On the commute

Stockholm metro

I enjoy my commute. It takes approximately thirty-seven minutes: ten minutes walking to the subway, four minutes waiting, sixteen minutes riding the train (with three of idyllic Brooklyn Bridge views), seven minutes walking to work. During this spell the city fades away and I exist in my own orbit together with others existing in theirs.

Enjoying your commute isn’t a given: its daily repetition threatens to quash happiness. Commuting exists within a nebulous neither/nor time. You are neither working nor playing. You are neither productive nor unproductive. You exist. Commuting time is passive time. It shouldn’t be. Articles arguing for a better commute insist upon actively savouring your ‘me time’. But the word’s Latin root suggests otherwise. ‘Com’ means altogether while ‘mute’ signifies mutare, to change. Thus, commuting is a shared transitional activity. It’s a concentrated period during which individual citizens share time, space and routine to shape their city.

Commuting together forms a group identity. By moving in a specific way in a certain place, you assert your identity and build a shared one. Your non-relationship with the person you always see on the subway demonstrates how these different layers of identity form passively. You don’t speak and you don’t know their name, but you share a space, a time and a moment. You share the pole, the delays and the stench of other passengers. You make up stories about this regular traveller, recognize them and invent a name for them. Through sharing in time, space and routine you passively develop a relationship. This non-vocal relationship constructs your commuting persona.

Although these bonds shape how we feel about our routine movements, they form without recognition. Their hidden nature subordinates the commute in our daily movements. Riding the subway and walking to work aren’t inherently disagreeable, but ignoring the commute’s nuances turns these minutes into nebulous, so-called lost time. In a culture where “time is money” such undefined instances become evil through their lack of remuneration. If we adopt an active attitude toward our routine movements, we can acknowledge communal relationship we form and appreciate commuting.

I read. Through books I actively participate in the subway reading community and appreciate the role I adopt within it. Through these self-identity affirming actions, I perceive my thirty-seven minute commute not as lost time, but as daily moments of routine interaction with my city. These actions compose the fabric of my identity and work to form the fabric of a community. I enjoy my commute as shared active time and personally productive space.

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