science of us

I Love My Commute

Photo: Emre Baser/Getty Images

I love my commute. It’s filled with people. People suggest promise, and I’ve spent so much time alone recently.

Also, the combination of subway lighting and subway windows is flattering enough that we all look about 20 percent younger and cooler when we catch sight of our own reflections. Right?

Two recent stories about the downsides of commuting made me want to focus on these upsides (commutes can be polluted and contagious, but what isn’t?).

I love my commute. What’s the alternative? I love getting dressed and having somewhere to go. After years of working from home, I feel like a businessman from the ‘50s most mornings lately. Or like a dad in an old Corn Flakes commercial, where I grab my briefcase, kiss my wife, and head out to work, whistling.

I love my commute! It means I have someplace to be, that I’m part of something. I love looking at people on the train, watching the way they talk to and hold their children, their boyfriends, their moms. Eavesdropping on the questions they ask one another, the way they laugh. Their tattoos, their nails, the things they’re reading on their phones.

The different ways we avoid overtly staring at one another despite being crammed together during rush hour is kind of beautiful, though — the way we know how to do this, to give one another privacy while simultaneously invading one another’s space.

I love my commute, it’s about 45 minutes. Trains are always the right temperature. If there’s not a seat, that’s fine. The ride is long enough for a magazine article. (I still remember the only one so engrossing I missed my stop — the New Yorker story about the origin of Bratz.)

And weird things can happen on commutes, especially if you ride public transportation. You’ll run into people you know (or who know you) and while that’s not always great, it’s usually memorable, and sometimes it is great. Attractive strangers are all around. It’s like a 45-minute miniature soap opera, and you can be whoever you want.

Commuting feels emotionally kind of special, too. There’s an ease there. I also feel this way when I’m driving, flying, and waiting in airports – a pressure is lifted. You’re on the way to something, from somewhere else, and for whatever reason the in-between-ness lifts a particular kind of sadness. It’s feels like an absolution. I’m going somewhere and it might not be great, but it’s happening.