Driving and Biking in the Big City

Commuting is like time travel

with 5 comments

20140501-210901.jpgCommuting can be like time travel. I often lose time when I’m in the middle of it. It’s like the slo-mo scene in the movie when the hero starts shooting or dodging bullets really slowly or does a triple somersault before kicking an arch-villain. Everything slows down. On a commute, it needs to do so, and you learn to face it. You can’t get there any faster.

You leave a million chores at home on your way to a full day of projects at work to complete and, all of a sudden, you are suspended in time. Suspended in the commute. Nothing you can do about it but relax. You’re in real life slo mo.

Happens to me on a bike ride, a bit, and a lot because I ride many of the same roads often or at least many of the tree-shaded greenbelts look exactly the same. This curve, that tree. Where am I?

If I know I’m running late for work, I know it an hour early and before I’m truly late. I have the urge to call into the office before any one of the city-dwellers have left home. If I leave work late, I know it will be dark at home and almost time to go to bed. I won’t have time to walk my hound on the gully because of the mosquitoes, take a bit of a bike ride for exercise or tend to my plants, dig in the earth and revive.

Then, as soon as I get home, I start the cycle all over again. Until today; the weekend.

When I lose track of time in the middle of the commute, I come back to myself and have to figure it out.  Did I make my turnoff? Where am I precisely? What time is it now? I see the same people sometimes in the cars beside me. I recognize their bumper stickers, their breakfast-eating habits. Please don’t put on your makeup; don’t slow down because you’re on your phone. I’m behind you. Please get out of my way.

I see Galaxy Inn every day, twice a day and wonder again about “The Last Starfighter” movie. I’m thrown back in time to the first time I viewed it, the second time, maybe even the third when the kids were little and loved to watch it over and over. I loved it, too, of course, because the plot starts with a character who is really good at an arcade game. I loved pinball as a kid and still love gaming. The hero gets so good at the “Last Starfighter” game that he is called on to save the world because the game actually has been training for reality. Wow. Just what my daydreams were/are made of.

There’s a condition in the real world that’s called synesthesia and you hear a little bit more about it these days. The scientist David Eagleman, author of “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain” studies this condition. It’s when one of your five senses overlaps the other. Most synesthesia folks are musicians who hear music in colors. A couple of characters in books I’ve read in the last couple of years have this condition. I’ve even heard it mentioned on television recently in the plot of a detective drama.

I’ve read about it some because I think I’m a bit of a synesthete. Not much, but it explains some experiences I have that most people don’t understand. I see geometric shapes when I hear loud and sudden sounds. A yellow circle, a black triangle, most often.

I think a lot of people get a taste in their mouths when they smell a specific food. You smell cinnamon and taste apple pie. You smell jasmine and taste grape Kool-Aid.  But it’s a little more arbitrary when you see time or days of the week in squares or columns. I see days of the week in geometric spaces. Thursday is often blue.

I never really knew this experience may be unique when I was a kid, young adult, mother or ever. I only considered it to be something unusual when I read about it. Just like holding a hand of cards upside down, I didn’t know others held their cards differently until I was in college and looked at someone else’s hand. As a kid, I never peaked at others’ cards, so how would I know? Eventually, and in recent years, I’ve discovered, others don’t see time in squares and columns.

Perhaps my most pronounced experience may not be synesthesia but it’s an experience I can control and can make happen again, if I’d like. It’s an overlap of sound and memory. I hear a passage in a book on download, and I’m transported back to the original place where I heard the passage for the first time. I’m in the car, rewind the audio to listen again and I’m transported to the bike path where I was the first time I heard the same words. I’m cleaning the house, rewind, and I’m back upstairs vacuuming instead of in the laundry room downstairs. It’s cool and a bit amazing.

As a commuter, I survive on book downloads. Fiction for my book club. Murder mysteries. Popcorn for the mind. And as an audio book listener who originally was a voracious reader, I don’t want to miss a word, and I often reread to hear it again and catch the nuance. I’ve even been known to buy a book because I want to physically look at the words that I’ve loved.

When I’m lost in the story. I rewind. I could go back an hour; I could begin again. Then, I’m transported to the original place where I heard it first. When I’m in my car, I’m back on my bike. I’m riding the greenbelts and listening to the Scottish accent of Catherine McCarron as she reads Denise Mina’s latest, “Red Road.” It’s cool and fun and green and yellow. I can make the experience repeat itself and take me back. I see my path specifically, colorfully, and I’m transported.

A really good story must be like time travel — if you’re reading a book or listening to it on download. Commuting and listening combine the two easily. You’re in the car; you’re on your bike. In either case, you’re in Glasgow listening to an excellent whodoneit, and you’re in Houston, on your way to work.



5 Responses

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  1. Excellent. Time is relative.


    May 4, 2014 at 5:39 am

  2. Awesome post.

    September 24, 2014 at 1:50 am

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