Commute: The Magic Between Departure and Arrival
Today I slid my laptop into a beach bag with coffee money, wandered out the back gate to the beach, stopped to take a close-up of a flower still covered in dew, then walked along the beach to a little café to sip coffee and write.
I reflected on how things change and how the word ‘commute’ has taken on a very different meaning for me.
It used to mean sitting in traffic feeling frustrated, impatient and bored.
Sure wandering along a beach and working from anywhere is obviously more enjoyable than driving across a busy city to an office job… But underneath that clear contrast is a shift.
The truth is I’m often in a hurry - buzzing from one thing to another. Sometimes out of necessity, but mostly because I’m always focusing on the destination, the conclusion, the completion.
When I think about travel, it’s the destination that’s the focus. But most of travel is actually the travel. And once I arrive it’s kind of an anti-climax.
Gertrude Stein wrote, “There is no there, there.”
This quote often rolls around in my head.
There always seems like it might be so much better than here, but when you get there it’s just another here.
This is touching on the big being-present-living-in-the-now conversation that has so eloquently been discussed by Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, Alan Watts and anyone else with an ounce of wisdom.
Enough's been said on that.
Instead I’d like to redefine the meaning of the word - commute. I've used and abused this word badly and I’d now like to make friends with it.
The more I think about it the more I realise how many happy memories I have associated with it. And how (surprisingly) few I have attached to the word destination.
Commuting isn’t just about getting from A to B...
For the last few years I’ve been self employed so the commute has pretty much been from the bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen to the office. Unless I choose to wander and work somewhere else - could be anywhere, the only proviso is good coffee and a nice view.
"But before this I was mostly living in cities and working in office buildings."
When I read that sentence it makes me groan… But when I have a good think about those times, there are many happy memories. Sure, I don’t miss the Monday to Friday of grey cubicles…
And crowded trains and traffic jams definitely suck but…
My favourite way to commute to work when I lived in cities was by bicycle. There’s something deeply satisfying about flying past a stream of banked up traffic, going at your own pace, feeling the wind on your face.
When I first lived in London I spent a lot of time underneath the city, commuting via the London Underground. But after a few months of that I got so sick of being sandwiched in with the rest of the sardines that I started riding an old bike that my housemate found in the corner of the back garden.
Riding through the streets of London is such a different experience to travelling underground. I was amazed by how close things actually are. Stations that took two or three line changes to get to were in fact only a short ride away.
And London in spring on a bike? Magic.
Commuting by car is generally not so fun, especially when stuck in heavy traffic… But back when I was finishing my uni degree, living in shabby, unheated share houses in Melbourne, heaven was my little mustard Datsun Stanza.
It was my transport, my heater, my haven - my poetry in motion.
It also facilitated one of my favourite ever jobs - as a part time restaurant delivery driver.
A few nights a week I’d zoom through the back streets of Melbourne from restaurant to restaurant with the window down and the night streaming in, smoking rollies and listening to Ministry - loud. I’d score the occasional chai as an apology for late orders from Indian restaurants and once delivered to a group of large men dressed as Vikings.
And then there were all those days, weeks and months of backpacking…
I always thought my least favourite part of travelling was the travelling.
There were hours upon hours on crappy busses through African nights, attempting to sleep in contorted positions, exploring the boundary of possibilities one seat space could allow, becoming semi-dehydrated to avoid the agony of waiting for the next stop with a bladder full to bursting.
The precarious Andean bus journeys with drivers who stopped to pray to Jesus and a collection of Incan gods for safe passage. And the ever present pan flutes. Those fucking plan flutes.
But there were also river barges up and down the mekong, tuk tuks through Bankok, slow trains to Vic Falls and cheap returning charter flights that flew so low you could see elephants and giraffes wandering the savannah.
True there was also a bus accident in the middle of Zimbabwe in the middle of the night...
But that lead to some happy hitch-hiking experiences with kind people who shared their meals, their stories and sometimes offered a bed for the night.
What I mostly remember about travel is not where I was going but how I got there. The good, the bad and the ugly - the journey between places and the space between moments.
So, it's decided… Nevermore will I regard the word ‘commute’ with such unfair prejudice and distain. I hope we can be good friends. And as token of friendship I promise to slow down, enjoy the moments, the transit, the distance and the process.
“Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story."
- Author unknown