Year in Training

People celebrate the day they were born and the day they got married, so it’s only fair that I also get to mark the day of my first MARC commute. After all, it was exactly one year ago that I moved to Baltimore and began my new existence as someone with a 1½-hour trek to work (instead of a 10-minute walk), and I’ve spent nearly as much time with that train as I have with my husband. Kidding! Sort of.

Anyway, happy my commute-iversary! The traditional way to party for such an occasion, I believe, is to get some beers from the liquor store at Union Station and proceed to get wasted by the time we stop at Bowie State. But because the store’s temporarily closed, I’ve come up with a backup plan: sharing the lessons I’ve learned over the past year.

Sleep is awesome
I made an early vow that I would never let myself fall asleep on the train. I’d seen my fellow passengers snore, drool and even conk out on my shoulder, and I couldn’t imagine joining them in dreamland. That is, until the day I’d taken a red-eye flight and couldn’t fight my eyelids a second longer. When I woke up at Union Station, I didn’t feel ashamed. I felt rested. And I’ve happily repeated my trip to the dark side. Word to the wise: Make sure you have a window seat, so you can rest your head on the glass, instead of your neighbor’s lap.

Consider wearing a helmet
The downside of a window seat is the luggage rack that sits just inches above you. If you’re not paying attention — like, say you’ve just awoken from a power nap — you will inevitably smack your skull when you get up to leave.

Make train friends
This was the very first rule taught to me by a longtime commuter, who was my very first train friend. She said it was important to have a community of people to rely on in case of disaster or boredom. Fortunately, I have yet to face a true transportation catastrophe, but a few weeks ago, a problem on Metro meant that instead of the 6:20 p.m. train, I’d have to take the 7:40. Who did I run into just as I got this news? Four train friends. We had a happy hour drink at Union Station before grabbing seats together for the ride home. It was a three-hour commute, but I hardly noticed.

It’s OK to avoid train friends
The problem with being social is the pressure to be social all the time — especially when you’d rather be napping or, more often in my case, scrambling to get work done. Those days, you don’t have to feel bad about it. Head straight to the quiet car, where you’ll get shushed for sneezing. It’s not the friendliest atmosphere, but it’s definitely the most predictable. And none of your true train friends will mind the next morning.

I’ll miss it one day
There are plenty of nights I dread facing the trip home. The train ride can be crowded, stressful, smelly or all of those things. But it’s also a time to read, catch up on email, sort out my thoughts, meet people and appreciate the fact that I’m not driving. I don’t think I’m cut out to do this commute forever, but I’m looking forward to celebrating at least one more commute-iversary.

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