The Commute

I wrote this blog post as a response to a recent change of job, and the travel conditions that accompanied it. I dedicate it to all the safe drivers out there in the world. Keep it up!


Image by Pixabay

From my bathroom, I hear the increasing hum of traffic jostle for airspace with the wattle birds outside. I listen as I clean my teeth, take a deep breath. It is Day One of a new job and a new commute. I have undergone a test drive already, on the weekend, but give myself over to the possibility of the unexpected. I’m armed for a long working day ahead: lunch bag, water bottle, phone, sunglasses, sunscreen, tea bags, a voluminous handbag stuffed full of ‘just in case’ items.

I drive through quiet back streets to join an arterial road. The vast school a nephew attended is my first landmark. Spread across a hilltop, its stonework glows in the morning sun. A distance marker in this race against time. The school buildings are a beacon of distinction in the urban landscape.

The church spire coming up on the right is my prompt to get in the left turning lane. People at passing bus stops look intently at their phones, or stare at space in the middle distance above the queue of cars, as if trying to claim some equilibrium amid the chaos. Some of them look exhausted already; perhaps the prospect of another busy day, their privacy already relinquished as they stand or sit in full view of passing traffic.

There are two bridges to navigate on this route. The first one rises dramatically. I am flying, free from the stop-start that has punctuated most of the journey from home. Trying to keep my eyes on the road, the car gains momentum. Great expanses of water open up to my left, to my right, boats bobbing, the water winking, luring me to look.

I feel a weightlessness as the land and landmarks drop away and the car gathers speed. It seems surreal after being gripped to the road, edging forward bumper to bumper.

There is no time to enjoy the view. I bring myself wholly to the task of manoeuvering the engine at my fingertips, competing for my space on the bitumen. Vigilant for impatient drivers who bully motorists out of their way. We drive like rats escaping a sinking ship, each with an important destination to get to.

I catch glimpses of humanity at traffic lights: a couple arguing, a woman applying makeup in her rearview mirror, a young man balancing coffee and pastry during the brief respite from the judding forward movement.

There is nothing Zen about travelling at this time of the day. Despite the crisp, clear winter’s morning emerging around me with all its possibilities, myna birds and magpies calling in the overhanging trees if I am stopped long enough to hear them.

The sun warms my face. I am snapped out of my brief reverie by a tooting horn. There is movement in the queue and a space emerges in front of my car. The toot is to remind me to move forward, though there is no benefit in doing so: I am only half a car length behind the next driver.

Classical music lifts me up and out of the vehicle. I imagine myself hovering above the traffic towards my destination, looking down and being appalled at the number of us on the road at this hour.

I sense the frustration of other drivers being caught in a slow lane, behind a bus or building works that spill over into the road. I chastise myself for my own impatience, caught out for being human too. Then marvel at a cyclist’s dexterity, weaving in and out of the queued up boxes of steel. Trying not to think of how thin our armour is, remembering that time when I reversed too close to a wooden post. The sound of wood on metal like a tin opener engaging with a can of beans. $1500 to fix it. But at least I was still intact.

Surveying the car park that this road has become, I fiddle with the radio dial. I counsel myself, sing to myself, talk to myself. Smile at other drivers who reply with an odd look. I count heads for something to do, am horrified at the footprint we are all making, these one-person cars. Guilty as charged. A bus – or rather, its driver – makes room for me, allows me in the queue. I am taken aback by the unexpected gesture and overcompensate with a succession of hand waves and head nods.

I meditate with my eyes open at traffic lights, look at shop windows, hum along to the radio, remind myself for the umpteenth time to organise podcasts. I could be learning another language while sitting here.

A surge of activity pushes my car forward. I imagine looking down from a plane and feeling sorry for all these people queued up, starting their day in frustration, heading to somewhere they would probably rather not be, their dreams put on hold.

Kookaburras and white cockatoos in the trees overhead announce my arrival at my destination. It is joyous, triumphant. Thoughts of traffic jams are quickly erased. How good are us humans at forgetting! I‘m smiling. I sit still in my car for a few moments, appreciate the relief of not moving. Mental fatigue competes with an inner voice: the effort will get easier over time.

By Day Two I am leaving home 45 minutes earlier, park the car at work and walk in the bush. Each step under the dappled canopy of gum trees helps to erase the effort of getting here.

In more familiar streets on the drive home, my guard slips. I am cautious. This is where most accidents happen, when exhaustion can seep in. The setting sun has accompanied me all the way, compromising my vision.

My body unfurls after nearly an hour’s intense driving. I emerge from my tin cocoon to the embrace of my home, grateful that I have survived another trip in the city traffic.