Zach's PEN #16: Missing My Commute

2020 Week 46: Settling into the darkest days of the pandemic, reminiscing about something lost.

I got our Christmas tree up early. We got it half-decorated after taking this picture. Maybe I’ll send an update when it’s done. Louisa and Wendell took and squirreled away all of the ornaments they could reach so the bottom of the tree will remain bare, but that’s just life in the big city.

One of the things I miss most from before the pandemic is, believe it or not, my commute. There are several things I miss about riding my bike across Philly to University City, taking SEPTA Regional Rail to Joseph R. Biden railroad station in Wilmington, and then walking up Market Street to Short Order Studios, and then doing the reverse at the end of the day:

  1. Employing three of the four best methods of travel every single day. The fourth is boat, of course (I have yet to fly my own plane or glider so I cannot comment on that method and I am married to Allison Baker so a motorcycle is just not going to be a part of this life).

  2. A baseline of exercise built into every day, walking and bicycling.

  3. A baseline of awareness built into every day: bicycle awareness, which is some of the best kind of awareness, and then meditation practice, which I always do at least 20 minutes of on the train.

  4. It’s objectively beautiful: Riding along the Delaware River as the sun rises, glinting off it; the industrial ruins, which I’ve always found beautiful in a sad, complicated way; and the bike ride across the South Street Bridge at sunset, where the whole skyline of Center City Philadelphia seems nestled in a highchair for a portrait.

  5. What I miss most is the wonderful structure my commute provides. Nice structure. Beautiful structure. Structure that is helpful to build a life around.

Trains leave at certain times each day, which provide great little moments to kiss your spouse and kids goodbye, to get showered and button up a shirt (remember shirts?), to end meetings and wrap up what you’re working on… This is really helpful.

I’ve had my struggles with structure in the past when I was a freelance designer/developer/filmmaker for a few years and then when I started a business and would pull all-nighters a minimum of once a week. It took a lot, and mostly help from Allison, to even get to a place where I could appreciate the benefits of some structure.

I understand a lot of people are running into this problem for the first time in this pandemic, and those are the luckiest few who’ve gotten to keep their jobs. Well I can tell you, as someone who has a ton of experience with the dubious luxury of a self-directed schedule, trying to enforce structure on yourself sucks even the second or fifteenth time around.

I had some pretty good structure when we were living in Garrison with Allison’s parents, but I wasn’t anticipating how much of a struggle it would be to reestablish it back in our own home with everything else going on.

I’m going to start with a very simple trick I learned from Shawn Blanc: Laying out my clothes for tomorrow. So damned simple, but it goes like this: If you pick out your workout clothes and work clothes the night before, you remove an incredible amount of friction from the decision. It’s a really good shortcut back to a good habit you’ve lost. You can apply this principle to all kinds of things. Just do one small thing to help your future self (rather than, in my case, do several big things to punish my present self and compromise my future self).

Anyway PENpals, hang in there,



P. S. A year or so ago, we did an exercise at work to make little video gratitude lists. Gratitude lists are another piece of structure the commute used to provide me. I would write a gratitude list daily from the train. The video example I did was actually about my commute and includes a couple shots from that commute:

P. P. S. The iPhone 12 mini finally (finally) is here! It’s the design they never should have left (other than the stupid lock button position). And one bonus that I wasn’t expecting is a wide angle lens. And it’s fun. This is the first video I took with it and you can see when I switch, just how wide it goes. Damn these Apple people, always trying to make it compelling to shoot with these compromised little glass slabs… Louisa loves this cover and demanded it be played over and over today. She has excellent taste.