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In Transit

Examining the art of commuting


Living in Connecticut and working in New York City, I’m a devoted Metro North commuter. When the day comes that I cease being a commuter, I might have to join a support group to help me through life without the transitions. Commuting is my psychic punctuation, separating my work life and home life like long dashes.

My flirtation with Fairfield County began with a weekend home in Silvermine, Norwalk, where I lived full-time for only a few months when I was between apartments. I got serious with commuting after I found myself working close to Grand Central, and living with the loudest golden retriever puppy on the planet, the 13-week-old Chase. She was not a New York City dog, to put it mildly.

Suddenly, the thought of having all my shoes, handbags, and workout gear under one roof made immense sense. I’d spent years hauling suitcases and retrievers from Manhattan to Woodstock, New York, in the name of relaxation. Finally the illogic of driving 200 miles every weekend in order to chill dawned on me.

I thought a move to Connecticut would be so romantic and peaceful—ha! At first I found Silvermine bucolic, and I thought of my new home bordering the Silvermine Golf Club as “the country,” albeit less rural than the nine acres in Woodstock I’d traded away and just a blink from Metro North. Everyone I knew in Connecticut snickered when I talked about the country, because they saw what I didn’t yet: I had joined the commuter class. How the hell did I become a suburban dweller whose daily schlep included a drive, a train ride, and a speed walk up Madison Avenue?

The origins of the word commuter aren’t particularly glamorous. In the early days of rail travel, in the 1840s, people who journeyed regularly from the suburbs into the city paid reduced, or “commuted,” fares, which allowed them to repeat the same trip as often as needed during a set period. The longer the time window, the lower the daily rate. So frugality, practicality, repetition, and drudgery were at the heart of commuting at the beginning.

Now I live in North Stamford, and my commute—when Metro North fully cooperates—is about 100 minutes each way. (That assumes I arrive at the train station early enough to find a parking spot; who knew it would be as hard to score a parking spot as acceptance to Brown or a job at Chiat\Day back in the 1990s, when my agency alma mater was “Agency of the Century”?) I don’t commute on Fridays, but I still spend more than 800 minutes each week in transit. That’s more than 13 hours per week of being a dash, bumpering between home and work, work and home.

It could be worse: I still remember a 2004 article in The Guardian called “Le Commuter Belt” about the 10,000 Brits living in or near Calais, France, whose daily journey to work entails a passport and a train ride through the Chunnel or a ferry trip between shores. The ferry is actually faster than my quickest express train and decidedly more exotic, but I feel sheepish enough about not having a 212 phone number. I couldn’t handle having my long dashes connect me with a foreign country. I have had some commutes to kill for: a 20-minute walk through Chinatown, from Ludlow to Hudson in 2001-03, and a 10-minute tram from Amsterdam Zuid to the Heineken Building in the mid-1990s. Genuine cultural experiences—the stuff hipster life is, or rather was, made of.

Commuting undoubtedly isn’t what most people have in mind when they say that life is journey, but it is for me. In the last four years, I’ve become an unhappy addict to these transitions. Some people smoke, drink, or go overboard with religion, but my addictions are green tea, hot and sour soup, and my managed bumpers between interactions. I take my seat on that tin can bullet-speeding or slowly trundling (I am not even adverse to the locals!) toward New York City, and the transformation begins. I become Work Marian, Driven Marian, consumed by commerce, agency life, and my professional friends. Then in the evening, whether it’s 6 or 7 or 8 or even 9, I make the transition in reverse, sometimes narrowly averting a minor meltdown, decompressing into Everyday Marian, thinking about Fresh Direct deliveries, household budgeting and bill paying, dry cleaning, and dinner parties.

Other people talk to one another or read newspapers, but I mostly talk myself into and out of city mode. I rehash the day’s events, reformulate my take on the universe, and edit my to-do list. Sometimes I’ll use my BlackBerrys (yes, two) to get ahead (and, yes, occasionally indulge in the New York Post), but mostly I just transition away. I take the idea of transit seriously.

I have a theory about people in the suburbs: that they’re just a little less something than city people, in a way that’s both good and bad. We commuters are like bees buzzing between two places, cross-pollinating both with a dose of reality. It’s gotten easier in the past few years, as more people work virtually. There’s less of a stigma to being a woman who wears the big C. Today I wear it proudly: Commuter once meant absentee; now it means virtually here, but just a transition away.

Marian SalzmanMarian Salzman
CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America and ER Life PR

Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters, Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, an entrepreneurial agency network now ranked ninth in the world, was PRWeek’s 2011 PR Professional of the Year, among other top honors. Before heading @erwwpr, she was CMO at Porter Novelli, CMO at JWT Worldwide and CSO at Euro RSCG Worldwide. Among her most famous consumer campaigns are the launch of the metrosexual to create a marketplace for SAB Miller’s Peroni, Pepsi’s “It’s Like This,” and “It’s America Online.” She co-founded Cyberdialogue—the world’s first online market research company—in 1992. (Marian was named to New York magazine’s first “Cyber 60” list, in 1995, the same year she was honored by Crain’s New York Business as a “40 Under 40”; the following year, Fast Company said she was keeper of one of the best job titles on the planet: Director, Department of the Future.) Marian resides in Stamford.

Twitter: @erwwpr

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