1000 Hours on a Bus

I’ve lived in St Andrews for seven years, and I’ve been working and studying in Dundee for five years. The two cities are about twenty miles apart, and it takes me an hour (door-to-door) to travel from home to work/University. The bus ride itself is about a thirty minute journey, with fifteen minutes on either side to walk to and from the bus station. Friday, while on the bus, I did a rough estimate of how much time I’ve spent on the 99 Stagecoach Bus over the last five years.

Answer: 1000 hours.

Of course this is just an estimate. It’s only been in the last two months that I’ve been travelling to Dundee everyday, and each year/semester my need to go into Dundee fluctuates. Some summers I worked in St Andrews and would only leave town once a fortnight, while other times I was commuting a regular three days a week. However, on Friday morning I had a thirty minute bus ride with nothing to do and a calculator on my phone. I attempted to remember my schedule over the last several years, and I somewhat accurately concluded that I have spent 1000 hours on a bus in just under five years.

Upon first glance, a fairly scary figure. Also, it leads to the next question: What have I been doing with my time on the bus?

Answer: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Here’s a breakdown of what I COULD have been doing:

• Reading
• Writing
• Studying
• Playing Games on My Phone
• Listening to Music
• Listening to the Radio
• Listening to Audio Books

Reading, Writing and Studying

I’ll just bunch these together because none of them were ever going to happen. I get unbelievably car sick. I’ll knock down a pregnant old lady to get that coveted ‘high’ seat on the bus that looks straight out the front window. I’ve turned green on the straightest of motorways in the best of conditions. And the 99 bus between St Andrews and Dundee has been designed for one purpose only – to get from point A to B with as little luxury as possible. So, due to the winding nature of the A91, and sudden stops initiated by individuals who insist upon using the bus to travel twenty feet as opposed to walking to the next bus stop, it’s difficult enough for me to keep down my lunch, let alone read, write or study.

Play Games on My Phone

There are two issues with this. I don’t have the type of phone that has games on it, and I have no desire to own one. Additionally, if I can’t read on the bus, I can’t play games on the bus. I’ll occasionally send a text or two from the bus station, but generally anything that involves eye movement within a vehicle travelling 60 mph is a bad idea.

Listening to Music

Of course, when I first started the commute this was the norm. Leave the house, iPod on. That simple.

However, I quickly got tired of my music selection, which meant that I was constantly searching for new songs as bus entertainment. Initially this was quite fun. The night before my Dundee commute, I would dig through iTunes trying to find that song I heard on the car advert, or that old tune from Uni, attempting to make a playlist that kept my mind occupied. This was a fun little game at first and it suited me quite well, allowing me to daydream to whatever background music came-up on the ‘shuffle’ of my iPod.

Yet, this too didn’t last long. Someone stole my earbuds (yes, a disgusting thing for someone to knick, but they were gone all the same), and before I could buy another pair I fell out of the habit of bringing music with me on the bus.

Yet, I wasn’t thwarted. I had to buy a new phone, so I chose not a smart phone with games and internet and apps galore. No, I bought a phone with a radio. It was like Christmas come early. I could spend my bus-days listening to Radio 4: catching-up on world news, listening to drama and enjoying the morning and afternoon commute.

In fact, this came in quite handy during the 2010 UK election. I heard the results from my handy dandy phone radio, listened from a seat at the bus-station as the coalition was formed, and tuned-in from the bus when Gordon Brown stepped down. If it had not been for my thirty-minute commute and nifty phone-radio I would have missed history.

However, like so many gadgets in my life, this too became transient. I lost the special earbuds that connected to the phone, and I could not justify spending the money to buy a new pair. Thus leaving me alone, in silence, on the 99 bus to and from Dundee.

Listening to Audio Books

Which brings me to my last possibility. One that may have suited me to a ‘T’. An act that should have been my first thought. Audio Books.

Read Emilie Staats’ great blog on her audio book experience. During her daily drives from New Orleans to Shreveport she used the time to catch-up on her reading. Her enthusiasm for listening to the written word is inspirational and would be encouraging to any audio book lover.

So, why didn’t I follow in Emilie’s footsteps? Because I began my journeys to Dundee five years ago and she only posted that blog about two weeks ago. Therefore, simply, it never occurred to me to download audio books onto my iPod. (Although, in fairness, I’d still have the earbud issue.)

So, yes, all very shameful. It didn’t even occur to the writer, creative writing teacher and all around literature enthusiast to listen to audio books. Yes, very sad, but at least I can admit my flaws.

However, it’s not all bad news. Due to the lack of… well… anything, 1000 hours on the bus may have been the most thinking time I’ve ever gotten, or will ever get.

Thinking Time

How often do we as a contemporary, buttons-flashing, internet reading, sound overwhelming society get a chance to just sit and stare out a window? How often do we get forced silence? How often are we confined to stillness?

The answer: Never.

1000 hours on a bus gave me time to reflect on my life, mull over thesis ideas, deal with personal issues, address creative blocks, take note of future plans and past mistakes, and – in general – quietly meditate on life, the universe and everything.

Would I have had this time to think if it were not for the commute? Unlikely.

In the mornings I would have slept that little bit later, and after work I would have come straight home and turned on the telly, the internet, the phone, etc.

So, you see, I’m actually quite grateful for those 1000 hours of nothingness. It was in those hours that some of my best story ideas were formed, and where I made some serious strides in my academic research. By the time I arrived at work I was ready to start my day, head cleared and mental baggage sorted. At the end of the day, I arrived at home unwound and relaxed, able to do any extra work that awaited me.

Here’s my advice to all you out there with a head crammed full of thoughts and ideas and problems. Get on a bus. Bring nothing and just go. Your wellbeing and mindset will be grateful.

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5 Responses to 1000 Hours on a Bus

  1. emofalltrades says:

    Rachel! I love what became of this post. While I’m glad I had the audio book experience I did, I think you’re 100% and exactly right that we do not spend enough alone time with our thoughts anymore. Every second is crammed with entertainment. Sitting still and silent with your thoughts is important, especially for a writer. Also, I find that I have a lot of crazy and wonderful conversations on trains and buses if I leave the earbuds off and just sit. The audio book experience was essential for me because I needed to stay entertained to stay awake since I was driving, but I also spent a lot of time with my thoughts on that trip, as well. By the way, I counted my hours and it’s only about 200. 🙂


    • marshrachel says:

      I definately think what you and I were doing is quite different. Several hours on the road is a different matter than 30 mins on a bus. I think you used your time wisely, and your blog post makes me long for those old road trips I used to take between Colorado and Louisiana. I always had a few books on tape for those trips.


      • emofalltrades says:

        Agreed – different. Whenever I ride the city bus for something downtown, I bring a book and my mp3 player, but I usually end up staring out the window as well, or talking to folks. It’s a better use of 30 minutes, especially for a writer. Gotta do our research and our thinking! 🙂


  2. birdwing says:

    Rachel, loved this post – can imagine you on that road (I share the sickness issue!) looking out of the window and thinking, thinking, thinking…. just gorgeous!
    Hope you are very well, Clare x


    • marshrachel says:

      It doesn’t hurt that the journey from St Andrews to Dundee is quite scenic. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so lost in thought if I was travelling through an industrial area.


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