Saturday, July 21, 2012

"No time for a kiss at the subway station..."*

So the other day I stood wedged into an overheated car on an Orange Line train, trying to ignore the conversation of some neighboring tourists about which building was actually the Capitol and hoping that for once nobody would grab my ass, and it occurred to me that in just a couple of weeks, I won't have to commute anymore.  No more mildewed trains, no more broken escalators, and no more cramped trains on the Metro.  No more detours to the gym for a shower, no more dodging unpredictable taxis, no more knees popping all the way up the hills on my bike.  

Here in the Hard Core 'Burbs of Northern Virginia, I fritter away moments each morning checking the weather, looking at my schedule, mapping in my head where I need to be and when in order to determine what mode of transport I shall take.   debate whether a 50% chance of rain really means it will rain, or if a triple-digit temperature forecast really means collapse. I pull out bike clothes, I put away bike clothes, I pull them back out again before shaking my head and looking for my Metro card.  I plan out the packing of pannier bags like some sort of clothing engineer.  I offer up a quick prayer that I don't destroy a computer in a fall.  And then...only I spend the actual 75 minutes or so getting to work.

But in just two weeks, my commute will consist of the 3 or 4 seconds it takes to carry my coffee from the kitchen into the home office; I'll suddenly have all those hours I spend commuting back.

Let me say that again:  I will have an additional couple of hours to fill as I please each day.  That's 13 to 15 HOURS a WEEK to spend doing things other than shuffle my way to and from work.  Over the course of a year, it'll add up to the equivalent of 5 weeks of vacation--it's like I'm suddenly going to be French! Whatever shall I do with it? (Other than taking up smoking and pretending that I am French.)

Bike rides, but unhampered by excess commuting gear and the dreaded Circulator Bus?  Become a true "yogini," maybe get to the point where I can touch my toes without groaning? Learn to do that funky chi running thing (even though I feel like I'd look kind of silly at it)?

Maybe I should embrace the arts.  I could finally learn to knit. Take up watercolors, or set up a pottery wheel out on the deck? I could try to make something to sell on Etsy, or maybe start off by understanding what Etsy is. Or maybe I should attempt another belly-dancing class, this time without a torn shoulder and a sling which, frankly, can really cramp a girl's efforts to undulate and shimmy. (Can one take a belly-dancing class in Walla Walla, Washington?)

Conversely, I could blow the dust off my banjo.  Maybe this time I can actually turn on a metronome without falling under its hypnotic spell and stop playing "On Top of Old Smokey" like a dirge. I can learn to read music well enough that I can transcribe it, and amuse all my friends with ironic versions of bluegrass versions of the Clash or Donna Summer.

Mmmmm.  Maybe I should read more.  Not just the Harper's Index ("Minimum number of U.S. states whose constitutions forbid atheists from holding public office: 6") and Scandinavian detective novels, but brainy stuff that will arm me with useful tidbits of information at cocktail parties. ("Well, of course you know what Kant would have said about that!  Ha, ha...Hey, would you like to hear me play 'Hot Stuff' on the banjo?")

I could spend the time becoming a bona fide small-town-style fixture.  I'd walk into the coffee shop in the mornings and be greeted by name before pretending to look at the menu and saying, "Oh, what the heck, I'll have the regular!"  I'll chat with other folks about the weather and how the Walla Walla Sweets are going to do this season now that really good outfielder graduated and all.  When the winery tourist folks come into the joint I'll tip my hat [note to self:  get a hat] as I walk past them and the waitress will say, "Her?  Oh, she's a regular.  You should see her belly dance."

An extra 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours a day.  That's a lot of time.  Maybe I don't actually have to choose.

*The subject line is a lyric. Sound familiar?  Yeah, it's from "No Time This Time" by the incomparable band The Police. I should spend some time digging around for that CD....

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Totally In the Dark

If you read the papers--or if you have friends or family in the Greater Washington DC who, like me,  tend to revel in complaining about the weather--you'll know by now that at the end of June we got one helluva storm here in Ol' Virginny, followed by a blackout.  While losing electricity can be a sort of adventure, a chance to live all "old-timey" and eat by candlelight, the fact that this one came in the midst of a heat wave was....problematic. The fact that it lasted for days was nerve fraying.

Within 12 hours, civilization here in the Hard Core 'Burbs (such as it is) started to crumble.  Housewives in their Lululemon yoga pants all but came to blows at the local Harris Teeter when the ice supplies ran low.  Gas station owners raised their prices per gallon by about $0.40 virtually overnight, and they could get away with it because so few had any power and the lines were reminiscent of 1973. Traffic lights were out, and rather than come to a stop local Virginians adopted a "might makes right" attitude with SUVs barreling through intersections at an awe-inspiring death-defying 40 miles per hour.

We retreated to the basement, hiding from searing heat during the day and sleeping on makeshift beds formed out of sofa cushions at night.  The dog was panting and looking at us beseechingly, "Really, you guys can open the dog food cans but you can't do anything about this damn heat?"  One night as I lay there suffocating under a wet blanket of humid air I thought about how millions and millions of people all over the planet live like this every day; subject to increasingly violent and unpredictable weather they suffer through without refrigeration, without air conditioning, without coffee makers for the love of god.  I silently acknowledged how very lucky I am to live when and where I do.

But because I am a very good multitasker, in addition to this compassion for others less fortunate I was able to feel a deep and abiding pity for myself.   It is this ability to redirect my attention to my own suffering that makes me a true American, I think. I proved that I am not equal to our pioneer forefathers.  Hell, I wouldn't have lasted long in about 1950. Also, any plans I may have been entertaining about becoming Amish have gone out the window--the solidly-closed-to-seal-in-the-air-conditioning window. Now, a week later, we once again can contribute to global warming by keeping our own living space cool, we are slowly refilling the refrigerator with expensive foodstuffs, and with the cushions back on the sofa the dog can once again take up all the space while we watch our stories on the Tee Vee.  And I am able to boot up the computer and do the monthly report for June.  Enjoy!