The other day, while I was driving to work in the morning, I was pretty surprised to see almost empty roads. Just me and a bunch of thinly scattered cars. Where was everyone? I quickly convinced myself that I hadn't set out to work on a weekend (believe me, I might forget my name, but I will not absentmindedly go to work on a weekend). Another memory scan showed that it was not a government holiday day either. Finally, I concluded that it was just one of those lucky low-traffic days.
When I reached the intersection where I cross one of the entrances to freeway US-101, I saw the "metering lights on" sign and wondered why on earth they would turn on the metering lights when there was no traffic whatsover. Then I tilted my head slightly to look at US-101 (which runs below the bridge I was on). Voila! There was all the traffic which had been missing on the roads near my house! And, there were around 12 cars lined up on that entry ramp alone waiting to merge into the almost immobile lines of vehicles which constituted the freeway traffic.
For the nth time in my life I felt smug that my commute to work everyday does not involve taking any freeway. My house is just 5 miles from work and even in heavy rush-hour traffic, I can get to work in under 15 minutes. Hallelujah!
For a person who loves travelling otherwise, I am strangely averse to spending long periods of time for daily commuting. So, since the time I have had to choose my own place to live, the distance between work/school and home has always been THE deciding factor in choosing apartments.
My first mode of transport, when I started attending school was the cycle-rickshaw. I used to be pretty clingy as a child and when I was in LKG I used to wave heart-rending good-byes to my mom every single day from the rickshaw. I often used to envy the kids who could simply walk to school and back. I assume I must have thought that having a home at a walkable distance would have made it way easier to run away from school to home mid-day :-D!!
Anyways my wishes were granted when I went to Calcutta in my 4th grade. My house was at a comfortable 15 minute walk from home - though, of course, I no longer entertained thoughts of running away from school mid-day. My dad used to accompany me to school every day till I got to the 5th grade - by then my sis and I were considered grown up enough to do the walk (involving one major road) by ourselves. The only problem was the terrible monsoon season. Torrential rainful ensured floods and we had to be extra careful to not fall into open man-holes. Otherwise, it was nice to be able to walk to and from school. of course, true to the longing for what we dont have, I used to envy the kids who took the bus to school everyday.
When I changed schools next, we had to take the bus! That was a whole lot of fun. Though these were public buses, at that time of the day, my school students used to frequent the buses the most. With our huge book-bags we used to constantly bump into other passengers, irritating them. A nice part was that a couple of my friends lived in the same route - so every morning we tried to sync up to make it to the same bus. Sometimes when the bus was late, the friend who lived farthest down the route would come by in an auto and pick us other people up on the way :-). At other times, I have gotten rides from teachers and once I even got a ride the priciple of the school!!
The next school had school-buses. As seniors, we had to take the earlier bus in the morning and the later bus in the evenings. I don't think I have ever spent so much time at school in my life! It was especially painful to adapt to especially since in my previous school, we used to work from 8.00a to 1.35p only everyday. We used to call the bus naai-vandi (dog van :-)) for the extremely barred-up windows that it had!
By this time I had experimented with all modes of transportation other than driving on my own. Somehow my parents were very convinced that two-wheelers were extremely dangerous and to date, I have never owned a two-wheeler :-(.
In college, my hostel was almost next door to my department. I soon perfected the art of waking up at 8.10a for a 8.30 class and still making it on time. For the two years in between, when I stayed at home, I threw a tantrum and got a bicycle for the short ride from home to my nearby college. My cute ladybird bicycle stopped being my dearest possession when I had a head-on collision with a motorcylist. I got all the sympathy in the world (in Chennai, in any accident, girls always get the sympathy) but the incident left a bad taste behind. The rest of college days went by in a flurry of chauffered car-rides, pillion-riding behind friends and walking around.
Once I got to the US, as I said in this post, it was back to bicycling. However, biking in winter, when it is cold, windy and raining must be the most horrible torture ever. Tha'ts when I rediscovered the joys of walking - there are certain times in life, when long-drawn but less painful beats swift but painful every time!! I think I discovered my love for walking then and even now, whenever possible, I try to walk instead of driving.
When I first started work, for various reasons, I did not want to buy a car. So the bus it was to get me to work. I spent an hour each way to cover the 3 miles between home and work. I used to have a book to give me company on the long ride. When reading especially interesting books, I actually used to long to get back on the bus again. I dont think I have ever caught up on my reading at quite the same rate again!!
Then of course, I got my car. It was really cool to have wheels - it opened up a whole new world which was not covered by bus routes! I still marvel at how on earth I used to get up at 6.10am every single day, rain or shine, to get my bus on time. Now of course, I no longer need to get up at crazy times any more. Considering that it used to take an hour earlier, even a half-hour commute from a place further away must seem like a snap. Still, I like staying close to work just so that I dont need to spend a long time commuting!