Monday, January 22, 2007

The Commute

Most days I walk to and from work in darkness. Before 7am, Zurich and the S Bahn are bustling, but the little town on the hill, cozy under a blanket of morning fog, is just waking.

I cross quieter roads and busier streets on my way to the train station. Terrified of being hit by the tram, I look both ways several times before crossing the crowded boulevard, and as I do, I pass young school children sporting bright orange reflecting sashes who seem unconcerned with oncoming traffic. Do those sashes come in adult sizes? Before I reach the train station, a brightly lit bakery tempts me with its fresh brot (bread), chocolate croissants, and other delicious pastries. The promise of free Farmer Flocs, a brand of muesli, only minutes away helps me resist.

The train pulls into the station on the hour and it takes eleven minutes to reach my destination, without fail. If it were light outside, I would notice the landscape change from city to suburb and from suburb to forest as we quickly ascend the mountain.

I’ve never lived in a city as big as Zurich and yet I’ve never lived in a community that felt so small. We cannot go into town without bumping into Zooglers and it never ceases to surprise me that I see the same people on the train day after day. I sit across the aisle from a young couple holding hands on their way to high school. I stare at them and wonder whether or not they speak English and how long they’ve been together.

Because my route is the reverse commute, very few passengers remain when I leave the train. Sometimes, I am the only one who gets off at my stop. It is indeed a stop and not a station as only a shelter, some maps and schedules and a sign distinguish it as a place at all along the railroad tracks. As I descend a steep hill on an unpaved road, I often must hold my hood at my neck to prevent the wind from blowing it off. Strict Swiss rules prohibit most cars and trucks from using this road, so I walk in its dead center. If it were light, I would see green hills ahead and the snow covered Alps on the horizon.

To my right, I pass a small football pitch and then a school yard littered not with children (it’s too early), but with farm animals. The bunnies are still asleep in their hutch, but the geese and hens are already up and pecking at the grass. I’d like to imagine that the proud crow of the rooster serves as an old fashioned alarm clock for the neighbors nearby, but this street is filled with families and the babies’ cries probably do a more effective job of waking the world than the rooster ever could. School doesn’t begin for an hour, but a couple of classroom lights are on and I can see dedicated teachers preparing their lessons. I think lovingly of my mother and friends who, though an ocean and nine time zones away, will rise and also prepare to nurture young minds.

I was once that teacher; the one who drives to work in the dark to meet the educational challenges of the day. Now I am an au pair and though I still commute in the dark, I do so without anxiety. I needn’t plan creative lessons nor teach any content to twenty children; I only have to feed and entertain two. It isn’t heroic and it isn’t intellectually stimulating, but I have time to reflect on this commute and that is a good thing.


Nan said...

If a teacher is an enlightener, a guide, one who shares knowledge, then you are indeed a talented and dedicated teacher. I am reminded of the Americans who waited at the docks of 19th century shipyards, shouting up to the passengers, "What happened to Little Nell?" Readers became so hooked on Dickens' serialized novels the characters became real people to them. You are the heroine of this story. You are guiding me through another land, you are enlightening me with your keen observations and gentle wit. I can't wait for the next installment.

Laura said...

What Nan said, but in my own clumsy words: You are such a fantastic writer! What a fabulous blog. I really am looking forward to the next one.

Leah said...

I was with you the entire commute, and eager to know what would happen next. When you didn't reach your destination, I realized the blog was about getting to the destination. That is what makes you such a gifted writer. Taking care of two children still means teaching them. And me. Thanks, Laney.