I officially exited the fake world about three weeks ago when I joined the pool of regular suburb-to-city commuters. Each weekday morning I drive to my local train station, squash into a seat next to a stranger, and ride the twenty minutes into Center City Philadelphia. I’ve fine-tuned my trip so that I arrive at the station exactly two minutes before my train leaves, and have precisely enough time to jog through the electric doors, burst through the ticket checker, scramble up the escalator, and hop onto the train just as the doors-are-closing alarm starts to sound. In my ideal world I would give myself a little more time, but I find it next to impossible to resist that friendly alarm clock snooze button.
I’m a pretty vivid dreamer, and I have, on occasion, within my dreams, concocted reasons why it is ok to sleep through my alarm. In one dream from years ago, I had to twist my arm through this maze carved inside of a tree trunk in order to unlock a lock that would, once unlocked, stop the beeping. Unfortunately even my dream-arm was not bendy enough to fit through the maze, so I eventually had to wake up and turn off the alarm the old fashioned way.
Apart from the waking up early and rushing to catch the train parts, I’ve been enjoying my morning commute for many reasons. For one, the train ride gives me a chance to read—something that I hadn’t been doing enough of when my job was just a fifteen-minute car ride away. Back then (as in about a month ago), I would be so drained when I got home that opening a book seemed to necessitate more brain power than I was willing to use.
There are also interesting things that happen during the commute. For instance, sometimes businesses set up tables outside of the train station exit and hand out free things. Dunkin Donuts handed out free coffee coupons on National Coffee Day and Fiber One dished out their “non-cardboard” snack bars on one random Friday. This has only happened those two times, but I hope it’ll happen again soon.
There are always great eavesdropping opportunities to be had on the train as well. Just a few weeks ago, two women were trying to decide on a seat and the one said to the other, “Well, do you want to look at where we’re going or where we’ve been?” I found that oddly philosophical for a conversation about public transportation.
I’ve started to recognize the people that ride my train in the morning, and I’ve noticed that I pass by some of the same people from day to day on my walk from the station to the office. I found myself a bit distressed this past week when the two men who sell pretzels every weekday morning on Market street were nowhere to be seen. Did something happen to them, I wondered. Are they okay? Did they decide to take a vacation? Hopefully they’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll splurge and buy one of their pretzels someday.
Although I’m sure I’ll grow tired of the trip after a while, yearn for a change of scenery or an apartment in the city, or crave a vacation of my own, for now it’s kind of nice to be part of this community of yawning, coffee slurping, briefcase carrying, newspaper-crumpling commuters.