My daily commute* currently takes me five minutes. This leaves me with time spare to walk every street of six pages of a Sydney street directory. So, most days, before work or after work, I find myself walking alongside other people’s commutes.
In the morning, I pass driveways where parents attempt to start their family’s commute – ‘Get in the car! Please! Now!’ In the evening, I walk past a weary worker returning to a warmly-lit home where, I like to imagine, they’ll find a warm welcome and not the cold leftovers of a heated discussion tasted earlier that morning.
I’ve come to appreciate the different rhythms of Sydney’s Inner West. I walk from one neat, polished, silent suburb, into neighbouring streets with scruffier gardens, unruly cacti and the delicious aroma of fatty proteins under a grill or above some charcoal.
I’m loving this mildly obsessive walking project of mine. I started the year walking the ‘Bay Run’ only to find that I was bored, distracted and surrounded by lycra-clad fitness enthusiasts. Lacking a challenge (other than dodging cyclists and runners) my thoughts would travel in familiar, well-trodden ruts. With this new challenge, my thoughts turn away from the dark alleys off Memory Lane, to travel down new roads filled with hope and imagination.
In my determination to walk every connecting street and cul-de-sac, I am forced to strategise, to come up with the best route to cover as many roads as I can with as little back-tracking as possible. These mental athletics keep me mindful: away from the back streets of my mind and in…what street am I in?…Present Street.
If I want to increase the cardio-vascular challenge, I walk until ! reach a home or block of apartments I deem not so beautiful, then I run. I resist the urge to carry a pair of secateurs in my pocket. I’ve learnt not to judge the gardening habits of those households I pass, for, on weekends, I see so many weekday-commuters out in the gardens, seizing the moment they have to fill their green bins ready for the trucks arriving the next day.
As I walk alongside, through, before and after other people’s commutes, I’ve come to appreciate – or at least begin to imagine – the lives of other inhabitants of the Inner West – lives that include, but are not limited to, their commutes.
(*I wrote the above piece as a submission to the ABC Open Drum writing project ‘Commute’. You can check out my submission along with others here)