Commute Life

Yellow flowers on the road side next to rusted post
Jun 20, 2019 | Alexandria, Virginia (USA).

One of the things I miss from the pre-pandemic times is the commute to work to my current job; it involved a short walk to the bus stop, riding a bus to Pentagon metro followed by a ride on the train to Gallery Place/Chinatown in Washington D.C., a walk to grab coffee from a choice of two of my favorite coffee shops and then finally arriving at the office. The evening commute was a reverse of the morning minus the pit stop for coffee.

The hour long commute had a life of its own, and involved a meandering of the mind, segues into exploring potential photographic inspirations that occasionally concluded in a photograph that I did not delete. If interested, here are few pictures which were a direct result of these adventures of the mundane.


Walk to the bus stop

I woke up excited, took care of my duties as a parent of a teenager and two cats, worked out, showered, dressed up in business casual, and checked the City Mapper to know what the universe had in store that morning for my commute. I ran out the house and through the back, and depending on how early or late I stepped out, I either walked or ran to a different bus stop that the bus route took. There were two bus stops less than 100 feet of each other, and the bus stopped at one early and the other 5 to 8 minutes later after going round a couple of blocks in the neighborhood. This meant I had a plan A and a plan B, but every now and then I missed the last bus or it was super late and that meant a plan C (driving to a Eisenhower metro station), plan D (taking an Uber/Lyft to L'Enfant Plaza), and a plan E if the weather was nice (walk 20 mins to another bus stop on Yoakum Parkway, where the bus to Pentagon had more runs). Each of these plans had additional nuanced variations that I could engage as needed and it brought some excitement into an otherwise boring routine. If all of these were off the table, then it was plan Z (work from home). Once in a while the bus broke down on the way to the bus stop or was stuck on I-395 due to a traffic accident, which led to collaboration with the other people stuck at the bus stop and engage a plan that allowed us all to get to wherever we were trying to go, while creating the opportunity to get to know these strangers with familiar faces.

Frequently I bumped into my neighbor who exited his house around the same time as I and drove to his office, and on rare occasions when I was on the border of being late I would take up his offer to drop me off at the bus stop. Fortunately, most days I left early enough to walk a slow pace, letting the mind wander and relish in the joy of little things. It was usually during walks like these that I felt optimistic, energized and filled with a creative force that briefly permeated every single encounter with another sentient being. These kinds of random shifts in routine was a result of my deliberate sabotage of the discipline I had for routine and was meant to add small unpredictable variance and it brought joy and sometimes pain to an otherwise boring routine.

Bus stop

The scene changed at the bus stop depending on the weather and the season; the picture I shared with this post is of a plant growing through the gap in the guard rail along the sidewalk was one such scene taken months apart. The plant itself did not really die, but the branch that grew through the gap was torn away from the plant when the county landscaper trimmed all the plants near the sidewalk. Things like this sometimes make me wonder if all living beings on this planet are just leaves on branches of some cosmic tree and death isn't really the end of life, as the tree lives on and we just either turn to ashes or buried in the ground to eventually remerge as a new leaf on some other random branch of the cosmic tree.

Diptych of a plant along the sidewalk
Nov 07, 2019 (left) / July 19, 2019 (right) | Alexandria, Virginia (USA).

Bus ride

Depending on the bus stop I made it to, the seat I could choose from changed as the number of people normally occupying the bus also changed infrequently, which meant I did not always get my preferred seat. My preference shifted along with weather, season and the way I felt. It was best to avoid a window seat if there was a downpour as more often than not the rain water leaked through the windows. Likewise it was best to sit where the shade or the sun was or where the air vent was depending on if you were feeling cold or hot. I avoided sitting near people who wore strong perfumes or that smelled of cigarettes if my allergies were acting up.

One of the people in the bus was a habitual smoker and smelled of cigarettes. The smell at times sent me careening back to my college days (two decades ago) when I smoked, primarily to burn away my insecurities, lack of focus and purpose even though I was training to be a doctor and acquiring skills to save or better other people's lives. A tumultuous time in my life and the experiences I had going through medical school and practicing as a physician changed me for the better as a person and taught me a valuable lesson about life - that it is truly lived in the journey, among chance encounters, camaraderie of friends, battles won and lost along the way to the destinations of our dreams and hopes regardless of what those destinations were and if we ever reached it or not.

The bus ride in the morning usually involved reading a book that I picked at random every 21 days from the local public library. It was a hit or miss, but never ceased to surprise me. When there wasn't a book to read or I wasn't in the reading mood, time was spent listening to podcasts - some of my favorites are 99% Invisible, The Happiness Lab, Singing for Survival: Capoeira History and Serverless Chats.

Train ride

The train ride in the morning involved listening to music and immersing myself in the chaos of the morning commuting crowd. Since I got on at the same carriage every day at roughly the same time, I saw majority of the same people in the train everyday. These are the nameless people I recognized and shared a slice of time with doing nothing but stand or sit nearby. Washington D.C. also brought in many visitors from other cities, states and countries heading to numerous attractions like the national museums or to conferences at the Washington Convention Center. I could see the convention center from my office window and there was always some expo or event going on in there. Every now and then at the Pentagon metro I ran into old friends from my Capoeira group, and I welcomed the chance opportunities to catch up in-person, off social media.

Walk to the office

I took a different route depending on the day and or how I felt, and each route brought completely different sensory experiences. All of the different routes eventually crossed paths with a coffee shop before I made it to the office. My personal preference for the day fluctuated between La Colombe and Compass Coffee.


Walk to the train station

The time it took for me to leave my desk, exit the building and the walk to the train station had to line up with with the arrival of the train while guaranteeing that I make the connecting bus at Pentagon. This meant that end of each working day was a tiny math event where the ideal exit window occurred once every half-hour. There was flexibility to that window which was achieved by shifting the pace at which I walked or ran. Small as it may be it was personally rewarding when I was able align all of the events with minimal wait times, and a test of my patience when I either missed the mark or there were delays caused by some random event that was outside my control. Increased wait times were most challenging at the bus stop on windy winter afternoons that were coupled with considerable wind-chill as the bus stop was open and provided very little protection from wind. Regardless of the highs and lows I found it extremely rewarding.

Gallery Place-China Town Metro Station Washington, D.C. (USA)
Nov 17, 2019 | Gallery Place-China Town Metro Station Washington, D.C. (USA).

Train ride

The train ride in the evening was very different and nothing like how it was in the morning. It had a different beat to it and people in the cars varied significantly - young adults eating fast food and making a mess, people listening to music loudly, people that sat in corners trying to fade into the background and those that preferred to stand . My preferences was to stand by the center door in the last car as that stopped right by entry to the escalator at Pentagon. This made getting to the bus stop outside more efficient as the number of people that exited at that metro station was large and almost everyone appeared to be in a hurry.

Bus ride

This involved waiting for the bus that could get chilly on windy winter evenings especially if the bus was late. The ride back was primarily occupied in thinking of what to cook for dinner and chatting with my spouse or ruminating about a coding challenge at work. Switching gears and transitioning the mind from work life into personal life was liberating as there was a clear cut compartmentalization of work and personal as separate entities.

Walk home

Depending on the season the walk home from the bus stop was in the bright light of summer, a street light kissed twilight of fall or icy wintery darkness. Occasional run ins with deer, foxes or neighbors walking their dogs to an otherwise end of the work day that was spent in a few minutes of solitude walking up a street that went uphill.

Deer in street light kissed twilight
Nov 08, 2019 | Alexandria, Virginia (USA).