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Epiphany on the 455

Somewhere among answering some e-mail, reading the NY Times online, organizing my digital photos from the Singers’ European tour, and working on a short story for my nieces, it occurred to me: riding the bus to campus is a sweet deal.

I live north of the city in one of the suburbs that used to be fruit orchards and dairy farms until developers snapped up the land and turned sleepy pioneer settlements into a vast expanse of stuccoed houses. Don’t get me wrong; I like living there. It’s a great place to raise a family (even though my nest is now empty). But living there requires a 35-minute commute when I drive to campus, or an hour commute when I ride the bus. Each way. Every day.

The drive often drives me crazy. Actually, other drivers drive me crazy. So riding the bus is a sweet reprieve from cursing everyone around me for 35 minutes. Instead, I settle into my seat (always the starboard side, to avoid the sun) and let the bus driver put up with the idiots on the road. For me, it’s an easy commute. The 455 picks me up a block from my house, and drops me off 60-minutes later a block from my office on campus. It’s almost like having a chauffeur…that I share with 40 other people.

And I’ve come to realize this: The bus ride takes longer, but it’s all useable time. I can read, or handle e-mail, or do some work on my laptop, or listen to a podcast, or (my personal favorite) take a nap. When I drive, all I can do is drive. (Okay, I can listen to the podcast…but it’s hard to focus on the speaker when I’m yelling at the other drivers on the road, many of whom seem to be napping.)

There’s also the unmeasurable benefit of connecting with other humans, however transitory and vicarious that might be. I’ve eavesdropped on conversations that vary from fascinating to painful, observed the human condition in a spectrum that ranges from stumbling drunk to silk tie and suit, chuckled at people singing an off-key drone to the music in their headphones, and, on rare occasions, fumed at people who forced the entire bus to participate in their one-sided portion of a cell phone conversation. I’ve enjoyed seeing students climb on board and unpack books and notes to study on the drive into campus, and listened to them moan about papers and professors and test scores on the drive home. I’ve marveled at how the ones we might deem least among us can often be the most gracious and grateful, and learned to view with greater empathy those who share this spot on the globe with me.

So add “insight” to the list of benefits I garner from riding the 455. That, and considerably less cursing. All in all…a pretty sweet deal.