Reading On Muni: An Instructive Guide

Since I started my internship, I’ve been commuting from 24th and Mission to Berkeley via BART three days a week. In my student days, I cherished my daily commute on public transit as my personal reading time—even if I didn’t make any other time to read in a given week, I could still usually finish a book or two. This was not the case when I lived in Japan, where I had to drive up to an hour one way. I listened to a LOT of Savage Love and Sex with Emily in those days, and lamented the loss of my daily reading time. I was a bit worried about transitioning back to a car-free lifestyle, but so far I’m loving the exercise involved in walking between stops and the extra time I get to read—I’ve finished 3 books just in the past week, and made good progress on another.

(Another side effect of the internship? In Japanese schools, all the students and teachers take 15 minutes every day to pick up brooms and dustpans and clean up the school, and every time I swept my kitchen floor at home I would think “Man, I wish I had a team of junior high school kids to do this right now.” Now I find myself wishing I had a team of interns to post to social media with proper tags and trackable links every time I make a new post here. But I digress.)

If you regularly read on public transit, you’ve probably noticed a few things by now, namely:

  • You tend to choose books that will fit nicely into your purse or bag, and you have to time things just right so you don’t end up stranded without reading material or have to waste precious space on TWO books. (Of course, these concerns don’t apply if you have a well-stocked e-reader, but if you’re taking MUNI chances are you don’t have the $$$ for that. I do see plenty of iPads on BART, though.)
  • To the devoted commute reader, MUNI’s dismal on-time record is both a blessing and a curse. You’ll pray for the ride to last longer so you can keep reading, and that delay might give you just enough time to find out what happens in the next chapter, but it’ll also make you late for work. (Over months or years, though, those extra minutes probably add up to a lot of extra reading time!)
  • People will occasionally comment on what you’re reading, and this can be wonderful (have a nice chat with someone who shares your literary taste! Maybe they’re even an attractive member of the opposite sex!) or awful (creepy hipster won’t stop badgering you to summarize The United States of Arugula for him, despite having no interest in the culinary arts and claiming to have no idea what arugula is!*)

So, keeping these things in mind, here are my tips for reading on MUNI:

  • Be nosy; take a few minutes to glance around at what everyone else is reading. I’ve discovered some great books this way! But for God’s sake, don’t be weird about it, okay?! I know you, dear readers, would never be this guy, but if you’re reading something salacious or controversial and want to protect yourself against the crazy bum who takes a look at your bell hooks and screams “Feminist theory?! The white man needs some hoes! That’s my fuckin’ feminist theory!”*, you can cover your book in paper, or just hold it in your lap (assuming you get a seat). Perfect for erotica!
  • Leave War and Peace at home! Something you can hold in one hand while you grip the rail with the other for balance is ideal. If you don’t have an e-reader, slim paperbacks are easy to handle and tuck nicely into an outside pocket. If you’re almost done with a book and have a long commute, leave it at home and bring along something fresh. You don’t want to get stuck waiting for the 38 without anything to read.
  • This probably depends on your personal taste, but I’ve found that certain genres are a lot easier for me to read on a bus than others. My favorite at the moment is spiritual travel memoirs (à la Lessons from the Monk I Married, which I read last week—it made for a very peaceful commute no matter who was screaming all over the place!), followed by really engrossing fiction. I’ve been trying to get through Imperial San Francisco, which is a great non-fiction book, but I just do not have the concentration required to read it on public transit.
  • Maybe I am just getting old or something but I have been having some serious bouts of motion sickness on public transit lately. Cold fizzy drinks help, forward-facing seats really help,  but if you’re taking the 24-Divisadero, I dunno, maybe just give up and listen to your iPod or something.

Happy reading!

*true stories

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