The commute

This morning, like most of the last 10, I left the house at about 7:10am, and got to work by about 8:50. As the crow flies, I went 5 miles.


Out the door, with Opportunity(*) walking, holding my hand most of the way, and Spirit(*) on His Bike. Opportunity’s scooter’s wheels fit perfectly into the cracks between Beacon Hill sidewalk bricks–tomorrow, he’ll mount the new scooter that just showed up in a doorstep smiley Amazon box, but today, we’re holding hands. On the first day of school, we talked about Superman. Monday, I mentioned a song from a show Freelancer(**) and I saw when we were dating. What’s dating? Well, it’s like practicing to be a family. By that evening, Opportunity is “pretend engaged” to the girl who lives upstairs.

Spirit’s Bike is his persona. Like James Dean on a motorcycle or the Riders of Rohan, if the day comes that dropping Isaac off at his classroom doesn’t mean watching him carefully prop His Bike against the wall and deftly unsnap, unstrap, and handlebar mount his helmet, it will feel empty.

Down the sidewalk, past Schmoo’s house (the first cat), across the first crosswalk, past the playground, past the basketball court, past the soccer field, through the willow that slaps and soaks you on rainy days, through the barrier stones dividing the public path from the private, pock-marked road that everyone cuts through, through more barrier stones onto the Bike Trail, past the Brook, onto the steeply arched wooden bridge. A quick check for turtles or geese, then a deep breath while the bridge clears. A shout, and Spirit is in freefall, feet no longer out to the side for emergency correction, like last week, but firmly planted on the scooter bike’s floor, exuding confidence, grace, and aerodynamics. He shoots down the bridge, eliminates the last remaining bit of Arlington, and coasts over the border into Cambridge, stopping on the little circular concrete map where he knows he has to wait while Opportunity and I, allegro, catch up to his prestissimo.

Across crosswalk one, two, three, four, then carring The Bike down the first staircase, then Spirit carefully coasts down the ramp to the train station. Inside we walk, even bikers, but The Bike and Spirit are never parted. The MBTA gatekeeper offers to usher us through, as she does almost every morning, but, just like every morning, I swipe my pass, and we all three try to dart through before the electronic eye realizes it’s been duped. Down the escalator, Spirit clutching His Bike and fighting to stay balanced. The bell rings, and we dart into the first door we come to. On lucky mornings, our compatriot neighbors, a Kindergartner with super powers and a 2nd grader with football in hands and a Tom Brady memorial scrapbook in his backpack, and their Dad, who first convinced me such a morning might even be desirable, will have caught up to us somewhere along the path, and we’ll somehow find room for six people on the four seats remaining in a car.

This morning, we have seats to spare. Opportunity whips out his book of the morning, a wonderful Golden Book Field Guide to Seashores from the late 60’s, hand-drawn with colored pencil and putting DK books to shame with its dense clarity. Spirit has two choices–not Richard Scarry today, but a book in German about a countryside train ride. Some mornings, we thumb-wrestle, or play tic-tac-toe, or comment on the SPORE posters hanging in Harvard Square station. This morning, all is quiet. I’m tempted to whip out my own book, but decide to just let the moment be. At Kendall Square Station, books stowed, helmet on, The Bike retrieved from under the train seat, Opportunity wears one backpack, I wear two. At Charles/MGH Station, we bolt off the train. Spirit, as always, stops as soon as the train starts, and solemnly, joyfully watches in quiet respect as it thunders out.

Down the elevator, on The Bike the moment we leave the station, pushing the button at crosswalk 1, crosswalk 2, into Beacon Hill, onto the centuries-old brick sidewalks, past covered alleys ponies could never have ducked through and grocery shops that sell cheeses that double your weekly grocery budget. Crosswalk 3, crosswalk 4, we’ve joined up with the neighbors, who show us a new back-alley, one more block removed from the traffic. Down to Chestnut Street, so we can introduce the neighbors to Georgie the Torbie cat that watches the window shoppers in front of the Hillary House antique shops.

The Bike is parked out front of the school, helmet hung. Opportunity signs his time of arrival (no Tardy Slips today, like there was last Friday (shame on the father)), and we’re up one flight of steps to his room. “Hello, Miss Armstrong!” (This is an unusually quick warm-up). Opportunity stows his backpack and jacket, takes out his homework folder, drops it in the folder bin, signs his name on the attendance sheet. He opens his desk drawer, and I get a glimpse of artwork too precious to bring home yet(***). I hug him, Spirit gets a drink, and we’re off.

We cross into the Common. Paths here are nameless, but are easily identified by dominant species: first the Dog Path (way up hill), then the Squirrel Path (slightly up hill), then the Pigeon Path (rocketing down the hill, screaming at the birds to scatter), then People Plaza (slow walk up to the train map, to pay homage and check again that the route home is still marked). Then across the final crosswalk, a wave to the construction workers. A quick check for Bob, who has been on this corner on and off for ten years, the same sign declaring “Smile–It’s the Law”, and the same greeting: “Good morning! School is Cool!” Good morning to the teachers at the door, walk the bike to the elevator, up to the third floor.

Bike stowed, helmet stowed, Spirit nearly tackles me in the back of my knees, and holds on tight behind me, trying to hide as I hobble in to do our morning routine. “Mrs. Ranlett, have you seen Isaac? He was here just a second ago. What’s that? Giggling? I don’t hear any giggling, although there seems to be something attached to my legs…” Spirit asks for a hug, a high-five, a regular handshake, and a secret handshake, and then sends me out so he can get down to some serious bead-threading.

Feeling impossibly light with only one backpack, I exit the preschool, jump on the train, and am back at Kendall Station and Google within 10 minutes.

My 100-minute morning commute is done.

(*) Yep, keeping with the codenames, for this post. Opportunity and Spirit are of course the Mars Rovers, and our noms de guerre of the moment.

(**) The middle one.

(***) You can imagine what stays in the studio, when this is what’s hanging in the galleries:


2 responses to “The commute”

  1. Joel says:

    Wow, that 100 minute commute is much, much more intersting than my 100 minute commute: Walk down Cedar Street to the commuter station. Get on train for an hour and read book or do work. Walk with horde of commuters from train to red line. Squeeze onto red line and attempt to continue reading book. Walk past activists/protesters/volunteers/musicians in Harvard Square to office building.

    See — nowhere near as interesting (unless of course the train breaks down or the activists are particularly lively…).

  2. Kansas Mom says:

    And then there’s my commute. Walk through living room to office. 😉

    Of course, your commute sounds just as delightful as it must be exhausting.

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Posted on September 25th, 2008 by Our Mutual Friend and filed under Uncategorized | 2 Comments »