Monday, April 14, 2008

A how-to guide for the morning commuter

Twice a week, I teach an English class at a strange and somewhat disturbing Santiago office park called Ciudad Empresarial. The name means Business City, but the place is less of a city than it is a hodgepodge of mismatched office buildings--some of which, to their credit, are architecturally fascinating--interspersed between empty plots of land. Ironically, this supposed bastion of economic progress hasn't managed to fill itself up.

But back to my class. The problem: It starts at 8 A.M. The bigger problem: Depending on what side of the bed the metro and city buses wake up on, I live between 45 minutes and over an hour away. When you consider the fact that it takes me about an hour to get up, eat breakfast, shower and get dressed, you have an alarm that rings long before the sun is even thinking about coming up.

Although it may seem hard to believe, getting up before dawn is not the most harrowing part of the experience. The commute from my apartment in southwestern Santiago Centro to Ciudad Empresarial, located in the distant northern suburb of Huechuraba, is consistently more successful when it comes to fraying my nerves.

Thus, in order to do what I can to preserve the sanity of those who may have to make the same commute someday, I've created this guide:


1. The night before class, set your cell phone alarm for 5:45 A.M. As this may not go off, set your clock radio alarm for 5:46.

2. When/If your cell phone alarm goes off at 5:45 the following morning, hit the snooze. When your clock radio alarm goes off at 5:46, repeat.

3. Manage to melt out of bed before 6:00. Armor yourself with slippers and a sweatshirt before venturing outside the warmth that has accumulated in your bedroom overnight.

4. Head to the kitchen and prepare a breakfast hearty enough to allow you to put off the inevitable struggle with the temperamental gas water heater.

5. Struggle with the temperamental gas water heater. As you fight to turn it on, curse quietly enough to not wake your roommates but loudly enough to feel satisfied.

6. Once in the bathroom, divest your body of slippers, sweatshirt and pajamas. Shiver. Shower.

7. Once cleansed, stand dripping in front of your closet while scanning for something presentable enough to meet the English institute's dress code.

8. Before leaving your apartment, turn the temperamental gas water heater off to prevent it from malfunctioning (as it is wont to do) and asphyxiating your sleeping roommates.

9. Begin the 10-minute walk to Metro Toesca. Enjoy this: It's one of the few stretches of tranquility you'll have all morning. The streets are quiet, and the air is purer than it will be for the rest of the day. Make the experience more enjoyable still by setting your iPod to peppy tunes you're embarrassed to admit you listen to.

10. Descend with trepidation into the depths of Metro Toesca. Wait for up to four packed trains to pass before you manage to squeeze on.

11. When you finally do find a space to jostle yourself into, hold your breath so that there will be enough room for the metro car's doors to shut behind you. Once the doors have closed, participate in the collective exhalation that will take place throughout the car. As you roll out of the station with your body pressed against the doors, remind yourself that you asked for it by choosing to live one stop away from downtown on a metro line that passes through densely-populated residential areas before it reaches you.

12. When the metro cruises into the next stop, vacate the car as quickly as possible in order to avoid being stampeded by the mass of exiting commuters. Then, get back on the train as quickly as possible in order to avoid being stampeded by the mass of entering commuters. You still have a long way to go.

13. Settle in for the long haul. Distract yourself by reading or finding cute babies to look at.

14. Integrate yourself into the flood of humanity that exits the train at Metro Dorsal, two stops short of where Santiago's metro meets its northern demise. After completing your ascent toward the nascent daylight, cross the street to the bus stop. Spontaneous car-dodging may be required.

15. Wait for a period ranging from 0 to 10 minutes. Remember that, in the grand scheme of Transantiago, this is nothing and you are damn lucky. When the 107 arrives, board.

16. Look pensively out the window as the bus crosses the highway that separates Far Out from Way Far Out. As the bus turns into Ciudad Empresarial and the office blocks begin to file past outside, feel a none-too-slight pang of guilt while wondering whether your English-teaching services are helping big corporations conquer the world.

17. Get off the bus outside your student's office building. To your dismay, realize that you've arrived early and the door is locked. Shiver.

18. Be grateful that you love this city and traveling in it.


helen said...

leigh you are an excellent writer.

victoria.magyar said...

You make me miss Santiago. Can I come back?

Leigh said...

yes, and you can stay with me! how's the u.s.?

nataliemma said...

man, I love all of your writings! This does make me miss Santiago and increases my feelings of "I've got to get out of here" to a point where I may push back my rolly chair, exit my cubicle, and never come back... sigh, stop tempting me!

leigh said...

Natalie, I think the solution is simple: COME BACK!