I grew up in southern California. The idea of public transportation was just a distant dream, some utopian vision of a greener lifestyle that just was not possible in the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles. Still, I enjoyed my trips to San Francisco, where I would be able to catch the BART or make new friends waiting at bus stops. And when I visited friends in New York City, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little more metropolitan catching the No. 1 train uptown. I loved people watching. I loved the strangers I would somehow always manage to encounter during my travels. It sure beat making the 45 minute commute alone on my way to work in the middle of LA. traffic.
It hasn’t taken too long getting used to the public transportation system in Washington, D.C. I spent my first few weekends riding the Metro to new and exotic locales and taking the time to learn the intricacies of the bus system. I can say now that, two months later, I feel pretty comfortable with it all. Still, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about the days when I wouldn’t have to walk five blocks in the rain (not that it really rains much in L.A. anyway), the days when I could sing along to my favorite songs on the radio on my way to work, the days when I could carry most of my personal belongings around with me in the back seat of my car. I miss the privacy and comfort of having my own car. Some days, I get tired of the constant stream of pushing crowds and jerking subway cars. I am not looking forward to the winter months when my five-block trek through the rain will become my five-block trek through the snow.
But annoyances aside, I feel blessed that I’ve had this opportunity to experience it all. For one, I’ve learned to appreciate the true value of having my own car. Every gallon I pump into the tank is another contribution I make towards negatively impacting our environment. I’ve learned to manage my time better and to plan my days based on something other than my own impulses. I’ve also learned to take the time to appreciate my surroundings. I like the fact that I can close my eyes and relax for a few minutes on my way to work. Other times, I’ll stare out the window and watch as the buildings zoom past me and the turning autumn leaves fall to the ground. I appreciate that smile I get from the stranger that moves his bag so I can sit down next to him. I’ve enjoyed conversations with people that I would never have met otherwise, like the man who described to me how it was when he worked to build the Red Line tunnels over twenty years ago.
I guess you could say that it’s been a humbling experience. The days of valet parking and drive-thru fast food are over for me, for a while at least. Still, I’m learning to appreciate the extra time I get to spend outdoors, enjoying God’s creation, something that I rarely took the time to do in the comfort of my air-conditioned home away from home. I’m putting faces to the hundreds of real people that were once just numbers in my mind. I’m learning to be in the world in a much more present and active way, something that was easy to avoid in the hustle of California life. But most importantly, I get to take a nap on my way to work without worrying about watching the road.