The Chaos of Commuting

A person riding a jetpack to work, while others look on in envy or disbelief. The person is wearing a suit and a helmet, and has a briefcase in one hand. The jetpack is red and has flames coming out of it. The background is a city skyline with skyscrapers and clouds. The image has a cartoonish style and bright colors.

The daily commute: that peculiar human ritual where we find ourselves crammed into buses, trains, or cars, partaking in a collective journey that often teeters on the edge of the absurd. As I sit here at our home in the serene landscape of Vermont, my wife is embarking on a several-hour commute herself to the bustling streets of New York City. She’s navigating the intricacies of real estate – a quest to rival any Homeric odyssey. 

Meanwhile, as the homebound writer I am these days, I’m left crafting a batch of what I hope will be many enlightening editions of ‘Chronicles of Absurdia.’ For today’s Chronicles essay, with my wife on a two-day business trip, it seemed appropriate to reminisce about my own commuting escapades.

Commuting is the great equalizer. Whether you’re a student juggling a part-time job or a full-timer navigating the corporate jungle, the journey to and from our destinations is often an adventure in its own right. My collegiate days saw me spending an hour each day traveling to a part-time office job in my beat up old Saturn sedan. Fortunately, I eventually upgraded to just a half-hour commute from home when I landed a full-time position at the same office post-college.

These journeys, whether long or short, are a curious blend of monotony and unpredictability. They’re a daily ritual, a strange dance we all partake in, moving in sync with the ebbs and flows of traffic lights, train schedules, and the unpredictable moods of fellow commuters. It’s in these moments, amidst the sea of faces and the hum of engines, that we find a shared human experience. We all have somewhere to be, whether we really want to get there or not.

As I reflect on my own commuting history, it’s become clear to me that these journeys, as absurd as they really can be, are more than just a means to an end. They’re a shared narrative, a collection of stories and experiences that connect us in the most unexpected ways. It’s in these stories, dear readers, that the true absurdity – and beauty – of commuting lies.

Embracing the Absurdities of Commuting

With its unique blend of unpredictability and monotony, our daily commute serves as the perfect canvas for some bizarre embroidery. It’s a bit ironic that nowadays I work entirely from home, yet the crazy cacophony of commuting is still very much a strong memory for me. So, how can we find the humor in these often stressful situations? How do we transform the mundane march of our daily commute into something delightful?

Practicing the Art of Absurd Observation: Start by becoming an observer of the human comedy unfolding around you. The man furiously typing up an email on his laptop, oblivious to the fact that it’s not even connected to wi-fi; the child gazing in awe at the passing world, a reminder of our lost wonder; the group of teenagers, each lost in their own digital universe – these are the characters in our daily play. Watching with a sense of detached amusement can turn frustration into fascination.

The Playlist of the Absurd: Create a playlist or a podcast queue as a counterpoint to the absurdity of your commute. Imagine listening to a serene meditation guide while squeezed between two arguing passengers on a bus, or a dramatic opera overture timed for when you expect to dash for the closing train doors. The contrast can turn the chaos into a comedy sketch.

Play in Commute-Themed Games: Engage in mental games. Count how many people are dozing off, or create backstories for your fellow commuters. “That man in the tweed jacket? Probably a spy. The woman with the oversized sunglasses? A famous actress in disguise.” It’s a way to entertain yourself, while weaving amusing tales about the strangers all around you.

Finding Joy in Brief Human Interactions: Offer a smile, strike up a conversation with the person next to you (consent permitting), or simply share a knowing glance with another commuter when something peculiar happens. These tiny connections are like lifeboats in the sea of commuting chaos.

Keep a Diary of the Absurd: Take particular note of your most absurd commuting experiences. Over time, you’ll have a collection of stories that can bring laughter and perspective to both yourself and others. Turning your commute into a narrative adventure is something pretty much any of us — even now-homebound writers such as myself — can relate to easily.

In embracing the absurd, we find the humor in our helplessness and the chuckles amidst our chaos. By doing so, we transform our commutes from soul-sapping to soul-lifting experiences. You must learn to see the comedy in the chaos and be able to smile amidst the stress. So, next time you find yourself in the middle of a commuting conundrum, remember: there’s a punchline there somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

Commute Hacks: Crafting a Bearable Journey Through the Absurd

Fear not, my fellow sojourners of the asphalt and steel! Here are some practical hacks to not just endure, but perhaps even enjoy, these peculiar passages.

Assemble a Commuter’s Survival Kit:

For those navigating the bustling world of public transit, having a well-curated survival kit can turn a hectic commute into a pocket of personal tranquility amidst the crowd. Here’s a tailored kit for the public transit commuter:

  • High-Quality Noise-Cancelling Headphones: These are a must for drowning out the din of trains, buses, and crowds. Brands like Bose, Sony, or Sennheiser offer excellent options that effectively mute external noise, allowing you to immerse yourself in your own auditory world. Whether it’s music, a podcast, or silence, these headphones are your first line of defense against the cacophony of public transit.
  • Reading Material: One choice is an E-Reader like a Kindle or Kobo, which can store thousands of books without the bulk. Some possibilities include fiction that’s captivating yet easy to dip in and out of, thought-provoking nonfiction reads, or short story or essay collections.
  • Physical Book (Optional): For those who prefer the tactile feel of a book, a lightweight paperback is ideal. Consider genres or authors that you can easily get lost in, making your commute feel shorter and more enjoyable.
  • Insulated, Leak-Proof Thermos: A reliable thermos that keeps your drink hot or cold for hours is essential. Look for one that’s sturdy, well-insulated, and, most importantly, leak-proof to avoid any mishaps during your journey. Brands like Thermos, Contigo, or Hydro Flask offer great options. Fill it with your favorite coffee, tea, or even a smoothie to add a comforting element to your commute.

This kit aims to create a portable bubble of comfort and engagement, turning the sometimes chaotic and cramped spaces of public transit into your own personal retreat. With noise-cancellation, a good read, and a comforting beverage in hand, your commute can become a surprisingly enjoyable part of your day.

Now, for those who navigate the daily odyssey of commuting behind the wheel, let’s build a well-thought-out survival kit to transform our car into a sanctuary of sanity, and even enjoyment. Here’s a six-piece commuter’s survival kit tailored for we driving denizens of the highways:

The Ultimate Audio Library:  Audiobooks and podcast subscription services like Audible or podcast apps offer a vast array of listening options. Choose from gripping audiobooks that make time fly, or dive into podcasts that range from educational to purely entertaining. This auditory arsenal is key to turning traffic jams into times of discovery and enjoyment.

In addition, you should have a Music Playlist or Streaming Service. Music has the power to soothe, energize, and transform our mood. A well-curated playlist or a subscription to a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music with your favorite tunes can be a game-changer. Tailor your playlist to your mood or the time of day – perhaps upbeat tunes for the morning to kickstart your day and calming melodies for the evening drive to unwind.

Ergonomic Comforts:

Lumbar Support Pillow and Seat Cushion: Investing in good quality, ergonomic support for your back and seat can make a significant difference, especially in long commutes. These supports help maintain proper posture and reduce discomfort and fatigue caused by prolonged sitting.

Steering Wheel Cover: A comfortable, grip-friendly steering wheel cover not only adds a personal touch to your vehicle but also provides better wheel grip and comfort for your hands on long drives. (Before you invest in one, be sure that your state or country hasn’t made them illegal!)

Mindfulness and Stress-Relief Tools:

Breathing Exercises and Guided Meditation Recordings: Keeping a selection of guided breathing exercises or short meditations on your phone can be a lifesaver during particularly stressful moments or when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. These can help maintain a sense of calm and reduce stress levels.

Aromatherapy Car Diffuser: A small, clip-on essential oil diffuser for your car can help create a serene atmosphere. Scents like lavender, peppermint, or citrus can help soothe nerves, increase alertness, or uplift your mood.

This survival kit is designed to cater to your auditory senses, physical comfort, and mental well-being, turning your car into a more enjoyable and stress-free zone, even in the midst of chaotic commutes. Remember, cliche or not, the journey really is often even more important than the destination. With the right tools, even a traffic-laden route can become a more pleasant experience.

Some other possible ways to improve your commute:

The Art of Timely Departures:

Timing can be the difference between a serene journey and Dante’s ninth circle of commute. Experiment with leaving 15 minutes earlier or later to avoid peak chaos. Sometimes, the road less traveled (or at least less congested) can make all the difference. This is true whether you use public transit (just take an earlier scheduled trip) or you drive yourself.

The Joy of Seeking Alternative Routes:

For those of us who have agency over the roads we take, it helps to sometimes explore alternative routes; this is best done on the way home. That scenic detour might add ten minutes to your journey, but it could subtract an hour’s worth of stress. Plus, who knows what hidden gems you might discover?

Consider Carpooling:

If you’re car-bound, consider carpooling. Not only does it reduce your own carbon footprint, but it also adds some human interaction to your journey. Conversations with carpool buddies can range from the profound to the profoundly absurd.

In the end, dear commuters, it’s about turning necessity into a choice – a choice to find joy, laughter, and perhaps a bit of peace in the midst of our daily odysseys. So, equipping yourself with these hacks could well make your journeys through the wilds of commuting be a little less arduous and a lot more amusing.

The “One Percent Better” Commute

Each day presents a fresh opportunity to enhance our daily routines, turning the mundane into something slightly more extraordinary. In the spirit of incremental improvement, today’s challenge encourages you to tweak your commuting experience in small but significant ways. Here are three possibilities you can choose from to challenge yourself; of course, if you’re feeling daring, you can try all three.

Experiment with a Small Change: Select one aspect of your commute to alter slightly. This could be as simple as leaving 10 minutes earlier to avoid the peak rush, taking a different route to explore new scenery, or even choosing a different seat on the bus or train to change your perspective.

Engage with Your Surroundings: Consider initiating a conversation with a fellow commuter. A simple “good morning” or a comment about the weather can lead to unexpected and enriching interactions. If you’re not one for conversation, try observing something new about your commute – maybe the architecture of the buildings you pass, the variety of trees along your route, or the different styles of graffiti that adorn the urban landscape.

Reflect on the Impact: Pay attention to how this small change affects your mood, stress levels, and overall perception of your commute. Does leaving earlier reduce your anxiety? Does a new route offer a refreshing change of scenery? Does a friendly chat with a stranger add a touch of human connection to your day?

By embracing tiny modifications like these, we can inject a dose of novelty and positivity into our daily commutes. Becoming one percent better in various aspects of our lives includes finding joy in the little things that we often overlook. Let’s embark on this challenges together and see how a small change can make a big difference, one commute at a time — even if my biggest commute is to pick up Chinese food in town a half-hour away.

Closing Thoughts: The Potential Transformative Power of Commuting

While our daily commutes may seem a seemingly mundane segment of our routine, they can serve a mirror to the complexities and absurdities of modern existence. It’s in this reflection that I’ve discovered not just the frustrations of our era, but the potential for personal growth, creativity, and connection in the most unexpected places.

Through the lens of commuting, I’ve come to appreciate the art of observation. I’ve learned the value of turning every experience, no matter how trivial it may seem, into an opportunity for introspection and inspiration. The roads we travel, both literal and metaphorical, are filled with stories waiting to be told, lessons to be learned, and moments that remind us of our shared humanity.

As I sit in the quiet of my Vermont home, miles away from the hustle and bustle of my wife’s journey through New York City, I’m reminded that the essence of our commutes transcends the physical journey. It can serve as a metaphor for our individual and collective quests for meaning amidst chaos and a search for beauty in the mundane, both in the face of everyday challenges.

Whether they lead us through crowded subways, along scenic routes, or from one room to another within our own homes, our commutes are more than just transitions from point A to point B. These are opportunities to engage with the world, to reflect on our place within it, and to find joy and inspiration in the rhythms of our daily lives. By embracing the absurdities, seeking out connections, and always looking for ways to make our journeys — even those of the most routine nature — just one percent better, we can find a wealth of creativity, empathy, and insight.

So, let’s approach each day’s journey with curiosity, openness, and a sense of adventure. In the end, these commutes offer us endless opportunities to learn, laugh, and grow. As we navigate the complexities and disillusionments of our modern world, let’s remember that our creative endeavors and our daily routines aren’t just paths to a destination. They are proper journeys in their own right, filled with potential to inspire change, foster connection, and illuminate the beauty in the chaos.

With wit and whimsy, 

~ Amelia Desertsong, January 16th, 2024

Image prompt: A person riding a jetpack to work, while others look on in envy or disbelief. The person is wearing a suit and a helmet, and has a briefcase in one hand. The jetpack is red and has flames coming out of it. The background is a city skyline with skyscrapers and clouds. The image has a cartoonish style and bright colors.

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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