In which I learn the dark art of commuting and why many people seem to hate it so much.

Dante’s Tenth Circle: Commuting

998 words about life — 20:00 · 22nd Apr 2016

Words can’t begin to describe how much a few weeks ago sucked.

I got a new job.

Now the job didn’t and doesn’t suck. And the people are great. But the commuting isn’t what you would call, “ideal.”

Oh, did I tell you the job is in Cambridge?

I did, didn’t I?

Which means I have to commute from Maidstone via London to Cambridge and back again, every day.

On a good day, that’s a round trip of 320 km at 6.5 hours of traveling every day, for those of you who aren’t as familiar with the geography of the UK.

On a bad day, well, “How long is a piece of string?”

Now the observant and quick minded of you might go, “Hold on there a darn tootin’ minute Carlos. There’s only 24 hours in a day. Assuming you work 8 of those hours and sleep another 8 then that doesn’t really leave you with time for anything else.”

And you would be right.

In fact, I’ve written this whilst in transit. Sitting on the, by now, all too familiar train from King’s Cross to Cambridge.

So, why did a few weeks ago suck?

Lost in a dark wood

The first day was hell.

I had no idea what I was doing.

I tried to be smart but ended up being dumber than normally as I boarded a quick train to Strood and then the high speed train that I didn’t have a valid ticket for.

Understandably I had to get off at the next station and figure out an alternative and improvised route to London.

People being pushed onto a crowded boat.
“Get in,” he said forcing people in by the dozen. Original illustration by Jean-Edouard Dargent.

In the end, despite waking up to catch the 05:28 train, it took me until 09:40 before I arrived at work for my first day.

I barely managed to eat anything for most of the day, except for lunch and generally felt like a giant bag of shit layered on top of another preexisting, bigger, bag of shit.

The clock was 21:30 before I was home that night.

Journey to the underworld

Morning number two went better.

I had checked the train schedules, making sure to avoid any high speed trains and concluded that I could actually take the 05:46 train from the station closest to me and probably arrive at work at 08:40.

I still have to walk for about 60 minutes—Google maps claims the walk should take 90 minutes but it always assumes a shorter stride—from the train station and back, a nuisance my new shoes are equipped to handle.

But at least I arrive at work on time.

The far side of the world

By day three I have already become part of the flora and fauna of London commuting.

Instead of standing in the escalator I have joined the hoard of urgent commuters and their syncopated click clack of business shoes and high heels hitting the escalator steps as we all walk down in unison.

Click clack, click clack, click clack.

I curse those people in front of me who dare to walk at a pace marginally slower than me as I look for an opening which will allow me to cut in front of them.

I know exactly where to stand on the underground platform to have the doors open slightly to my right—thus allowing passengers to disembark as effectively as possible before I push myself into the vacant spot.

I kick babies and spit on old people who dare get in my way.

Hundreds of people being attacked by snakes.
Sometimes the underground carriages can get a little crowded. Original illustration by Jean-Edouard Dargent.

Okay, maybe that last one is a bit of an exaggeration—it’s not like I kick them at full force.

Commuting is a special, Dante’s tenth circle, kind of hell and I am now one of its minions.

But, I don’t want you to think that this is an entry where I just complain. Even though everything leading up to this point has been complaints.

Despite what you might think of the poor unfortunate souls who commute by public transportation, not everyone is completely dead inside.

A man being attached by wild beasts.
But most of us are. Original illustration by Jean-Edouard Dargent.

Everyone, when I’ve told them I’m commuting as far as I am, have reacted with the same combination of horror and pity. Hell, even the personnel on the train seem shocked at the thought of someone commuting such a distance.

And I suppose it’s an understandable reaction.

But there’s approximately 11 million people who commute to and from work every day in the UK.

People who have already been commuting for years and will keep on doing so until they retire or die—the latter probably being more likely given the studies that show that commuting over 45 minutes shortens your life. Or people like Gary Egan who commutes for 6 hours ever day.

And these people are the reasons I don’t want to complain too much.

They don’t, why should I?

Which isn’t really true though. There’s few things the Brits enjoy complaining about more than weather and traffic.

Besides, we’re looking at moving to Cambridge, at which point none of this will matter any more. Which is why I’m trying my best to see this as a learning experience.

Instead of only seeing the negative, I’m trying to see the positive sides to this as well.

At least I’m getting enough exercise.

You’ve just read Dante’s Tenth Circle: Commuting.

In which, 5 years ago, I wrote 998 words about life and I covered topics, such as: jobs, cambridge (uk), studio 24 (company), and dante's divine comedy.