Making a two hour trip into the City on public transportation on a random day for a special occasion can never be confused with a two-hour commute.
A commute has a repetitive, habitual, familiar nature that creates its own experience outside of the travel of it. The rote behaviors that make it physically and mentally feasible: the spot you always stand in to read the monitor in the station, the way you always play Scrabble on your iPhone waiting at the bus stop. These rituals of habit create the experience of the commute exactly as much as the seat on the steel projectile hurdling you and 48 others on the bus, or you and a thousand others if you're on a double-decker commuter train, or you and a million others if you think about everyone racing to New York on any given morning, or fleeing it on any given night.
The individuals in their individual seats with their individual accessories, packages, worries and preoccupations don't care about mine, as I intrude on their peace with my sneeze or distract them momentarily by adjusting in my seat. There's a universal ignoring going on. Everyone enjoys the uncommon momentary conversation, but no one makes a habit of it.
The ignoring is an aspect of the commute that I notice profoundly. Since I find it impossible. I notice her dress, and wonder what she paid for it. I notice his worn sleeves and imagine he just doesn't realize. I speculate on everything and everyone to some degree, considering this massive flux of lives, those commuting, and those with more singular missions on this ride. I try hardest of all to allow for our differences. The taste in clothes. The short-term goals. The personal rules of behavior, or absence of them. What influences have conspired to generate this recipe of a human sitting next to me today?
Now and then I become keenly aware that at any moment something could happen that would thrust us from "strangers" into a bond of catastrophe and all of our individual, personal cares would be suspended in that fragile moment of public exigency.
I don't think about the scary "what ifs" that much, though. Instead, I enjoy the company of strangers like a warm blanket of possibility as I ride my bus, keeping to myself as I should. I know that there is a likelihood, on every single crowded ride, that someone has a personality I could get along with, a story I would enjoy, a favorite place to eat if I got off at their stop. There's a whole world of ideas I could be inspired by, if only the commute were not such a habitual, and necessarily impersonal, ordeal.
For the past week the earth has tilted from the sun just enough to provide me with a spectacular hot peach sunrise as I head to work on the front seat of the bus, and a glorious cherry sunset as I return home. Every day as glorious as the last.
My laptop bounces with the seams in the highway and slides across my lap with the curves in the road, but I press my finger on the track pad and tackle all of those lettered keys, accomplishing something, usually urgently, as others sleep and read and dream.
I pause in my efforts and glance up toward the horizon. Met by the distant globe of light, my vision also sweeps past the nearby landscape of blurred trees, homes, light posts and phone wires. A little more in the distance the scene passes more slowly. I can focus for a moment on the way the windows of a factory building reflect the pink sky, how a boat half sunken in a marsh may have come to be abandoned, the brave skill of the hand that painted a once-proud water tower's giant lettering, a flock of birds responding to the morning in unison. I celebrate these things. I'm grateful for the show.
Then back to work, fighting the jostle of the ride with my own tenacious repetitions... repeating what jumped wrong until I get it right.