Sunday, October 25, 2009

I have recently started a job which involves a daily commute. One hour each way. Although I was initially less than thrilled by the prospect, I now find myself wishing every morning that the train ride was just that little bit longer. The time I have to myself, every morning and every evening, provides me with a balance between social time and me-time, which, if it is not enforced, I find difficult to instill in my life.

But I think there is more to my joy in the commute than I initially thought. As I prepared myself on Sunday night for the week of train trips ahead, it dawned on me. And as I settled myself on the train this morning, it was confirmed. I had planned ahead. I had a phone card, allowing me to make the overseas phone calls from my mobile phone that I find it so difficult to find the time to make from any landline. I had my large coffee, set on the seat next to me, to last the entire train ride. I had snack bars in my gym bag, to breakfast on. I pulled out my tiny laptop computer, set it on my lap, and connected to the internet. I pulled out my current novel. I pulled out my iPod, clad in its new leather shell, and the in-ear balancing headphones I recently purchased, and turned on the new album I downloaded last night from iTunes. I had a pashmina in case it got cold, and a spot for my umbrella beside me. I was all set, established in my own small interior world even as I sat in that most public of spaces, the suburban train.

And I realised: I am a gifted commuter. I am a gifted commuter because I am an experienced traveler. Getting on the train each morning and heading out of Sydney is restoring to me because it is like getting on an airplane and flying away from Sydney, something I have been itching to do for months.

I haven't left Sydney in so long and it was beginning to get to me. But now I have a local equivalent of overseas travel, and I get to indulge in this more localised form of travel every day.
No wonder I feel peculiar when I arrive back in the city. My mind has established itself by that time in the familiar routine of away-ness.

1 comment:

  1. You are lucky to be travelling in the opposite direction to most commuters, so you have more space to spread out.

    Travelling on Sydney's suburban trains is a wonderful experience. It is an opportunity to feel part of the city. For those 40 or so minutes you share a common fate with your fellow passengers.

    On weekends they are their own little social scene. Unruly children scamper about as their parents try to settle them down. Families chatter and argue in many languages and old men doze off. Teenagers call their friends who jump on at the next station before getting off at a station near a mall with a cinema complex.

    During the week, due to the inertia of habit, at least 90% of passengers on a given service catch the same carriage in the same train every day. There are people you recognise, as you note the friendships and courtships that wax and wane. If someone is missing, they might be ill, or on holidays. Mostly people sit in the same seat.

    On the platform there are those that arrive early to gain the pole position, carefully estimating where the carriage doors will open. Others prefer to stand back, often with the company of their friends. The aspergers chat to the newsagent, and don't mind missing their train for the sake of a (usually boring) story.

    Occasionally there is a school excursion. Their is nothing so disorienting to find your usual carriage overrun with noisy school children and exasperated teachers trying to maintain decorum.

    The uni students are frantically reading their notes or, more usually swap boasts about their weekend exploits.

    Trains are an infinitely richer experience than listening to talkback radio at 10kph, alone in the perfectly controlled environment of your luxury car.