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The Graduate

In the Life of a Commuter

Jacqueline Quillen

(Dec, 2010) My morning and afternoon commute gives me ample time to contemplate life and discuss these contemplations with my train buddy, Marie. Since we both graduated from the Mount, we frequently reminisce about our great college experiences on that mountain we called home for some time. We share our thoughts on this grown-up work scene that we now know as reality.

For the first three months of our commute I worked part-time as an intern having Mondays and Fridays off. As we exchanged work stories of our miseries, Marie always listened intently, but deep down thought, "Yeah, thatís horrible for you. Now you go enjoy your four-day weekend while I hop on this train again on Friday and Monday."

Well now I can share in the misery of the full-time commute with Marie as I was recently promoted from intern to full-time employee. I used to be Marieís voice of reason and youth, telling her to stop working so much overtime and enjoy life a little more. Now I understand Marieís situation a little better. As I received more responsibilities and a heavier workload with my new full-time position, for the first few days I found myself leaving work with half of my to-do list left to do. I wondered if I should stay past 5 p.m. to finish work and if I was even allowed to stay later without the Roll Call Police coming after me. If the work was time-sensitive, of course, I would stay later to finish it. If not, however, I felt like catching the train was more important and I would pick up where I left off the next day. By the end of my first week as full-time (which ended up being a short week because of the holiday), I left work feeling like I would never catch up.

Iím nervous to put in extra time because I donít want it to be a snowball effect where in another year Iím a workaholic. I know Iím jumping to conclusions, but it happens to people and Marie was proof. When is it okay to say, "No" to my boss because I have too much on my plate? How could I even think of saying no to my boss when I am lucky to have a job in this economy? Where is the line between being a grateful and dedicated worker and turning into a workaholic?

BAM! It happened like that. One day I was going about my work in a productive, but not rushing, manner and within an hour of being promoted, my brain couldnít keep up. I had a hard time making the transition from intern to full-time because I still needed to finish intern assignments that people were expecting from me while I was also receiving new assignments that required my immediate attention. It was utter chaos. Luckily the people I work with are very nice and willing to help me get situated in my new position.

The biggest change in my life since college has been the scene transition from the country to the city. It was never too difficult to keep a peaceful mind because the tranquility of nature possessed me, giving me that feeling of being on top of the world. If I was ever in desperate need of that feeling, I knew I could easily find it hiking up the steps to the Grotto or driving to High Rock. Once I got to either of those places, all I had to do was look down to realize I actually was on top of the world, or at least the surrounding cities. There is something about nature that makes me feel like the world is at my fingertips.

The city is a little different. Getting that nature-high of the world at my fingertips takes some imagination. Looking down on mountains, trees and houses that look like dots is a bit more empowering than looking up at skyscrapers and trying not to get run over by taxis and people dressed in suits. The hardest part of the country-city transition was surviving the train.

Train lesson #1: No saving seats! Marie and I learned this after upsetting multiple people during the evening commute. Marie boards the train prior to my station and tells me which car to get on so we can sit together. One day I counted cars wrong and boarded the car in front of Marie and my saved seat. There were plenty of available seats in the front cars of the train so I wasnít worried about getting to the seat Marie saved for me. When the train pulled into the next station I started making my way back to Marie, but more people kept boarding the train and I ended up further back in line. I was only three seats away from Marie when someone tried to sit down in MY SPOT.

"Can I sit here?" asked Pushy McPusher.

"Actually Jackie is going to sit here and sheís right there," said Marie, pointing to me.

"Well, I was here first."

"I know, but sheís only three people behind you," argued Marie.

Pushy McPusher exhaled a disgusted, "Ugh! Whatever," and made her way back to another seat mumbling, "Youíre not supposed to save seats."

I was so grateful that Marie stood her ground and saved me a seat, not to mention proud of her for resisting to give-in to such bullies. We realized that our seat-saving days are over. If we keep saving each other seats, I have a feeling the other commuters will start an alliance against us and weíll never have any seats!

When I told Marie that there were available seats in the other cars, she explained why people would not sit in the front cars. The front of the train is supposedly not as good as the back of the train. People strategically board the back cars of the train so that when the train arrives to their station, they are closer to the parking lot. The people in the front of the train end up having to walk towards the back of the train to exit, and therefore end up at the back of the line of cars trying to leave the parking lot. The common strategy is to be first in line for everything. Obviously this strategy doesnít work when all 50 people try it together.

My new strategy is to board and exit the train without pissing anyone off. I oftentimes find humor by sitting quietly and watching others. Marie and I engage in the competitive commuter nonsense only to amuse ourselves. We compare our parking spaces to see who got the better spot and then try to race others out of the parking lot in the most discrete way possible. The people who run to their cars are in no way discrete about their obsession with first place. I prefer the fast-paced walk, taking long strides and having my keys on hand to unlock my car in the quickest way possible. Marie and I have both, on separate occasions, made the record high of being the seventh car out of the parking lot. My goal is to be the fifth car out of the lot someday. I do have higher goals in life, but setting silly goals like this makes the commute more manageable.

I have a feeling I may need to develop a more aggressive strategy for the holiday season when people tend to be extra pushy, especially if I am going to be the fifth car out of the parking lot. My other less-aggressive approach would be to sit in the very first car of the train and build up a higher tolerance for being patient with people. I intend to discuss various strategies with my commuting partner in crime. We Mounties stick together!

Read other articles by Jacqueline Quillen