The Dos And Don’ts Of Commuting

I spend approximately four hours a day commuting — two each morning and two every night. My commute includes all forms of transportation: I drive to a train, take a train to a subway, take a subway downtown, and then walk an extra 15 minutes to my office. And determined not to let this waste of time turn me into a waste of life, I have spent these 10 months figuring out the best ways to survive and thrive during my four daily hours of idle time. The following Dos and Don’ts will hopefully help any fellow commuters out there to, if not have a better morning, at least know that someone else out there knows exactly what they’re dealing with.

DO join a book club. I know, #nerdalert, right? But regularly having a book on hand while commuting can be the perfect escape to help time go by faster — and it can’t run out of batteries (I know, crazy). Sure, you can pick out books yourself, but a book club offers up new material that you may not have considered reading before. Don’t have a book club at work? Look in your hometown, or start your own. You’d be surprised how many people would be happy to have a new kind of intellectual stimulation. You won’t be surprised at how many of them are commuters.

DON’T read aloud. I was once seated next to a woman who, halfway through a bus trip, whipped out a book and started reading aloud. Things get a little strange when, on an otherwise-silent bus, someone starts animatedly reciting dialogue. Please try to at least keep it to a whisper?

DO frequently update your iPod or other music device. iPods, iPhones, and basically all Apple products are the unsung heroes of the commuter world. Having any sound in your ears to help distract you from the fact that you’ll be sitting in this seat for the next hour always helps, whether it gets you daydreaming or helps you fall asleep. But listening to the same couple of songs for months on end on the train will slowly drive you insane — update it.

DON’T forget said iPod or other music device. You’ll be kicking yourself if, the second you board a train, or pull onto the highway, you realize your commuter best friend is sitting at home, plugged into your laptop. If (or, in my experience, when) this happens, you hope the car radio plays something good (won’t happen). Or if taking public transit, hopefully you got past the nerd alert and joined that book club. Happy reading!

DO go to happy hours, even if it means getting home later. I’d be the first to admit that with the prospect of a long commute ahead of me, it’s tempting to bolt to the subway as soon as the end of the workday rolls around. But if your colleagues want to meet for a drink after work, or get dinner, or go to Drag Queen Bingo, just do it. You’ll be happy you went, and you can always catch up on sleep during the next morning’s commute. (I don’t recommend this tactic if you commute is primarily by car.)

DON’T take The Drunk Train. If you stay late after work, chances are you’ll encounter some people who got a little too happy during happy hour on your commute home. They can turn an otherwise peaceful non-rush-hour commute into what the How I Met Your Mother cast calls “The Drunk Train.” If you find yourself stuck on The Drunk Train, my advice is to choose your seat carefully based on the already-established locations of the following: drunk sorority girls singing “Call Me Maybe,” that guy taking swigs from something in a large paper bag, and that group of middle-aged men making racist jokes. After a long day at work, it’s best to get a seat far away. That is, unless you got a little too happy during happy hour, too. Then feel free to humiliate yourself.

DO sit in the Quiet Car. Take advantage of this time to catch up on sleep. A few tips on how to pull off the commuter nap: always carry a winter hat with you, even in the summer, to use as a pillow. Sit near a window so you have something to lean against. Try not to drool/snore, as these will increase the likelihood of your seat buddy “accidentally” bumping into you and waking you up. And, most importantly, listen to an audiobook. A lot of people can fall asleep listening to music, but I find that the transitions between songs is jarring enough to wake me up. Audiobooks provide a steady steam of sound that will stay at the same tone and volume, allowing you to drift off easily. I swear by the Harry Potter books; Jim Dale’s British accent has been the soundtrack of some of my most successful naps. Except for that time I woke up to the Basilisk hissing “I SMELL BLOOOOOD, TIME TO KILLLLLLL” and was convinced I was about to get eaten by a giant snake. But hey, most of the time, it works.

DON’T miss your train. They won’t wait for you. Even if you’re running and you can see the conductor and he’s looking right at you and you’re screaming “WAIT, PLEASE WAIT!” and you get closer and you see him looking painfully away because the doors are closed and there’s nothing he can do. Looks like you’ll be driving that day. I hope you remembered your iPod. Although, full disclosure: I forgot mine this morning. Guess I’m not the perfect commuter… yet. TC mark

image – Kotarana

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  • Guest

    haha, i totally listen to harry potter to fall asleep. jim dale has the best voice!

    • Raquel Marty

      Try Stephen Fry’s readings instead – best audiobooks ever.

  • Guest

    Thank you for this, had the 4 hour commute (from NJ) this past summer and will be starting full time in September…having a book & sitting in the quiet car are the two best in my opinion

  • http://twitter.com/isit5yet amber evans

    I’ll be honest. I clicked here not because I’m a commuter, but I wished to tell the author THANK YOU for writing Dos and Don’ts correctly. “Do’s and Don’t’s” drive me up a WALL!

    • http://baileypowell.com/ B

      YES! And when people write decades like “80’s and 90’s” instead of “80s and 90s” as they should be. Not possessive, people!

      I have no idea how to use “whom”, though. Dammit.

      • Lolz

        To whom it may concern,
        Please excuse my daughter from participating in today’s physical education class due to menstrual cramps.

        Signed,
        Mum

      • Oliver Miller

        Right.  If you can substitute “him” in the sentence (or her, or them…), use “whom.’  Who does it concern?  It concerns him.  It doesn’t concern he.  So, whom.  Easy-peasy.  :/

      • Dapperdan

        For whom the bell tolls, to whom it may concern-just not too many situations when “whom” is deployable

  • ENDI

    I think for me the worst things are hearing people chew their gum, smelly food and loud music from people who have crappy earphones (although that old businessman blasting Celine Dion made my day).

    • Chelsea Fagan

      put your own headphones in and you won’t hear jack..

    • Anonymous

       Ha, you beat me to it. Was going to say there’s nothing worse than those people that blast their music as loud as possible on their stock headphones and you can hear it clearly. Not only do they do a great service to everyone by getting better headphones but they make a world of difference.

  • Rosiemccapp

    Not sure if this post refers to the LIRR specifically, but another good “Do” is to familiarize yourself with the trains the platforms come in on.  Especially at rush hour, most of the trains will arrive on the same track every day (for example, the Babylon line will always arrive on track 16 for the 5:04pm train, etc).  This way you can stand on the platform ahead of time, avoid the “cattle call” once the track listings appear, grab a good seat, and not have to worry about pushing through people to get onto the train.

    • thefailroad

      co-signed. another good tip for the LIRR is to board from the 8th ave end of penn. everyone hangs out at 7th ave and ends up getting crushed in the crowd when tracks are announced – also, this means the cars at the front of the train fill up crazy quick. the back of the train is always (unless there are canceled trains and shit is fucked) less crowded and there are always fewer people standing around the west end concourse (easily accessible from the front end of the downtown C/E platform)

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    4GOT MY HEADPHONES 2DAY :(

  • Guest

    do listen to podcasts

    don’t make commuter friends 
    to catch train, do carry with you running shoes, and not much else. 

  • Bee

    what the hell is  quiet car and how do i get on one

  • thefailroad

    do be aware of the fact that when on public transit in a major city there are (at any moment) hundreds to thousands of people around you, so don’t act like the train/bus/sidewalk is your living room. this is more common than you think and it’s unacceptable.

  • Cate M

    I’m planning a move and I thought I was crazy debating a 1hr+ commute… Book club sounds like a great idea. 

  • Danaynay

    DON’T eat something that gives you gas before hopping on the bus/train. That’s uncomfortable for everyone.

  • mrb

    So silly. 

  • Jessica

    i agree with all of these. before i got my license in march, i always commuted to work and school via train/bus…in LOS ANGELES. I was basically depressed if i didn’t have my iPod with me, or a book, or SOMETHING. and i slept a lot on the bus. so. yeah. but now i have a car and it takes 20 minutes to get to work so woo hoo

    • MP90909

       Oh my gosh, the Metro in LA is horrific. If I didn’t carpool with a friend, I would have spent two hours commuting from Burbank to Marina del Rey with LA’s underclass.

      • Jessica

         “LA’s underclass”
        ok

      • a.

         “LA’s underclass” is definitely a thing, but why the hell would they be in MDR? C’mon now.

  • DP

    DON’T live two hours away from your job.

  • OscarD

    As someone who takes the subway everyday during rush hour i have another DON’T that people should follow. Please…PLEASE…don’t fart. 

  • lalala

    Also, HAVE YOUR FARE READY (especially on pay-as-you-leave transit). While you’re digging through your purse, I might be missing my next bus standing in line behind you. I mean really, did you not know you’d have to pay? Why couldn’t you dig through your purse or pockets on the 1 hour bus ride so you’d be ready?

    Also, loading episodes of tv shows onto your ipod is a great option if/when you get tired of your music.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hannah-Ranson/1037018134 Hannah Ranson

    DON’T have a few too many drinks after work and fall asleep on the Drunk Bus only to be woken by the bus driver at the end of the line, with no idea where you are and how you got there.

  • Dapperdan

    LIRR = Long Island railroad? Here in Middle Earth, just west of BFE, the concept of light rail is sort of like a solar ecslipe. We’ve heard of it.
    Commute is possible only by automobile or motorcyle for the brave.

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    […] over my love of audiobooks, and they actually laughed when I told my story of waking up to the hissing basilisk in Harry Potter. I left feeling more inspired than ever. Though I ended the night gushing over a […]

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