Sunday, July 03, 2011

Back and (Angela) Jean

Where I grew up, commuting didn't exist. At least the kind of commuting I know today. My parents both worked about a 5-10 minute drive from where we lived. If their work day ended at 5pm, we expected them to walk through the door at 5:10. They even came home for lunch! I'm sure to them, what I do today is absolutely insane, and in many ways they're right.

For me, a typical day starts at 6:10am, when I leave the house to walk to the corner to catch the city bus. I live right at the end of my street so that takes about 6-8 minutes...on a good day. When the snow is up to my knees, (not too many people shovel their sidewalks before 6:10am) I give myself some extra time. For most of the year, I walk this walk in darkness, but since the longest days are now upon us, my morning walks are peaceful and bright.

I wait at the bus stop, PRESTO card in hand.

I love my PRESTO's the newly instituted transit fare payment card that I can use on all 3 legs of my journey. It automatically calculates the proper fare for each transit type, and when my balance dips below $20, it tops itself up and charges my credit card. No more buying monthly passes or waiting in line for tickets or tokens. Brilliant!

Since my stop is the first on the route, I'm usually the first one to board. The bus continues on its meandering path around the neighbourhood, picking up a full load of early travelers, and after a 25 minute ride, drops us off at the GO station. (GO Transit is the commuter train service for the Greater Toronto Area, and according to its website it carries 57 million passengers a year).
I don't actually get to ride one of these buses, but I think they are real snazzy-lookin.

I board my train to Toronto at 6:55am. It's the first Express train of the day, meaning it has stopped at all the stops from Hamilton, but from my stop, it goes straight to Union with no stops.
This is what an empty train looks like, but the morning trains are so packed that I'm lucky if I get a seat at all.
On this day I had to sit on the stairs between the upper and lower levels.
The train ride is pleasant enough. Nobody talks on the GO. It's eerily quiet. Most people read books or newspapers or obsessively check their Blackberries (or pretend to check their Blackberry, but instead secretly take photographs to post on their blog...cough...cough).

The scenery? depends on what side of the train you're on. If you look out the north-facing windows, you see factories, scrap yards, train yards, golf courses and residential neighbourhoods.
If you look out the south-facing windows, you see the QEW, the Gardiner Expressway, and the Toronto skyline.

You can also see Lake Ontario and airplanes taking off from the Island Airport. On this day, at this particular moment, the plane in the photo holds none other than my co-blogger Ruth, on a flight to Ottawa. For reals. (you might have to click on the photo to see the plane)
I arrive at Union Station at a little past 7:30am...on a good day...I could go on ad nauseum about GO train delays, but it might put you into a coma.
From there, I follow the underground maze to the Subway and ride up to College Station.
On most days, I'm at my desk by about 7:45. Phew. Are you tired yet?
If you don't do this kind of thing on a daily basis, you probably think I'm nuts. And I would agree with you.
Why do I do it? Why do I spend more time during the week riding transit than I spend with my kids? Why do I spend almost $300 a month to get to work? It's crazy, right? I don't think I have a good answer. I love where I live, and I love my work. They just happen to be too far away from each other. When we moved to our house, I was on maternity leave and I knew that I would be commuting when I returned to work. I knew the train ride was 30 minutes, but I didn't factor in the time to get to the train, or the subway time once I arrived in the city. If I had really understood the complete commuting picture, I would have thought twice about buying this house.
In my mind 3 hours of commuting time a day is not sustainable long-term. Can I see myself doing this for another 20 years? I don't think so. But, for the time being, I have no plans to move and I am not looking for another job so I choose to focus on the positive. I use my commuting time as "me" time. I read novels. I cyber-stalk my friends, relatives and random acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter. I read other people's blogs and brainstorm my own blog topics. I catch up on my texts and emails. Sometimes I snooze and sometimes, if it had been one of those days, I eat ice cream (but only on the way home...not at 7am!)
I think things through, and I let go of the stress of the day, so that when I do get home I can be completely and fully present.

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