My first experience living in a large city happened in Alexandria, Egypt, where I learned how to commute between apartment and university. I had transportation options other than the hour of walking: taxis, micros, and the iconic Alexandrian tram. After a while of living in Egypt, a couple friends and I established a pattern. We took a taxi each morning to school, allowing for everyone to sleep a little longer, but we went separate ways in the afternoons. Sometimes I took the tram, but the cars were packed with people and loud conversations. Like Daniele Querca, my commute bothered me enough that I began using a different route. I walked along the seafront highway, ducking inland at some random intersection, and then following my sense of direction and knowledge of major thoroughfares toward my apartment. My favorite route took me under a canopy of flowering jasmine vines growing from two second-story balconies near lights and tinsel strung across the street forgotten after Ramadan’s end. I enjoyed meandering home and finding beauty in my adopted city.
Two years later, my partner and I moved to new jobs in a metropolis approximately the same size as Alexandria – Minnesota’s Twin Cities. I now live about two hours’ walk from my work. Listed from fast to slow, my transportation options are taxis, Uber, collective car owning companies like Go2Car, biking, public transit system, or walking. While I have more options, I now operate with time and financial budgets stretched thin. So I bike as often as possible, but in bad weather or when I must take lots of gear to work, I use public transit. On public transit, I derive pleasure only in listening to podcasts – rare is the conversation held between strangers – and walking the last blocks through a park to work. If I bike, my favorite moment is the view of morning sunrise while crossing over the Mississippi River, but that moment is fleeting and dangerous as I’m biking on a busy bridge during rush hour without a bike lane. My commute exists mostly as an odious task to complete twice a day.
I happened to hear the embedded TEDTalk while commuting on a bus. Querca offers the idea that commuters can take pleasure in their commute, and his idea reminded me of the pleasure I experienced while walking to my Egyptian apartment after school. In Minnesota, my commute has remained the route provided to me by Google Maps. Neither other commuters nor I make time to meander through the hidden paths in our metropolises, but Querca points out that we only need add a minute or two onto our commutes to find more enjoyment in that daily routine. I plan on changing my route to find a more beautiful path to work. Will you join me?