to happen to me in ages. Because, you see, this 35 minute German Expressionist film I ride to and from work every day means that i get 35 minutes to do nothing but read...both ways...70 minutes of found time to read. I mean, i read...a lot, any way but I'm usually reading very specific things. It's the type of reading that isn't always the most pleasurable. Like, okay i have to FINALLY finish Elizabeth Kostovas "The HIstorian" but since i started it 9, 6, 4,2, and 1 years ago i don't remember what I've read so once again i need to start from the beginning. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to have finally finished it, it was excellent, but i wouldn't call it pleasure reading. Now i have this hour and ten minutes to read the things i just WANT to read for whatever reason. No "you're a bookseller you really should have read this" list. No "you like Pynchon...no you really do...just just tuck in and don't come up for air" lists. Just books that make me happy. That is a freedom that you don't really find very often. That is a gift.
My commute is a gift. Another way it continues to give to me, is that it has inspired to me write this blog. I'm reading every day and thinking, oh i wish i could share this with someone! The guy next to me just wants to be left alone in his cloud of cologne, so he doesn't care. So i figure this will be my way of sharing. My plan, which will undoubtedly vary frequently and in random, surprising, and possibly certifiable, ways is to write a review of each book i read on the train. Depending on the book, that might be one a week, or as is the case with the most recent one, one a month. I'm also going to be tweeting my favorite line each day from the book I'm currently reading, but i will not be attributing credits to the tweets. Yes i'm diving headlong into my single biggest grammatical pet peeve, quotes without references. When i finish the book i will tweet what book it is and shortly there after post a review. So follow me @Cmuting_sntnces and guess what book I'm reading as i tweet. Periodically i suspect the book will arouse ideas that i need to get out which will invariably end up in this space as well. I'm not a literary critic, I'm just a guy who likes books, and likes to talk about books, so hopefully you'll like it too. Feel free to share with friends, or pass along anything you notice that you like. Feel free to comment. I'm looking forward to writing again. I'm really looking forward to more reading, and I'm looking forward to your participation.
With that, i'll bid you adieu from the less famous, but equally magical, Platform 9 and 7/16ths.
*Obviously a great deal of what i say is tounge in cheek, in no way do i endorse Ira Glass while driving. I'd probably lay off the MDMA and Klonipin too.
** Thanks Mitch. Sorry for the Convenience.