Reading While Commuting

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we lived in Santa Clara, California, so Mike could do an internship with Arthur Andersen in San Francisco.  (And boy are we glad he did not accept their employment offer afterwards!)  It was a summer accounting internship, so I found a temp job as a receptionist for a company called Southland Industries, because what else is an English major qualified to do?  My hours began early in the morning, and I got home with plenty of time for reading and relaxing and spending time with my dad, who lived in San Jose, and sisters, who were living there and visiting (it’s complicated to explain the exact living arrangements, because, you know, dysfunctional family?) before Mike returned from San Francisco.

He rode the Cal train to San Francisco each day.  It was a long, boring commute, and because I had so much time before he got home, we began to look for things to do with our time, and reading became the “thing.”  We began by borrowing books from my dad, who is also a lover of books.  One of my dad’s favorite authors is Ken Follett, so I borrowed one titled A Place Called Freedom (1995).

a place called freedom cover

It is historical fiction set in the 1700s and follows the life of a Scottish miner who wants to be more.  There’s a lot of romance and travel and adventure.

After I finished it, I gave it to my husband Mike to read.  He took it with him on the long commute to San Francisco.  He began reading on the train, instead of observing all of the interesting people.  When I picked him up at the train station each day, he’d have his book (and his bag with dress shoes and his empty Snapple bottle for recycling) in tow.  He would be wearing a large grin, his dress clothes, and some dirty old sports shoes.  It was a long walk from the train station in San Francisco to his office.

One such day, the trains came and went and Mike never got off.  I sat patiently in our little white Dodge Neon (may it rest in peace) eagerly waiting to see him come off of one of the incoming trains with the rest of the crowds.  I had dinner in the oven back at our apartment, and after several trains later than his arrived and departed once again, I decided that dinner was likely burned and that my new husband was likely dead on the streets of San Francisco.  You know, nothing too hysterical.

Well, he eventually arrived, from a train heading the wrong direction!  He laughed when he got to the car and saw my tears and frustration and then explained that he had been so engrossed in the Ken Follett book that he had missed his stop.  Instead of getting off in Santa Clara, he had ridden to another stop down the line before he realized what had happened.  He explained his situation to a train employee, who allowed him to board another train, free of charge, that came back to Santa Clara.  We went home, found dinner burned, and laughed.

Some of my best reading memories occurred on a large bus between my home and Salt Lake City.  Reading made my commute during those days worthwhile rather than drudgery.  That became harder when I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my first daughter, and nausea characterized just about every experience I had.  Reading was put aside then on that bus, and focusing on not vomiting on the person next to me became my goal.

Right now, my commute to school is an hour and fifteen minute drive through some rural areas and a canyon.  I don’t “read,” but I do listen to books on tape.

Do you have a long commute? Do you read while commuting? 

Oh, and those Snapple bottles Mike brought home each day?  I know, you’re just dying to know what happened there.  Well, we had purchased the Snapple in bulk at Costco when we arrived so we’d have something to drink with our lunches.  We also wanted to be hip and recycle, so we saved all of the bottles.  After we had accumulated a large box full of them, we set off to find the recycling center and to collect our 5 cents per bottle.  We drove around for an hour with the bottles rattling in the trunk of our car without any luck in finding the place.  So, we gave up.  We returned home and put all of the bottles in the trash.  A few days later, while at the grocery store, we saw the recycling center in the parking lot!  Oops.

20 thoughts on “Reading While Commuting

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  1. Great story. I never tried to read on my commutes — just tried to prepare myself on the way in and unwind on the way back. But I loved reading whenever and wherever I could. Thanks, Emily.

  2. I used to read aloud to my husband while we drove. While reading Dune many years ago, I looked up to find we had gone thirty miles in the wrong direction.

  3. Love this! I used to read a lot during commutes. Now I just read whenever I get the chance. On long trips, I do listen to books on CD. It does make the drive much more interesting!

    1. It does help make a drive go by faster, but I’ve noticed that my recent obsession with books in the car means less time listening to NPR! I miss that. I feel less connected to the “real” world.

  4. Great story. Something burned in memory is the time I was flying back from London one Sunday and I read every word in the paper. I have to read something, even if it is the airline magazines. Haven’t missed a train stop, though. Love Ken Follett as well.

    1. Those airline magazines can be pretty entertaining! I think that’s where I first saw the Snuggie being advertised. And just today, while waiting for my flight to take off, we had a good laugh over some of the products being pedaled. I have to read, too. Cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, billboards…

  5. I love Ken Follett’s works! I can easily imagine being so immersed into his books that I wouldn’t get off the train. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered that problem yet. 🙂

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