I come from a small town in the Midwest where public transportation is scarce and people spend most of their time traveling alone in their cars. While studying in New York and now in London, I have spent more time than I could imagine sitting on trains and buses for hours trying to get to my destinations. It can still be frustrating at times, but I realized that life was happening around me! Here are some tips I have come up with to take advantage of this amazing opportunity:
1) Take out your headphones!
Life is happening all around you! It’s so easy to zone out and close your eyes during a train ride, maybe too easy! Now, that may be needed once in a while. Just not all the time! When you turn off the music you see the world that is living around you, whether its colleagues complaining about work, parents trying to control their playful children, or people performing for the world to see — there is a lot going on that is worth your attention.
2) Have fun with it!
It is so easy to get annoyed and frustrated when “shows” transpire on your daily commute. The fact of the matter is, there is no escape. You can sit there and brood about how you wish the performers had just gotten on a different car, or you can sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Dancers, stand-up comedians, and singers are all in abundance on the New York subways. One of my favorite moments on the subway happened when I sat next to a young woman who was playing her music on the speaker of her phone and singing it out for fun. I inevitably joined in and had a blast connecting with a complete stranger that I would never see again.
3) Kindly people get asked questions.
This was something I realized after a couple of years riding trains and constantly being asked for directions. At first I thought it meant people thought I looked local, but upon reflecting I think it had more to do with approachability. Make yourself approachable and don’t snap at people when they ask for directions. If you don’t know the way, try to help them or just apologize kindly, however hard it may be sometimes.
4) Don’t be afraid to talk to people
This one can be especially hard. During my novitiate I took a Greyhound bus around the better part of the east coast and the south. It is well known that the Greyhound can be a breeding ground for all kinds of crazy people, and I met my fair share of them. On the other hand, I also met some wonderfully delightful people who were genuinely interested in me as a person. This has happened to me a few times on the subway as well whether they were short conversations between two quick stops or the better part of a commute. If someone approaches you to talk, don’t be afraid to engage, because the worst that could happen is a funny story.
5) The only wasted time is that spent buried in a screen.
Often I feel annoyed by the length of my train rides. On my worst days they seem like 2 hours I could have spent studying at home or looking up funny BuzzFeed lists. I find that these days are often accompanied by me burying my face in a game of Candy Crush, constantly looking at the clock in my top corner. I have to go the same distance as other days, but it somehow seems to take longer. Embrace your commute! Say a prayer! Talk to someone! Contemplate life! Live and give yourself over to the forces of the day, they still have yet to disappoint me.