The Commute

Use your commute.

The commute I've always wanted, depicted as street art in Barcelona.  

The commute I've always wanted, depicted as street art in Barcelona.  

I spent over an hour a day commuting to and from school for three years of my time in Eugene. I didn’t own a car, and I have a deep-seated and irrational (and embarrassing) fear of bicycles. So I walked everywhere, and sometimes took the bus.

Those long walks to school in the mornings and afternoons/evenings were some of my favorite chunks of time in college.

My favorite time-fillers on foot:

  • Podcasts
  • Lanugage-learning tapes
  • Phone calls
  • Enjoying my surroundings
  • Feeling smug about not being in a car or gym
  • Brainstorming for essays

I used those commutes as time away from the internet to relax and recharge. I did that a whole bunch of ways during my college years. I listened to music. I got to know the neighborhoods. I called home. And eventually I discovered podcasts and a whole new world opened up to me. I walked in the rain, and occasionally in the snow. I felt sufficiently safe that I often walked at night down streets with reasonable levels of traffic, and the smell of rain and leaves on autumn evenings is one of the great sense-memories of Oregon I’ll keep with me in the long run. Because I walked, I always knew the phase of the moon and the relative size of cat populations in various neighborhoods. I got to know many folks by sight, and some to the point of greeting them. And (perhaps I’m admitting to some shaky ethics here), during the fall if there were apples rotting under trees I would help myself to any available ripe, unspoiled fruit under the assumption that the owners would rather it not go to waste.

The commutes of normal life were a freeing and relaxing time for me. They were a bit of a burden, but mostly they were a joy. It was my time at large in the world, and my chance to decompress. They also became an important time for brainstorming and essay planning, since thinking on your feet frees up creativity. Ideas flow more naturally for me when I'm in motion, and sometimes by the time I got home I had a mental map of a full essay, work plan, or some other creative project.

It’s sometimes hard to find time alone in college. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overworked, or to feel that you need to be internet connected 24/7. I realize now that the internet is everywhere with phones, but I stand by the idea that it’s worth disconnecting for a while, however you do it.

Seriously, guys, call home while you're walking to class. Call your folks. Tell them how long the walk will be, so they know how much time you'll have to talk. You have a built-in conversation starter: tell them what you're seeing as you walk, what you'll be talking about in your next class. If you've got a fifteen minute walk, that's time to bring your parents into your daily life for a bit, and to catch up with things back home. I really enjoyed calling a highschool friend or a family member and asking them to “walk me home from school” and to have that company in motion.

The broader point in all this is that it’s important to seize opportunities to be settled in and comfortable with life and experiences. A forty-minute commute in a car would drive me nuts in a way that a long walk never would. But not everyone feels that way, and with a book on tape or a podcast, a car commute can be a breeze. I continue to have bike commuter envy, but there's not much I can do about that.

I'll be discussing the car factor elsewhere, but I want to just say here that it is very possible to live college life without a car. Of course this depends on where you are in the world, but even living off campus it's often possible and worth it. Strap on a good-quality backpack, plug into something you love to listen to, and head out into the world. Stride through some forward motion and head into your day. That’s time savored, and to the fullest.

Oregon in the fall.

How do you get to class? What do you do with your "down time" while walking around campus? What's your favorite thing to notice while walking? Please leave a comment and let me know!