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Exploiting the hour commute

Every weekday morning I commute from Salem Common to Boston’s Back Bay, which takes roughly 1 hour and 5 minutes. This involves: a 10-minute walk; a 26-to-33-minute ride on the MBTA Commuter Rail, Newburyport/Rockport line; a zero-to-20-minute-wait for an Orange line subway train, depending on the presence of a disabled train or mechanical failure or track fire or signal problem or good old rushed idiots crossing the yellow line; then a 10-15 minute Orange line subway ride into Back Bay Station. And I still haven’t gotten to my desk yet. A lot of sitting, a lot of waiting.

I initially didn’t really care about that — most NYC subway rides are pretty long if you live in the outer boroughs — but after starting my new gig at Wayfair, I got bummed pretty quickly about the amount of time wasted sitting and waiting. Plus, anyone who knows anything about the MBTA subway & commuter rail systems knows that they are frustrating at best, and at worst completely non-functioning and apathetic to public need.

But I didn’t want to move any closer to the city; there was a reason we decided to live one block from the water in a relatively sleepy town. So I pushed myself to make the best of the situation and have ended up pleasantly surprised with the results.

  1. I started reading during the waiting and standing parts. While in NYC I started reading more on Medium, saving articles to Pocket, and generally feeling more informed about the world thanks to lots of time spent on subways between Queens and Manhattan. When I realized I would be spending ~10 hours of each week commuting, I had a perfect excuse to start reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It took me two months, but I finished it.
  2. I started writing (or continue reading) during the sitting-down parts. I wasn’t really able to start centralizing my thoughts for Tone Deaf & Color Blind, or a few of the other ideas I’ve had (details tba) until I had 2 hours of free time each day during my commuting. (Finishing Infinite Jest also helped give me some inspiration to write, so thanks MBTA for giving me the time to finish that.)
  3. Optional: brought a Nintendo 3DS for the ride. Nintendo’s best games for the 3DS are objectively more immersive than virtually any game in the iOS app store. (The only real exceptions here are iOS ports of previous releases, like the Final Fantasy games.) Instead of mindlessly catapulting birds at pigs, try dipping into the compelling story of Bravely Default — which really messes with you about halfway through — or solving some surprisingly complex puzzles in Hyrule as Link. I finished games I had left half-finished for months.
Posted on July 30, 2015

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