Commutes And Community

Words: Alexis Gresh

Incredibly different as we are, we all start our days the same way: we get up, get ready, and get going. We commute by loading into cars or boarding metros or catching buses or whatever varying method we choose. The commute has always been a staple of human existence, but some things about it have changed.

In 1950s suburban America my grandmother’s commute was taken by foot. She was a high school student, thin and bony with a vibrant smile, books in tow as she navigated the same leaf-speckled sidewalks and crackled macadam streets for a punctual arrival to class every morning. It was that commute that led her to walk past the same apartment building every day, where a man would lean out his second-story window and whistle a new song to her. This form of flirting grew on her, so much so that it led to marriage. This is the story of how my grandparents met and kindled a love that has spanned 50 years and counting. Theirs is a classic tale of serendipitous meeting and romantic pursuit, back when the debate of love at first sight actually held some merit.

Is it fair to say that we’ve lost some of the romance of life in the past 50 years? Do stories like this still happen, or is the world just a little less rose-hued than it used to be? Sometimes it seems that with the 21st century the commute meet cute died out, and instead we’re alone in our cars, or on the bus but alone in our phones, unapproachable and disinterested.

The concept of the commute has not changed. It remains one of the most ubiquitous parts of the human experience. Every single one of us commutes – we all are going somewhere, somehow, all together yet in solitude. We share the same paths to different destinations yet we sit alone right next to each other. But, it’s not because the trains have changed. It’s not because the buses have changed. It’s not because the crosswalks have changed.

So perhaps the determining variable is the commuters. Now we travel with our phones to our faces, insulating our solitude. We’ve changed our perspective, turned our attention, and given ourselves 21st century tunnel-vision. We’ve become jaded to the fact that the people around us are unique, interesting, and worthwhile.

Dear drivers, riders, passengers, and pedestrians of the world: I dare you to lean out your metaphorical window. This isn’t a call to find your true love on the train. It’s a call to make connections. Our commutes are our only real opportunity to mingle with the outside world – outside of our chosen tribes, cultures, religions, backgrounds. The person next to you has an entirely different life story than you, all leading up to that moment when you brush shoulders on the subway. What if we used that time to start conversations and show those people that they are valuable? What if we found things in common with the people around us and started bridging the gaps in our differences? Your commute doesn’t have to be the medium you use to find love. But if wielded just right, maybe we could learn a thing or two about love. So start a conversation tomorrow when you’re on your way. Find something in common with someone unexpected. Because incredibly different as we are, we all start our days the same way.