Not everyone gets my preference for public transportation. I have a valid license, have carried one in my wallet since proving I could back the parents’ station wagon in reverse around a corner (do they still make you do that?), and am able enough to follow the girl’s instructions on the dashboard Nav system.
Why not just drive? My friends frequently ask.
Give me the option between buckling up behind a steering wheel and squeezing into an overcrowded subway, and I’ll always choose the latter. I thought about this on my AM commute to a studio I teach at across town this morning, and realized my aversion to driving had nothing to do with past experiences behind the wheel. I’ve never been hit by another car, or dinged anyone else hard enough to warrant exchanging insurance details. Nor have I allowed another driver’s short fuse and middle finger for driving too slow to send me sideways (that’s the real yoga in action – breathing beyond the mental cage of other drivers’ rage).
Nonetheless, I avoid driving. And drew up a list of reasons why that frankly, have nothing to do with saving the planet or reducing my carbon footprint. There are a few, however, that I think just might be helping me to appreciate the extraordinary gift of being alive:
Where has he been and what has he seen?”
Behind the wheel, I’d never have been able to consider what’s behind the tired eyes of the aging, gangly Rastafarian on a midday subway ride to Cambridge, MA. His knit cap holding together a mass of dreadlocks serving as shock absorber as he bobs against a handrail, struggling to stay awake. Where has he been and what has he seen?
Riding buses, subways, taxis, trains, ferries, they put us in contact with people that the Universe chooses for us. People we otherwise might avoid. And that, to me, is really interesting. A recent taxi ride from downtown Montreal to the airport gave me the opportunity to interact, in my butchered version of French, with a driver who giggled and promised his English was worse. He left me feeling inspired, not embarrassed, about trying to communicate in his native tongue. Every retail merchant, restaurant server and passerby prior to my fateful ride with this kind fellow had flipped to English before I even had the chance to say Merci.
I shared in a previous post (To Paris With Love) the emotional cord struck when observing an elderly woman’s hands sitting across from me on the Green Line T train in Brookline. Her presence brought forth my late father’s spirit, comforting me in a moment of sadness and alienation as I was still adjusting to life in a new town.
Going with the flow requires more than doing a few sun salutations.”
We toss around the ‘flow’ word a lot in yoga-land. And while flowing through a series of sun As and Bs in a warm, steamy room is dandy, life’s flow isn’t always so warm. Having to exit a broken down bus in Seattle several miles from my intended stop during an unusual snow storm years ago (there’s one plow for the entire city) without throwing a temper tantrum was a stronger test of my ability to flow. Go with the circumstances presented, consider my options, and make my way home. On two healthy feet God gave me for walking. That’s the kind of flow I can really learn from.
We are all connected. Even if I’m convinced he’s an idiot.”
Getting up close and personal with bad behavior – periodically present on public transportation – is a direct route into my judging mind. After inwardly fuming at the oblivious teenager scrolling through Facebook as his backpack smacks into me repeatedly like a metronome, I soften. And realize my hand is gripping my phone too, waiting for an incoming text or some other distraction that could irritate the passenger next to me.
We’re all more distracted. And with most passengers, including me at times, opting to self-quarantine themselves into a soundproof, ear-budded, Instagram version of solitary confinement, it’s tough to connect. But at least on a bus, subway, train or the back of taxi we can be distracted together.
Beats driving solo down a freeway devoid of any human contact at all.