My daily commute has taken many forms since I moved back to Oakland last May. At first, it was one bus route, five minutes from home. It took about 35 minutes and was pleasant enough, with a friendly driver I liked and a diverse cycle of characters.
Months later, I discovered another bus route. It’s a San Francisco bound ‘transbay’ bus, so the higher cost initially deterred me, but if you tell the driver you’re a local rider, they press a secret button and it’s the same price as any Oakland line. This bus was 3 stops instead of nearly 20 and it took only 25 minutes. This was my ritual during most of our rainy spring.
In April, after reading Dave Ramsay’s Total Money Makeover, I looked through my expenses with some fresh perspective. I am 8 years car-free, an avid rider and advocate of public transit and an occasional Lyft-taker, but it surprised me how much I was spending on the bus and taking cars each month. Just going to and from work was about $5/day, sometimes $15 each way if I called a car.
I discovered that the city share bikes are only $16 for unlimited monthly rides. Since signing up in mid-April, I have shifted my commute again. I now walk an extra 10 minutes to get to the closest bike station, then take a bike for a brisk 8 minute ride to my office. It’s as fast as the bus and I save over $80 per month.
Beyond saving money, I love what it’s done for my life.
My mornings are no longer waiting at a bus stop habitually checking for the next arrival on my phone, or trying unsuccessfully to read a book. Distracted by or exchanging awkward smiles with strangers. Shuffling around the people who choose to occupy the most in-the-way spots. My afternoons are no longer standing in the aisle because all the seats are taken. Cold from a window left open, scrolling unconsciously on Instagram or trying not to look at a nauseating collection of trash on the floor.
Instead, I’m out the door and moving, zipping around the new beautiful bike lane along Harrison St. on Lake Merritt. I’m powering into the shallow hill up Grand Avenue. I’m popping over the ramp near the pavilion and parking at the station by the lake, witness to the chi gong practitioners, the Oakland block party playing the Warriors game, the students in red sweatpants and baggy shirts. It’s been a few years but I am once again a bike enthusiast. I forgot how amazing it feels.
Most days, I take the latter, grabbing bits of fennel to inhale as I walk by the undeveloped lots.
The last leg of my commute is a 15 minute walk up to my apartment. There are two main options, the flowery, residential (and steep) route or the more gradual, unkempt one. Most days, I take the latter, grabbing bits of fennel to inhale as I walk by the undeveloped lots.
Today, despite wearing heels that put a little blister on my toe, I took the flowery hills. Especially after the rain we got this spring, the obscene variety of flowers in people’s gardens are a delight to walk by. Dusk seems to light their colors from within, neon purple, boisterous orange and creamy whites. Reds that riot in pots until nightfall. The silhouettes of the palms and towering oaks in front of a lavender orange sunset, turning to azure blue, then warm gray then darkness.
But I didn’t make that choice for the flowers today. I made it for the hills.
I wanted the heat in my body from the steep climb. I wanted to arrive home glowing as the southern belles do, breathing a little deeper and feeling human and alive. California nights are chilly. I have to get my warmth from movement and these hills do the trick.
It makes me think about how the metaphorical hills in our lives also give us that flush of life. Taking on a new role at work, building trust in a relationship, signing up for a writing class or volunteering with a new organization. The next step on these paths is almost always uphill. It requires extra effort and takes more out of us. We may lose our breath and need to pause, red-faced and panting, looking every bit the struggle we feel.
But then one step leads to another, we take that final step and we’re at the top. We’re up the last stair to the door of our apartment. We’re good at the thing, we’ve built a solid relationship. We’re here and alive and home.
Even in the urban jungle with the garbage and pavement and lost souls, the earth bursts through and reminds me of this miracle I am part of. We are all a part of.
The conveniences of our world are astounding. But sometimes, ‘inconvenience’ is the best part of my day. It’s the part that brings me to the present, inside my body and into the world around me. I can hear the birds’ singing, locate the pileated woodpecker on the telephone pole, catch glimpses into the windows of the families in these old homes. I can watch the flowers bud and bloom and fade away, find the tree bursting with a million figs. Sneak a few lemons when nobody’s looking.
Somehow, thanks to Dave Ramsay of all people, my commute has turned into a reconnection with my spirit. Even in the urban jungle with the garbage and pavement and lost souls, the earth bursts through and reminds me of this miracle I am part of. We are all a part of. Every night sky is different and stunning. Every flower is it’s own perfection. Every passerby or family sitting to dinner is another winding story. When I get home, warmed inside and out, I am grateful for the world and my place in it. It’s worth the trouble to be here.