It’s been only one week since consistently riding Orlando’s new commuter rail from Lake Mary to my job at Florida Hospital in Orlando, and I’m amazed by how much I have learned. For nearly three years I have been driving 35 miles a day to and from work. I’m a Physical Therapist Assistant and see about ten neurological patients each day. This is the longest I’ve had a job and there have been some rough times, but now I genuinely like my job. And now I have something else to look forward to. SunRail still has that new train smell and runs smoother than an annual pass holder’s preview of a brand new ride at Disney World. Here why I bought my 30-day pass: SunRail has been running since May 2014. The idea of a commuter train in Orlando was such a foreign concept that it was both exciting and scary. It’s as if the community was given this gift, and it didn’t quite know what to do with it. Since then, it has really caught on, and recently received a boost with the announcement of overhauling Orlando;s main throughway set to complete in 2021. The first time on the SunRail is a bit overwhelming. First you must buy your ticket, then you “tap on” at a small kiosk. Then there’s boarding the train. Do you sit on the ground level? The little half second level? Or get a sky view from the top deck. Which direction should I face? Do I need a table, or a nice little platform to rest my right foot (or left depending on which side you’re sitting, which is a whole other decision to make in itself). Let me help take some of this pressure off: if you want to read or get some work done, I recommend sitting on the bottom or second level for the most stable ride. This decision may depend on how inclined you are to motion sickness, which brings me to which direction to face. Face the direction you are going if you are this type of person (see also: 10 Things I Learned from Riding the Monorail, which includes “Please stand clear of the doors” in two languages). If you want the view you paid good money for, sit on the top deck and discover angles of your town you’ve never seen before, plus some gritty graffiti to make you feel all New Yorky. The top has a little sway, but perfectly enjoyable as long as you’re looking at the view.
In my short time as a rail commuter, I have experienced a sense of community, which is pretty amazing. I have also experienced how to both avoid and interact with those I share nothing in common with (or do I?). At first, people are reluctant to have you sit next to them. And can you blame them? I get it. My job involves meeting new people every day, so I prefer peace and quiet. Sometimes these interactions cannot be avoided, and most of the time I quickly move my bags onto my lap to offer up a seat. After the initial resistance, sitting next to a stranger is not so bad. It can even, at times, be surprisingly pleasant. In one week I’ve shared a nice conversation with a nuclear scientist, made the stink-eye to a guy blasting “Paradise City” from his phone, I have seen acquaintances from church and connected with folks I work with, but didn’t know very well. My favorite is the time I saw a lady with a box of tissues in her purse handing them out to sniffling passengers. Sure, some of these interactions may be a little forced, but kindness is never overrated. The first time the SunRail pulled up in front of me on the platform, I was transformed into another time. Or at least another place. There’s something about trains that make you feel all big-city, tough, and street smart. You are faced with people you wouldn’t otherwise ever meet, and they are diverse. If I let my mind wander, I could be in NYC, DC, or Chicago, but with way, way better weather. I have learned to be prompt, which luckily comes natural to me. Some learn that hard way that if you are late, you’ll be waiting a long time. I feel bad, but have an occasional morbid satisfaction when the non-savvy casually miss a train to catch the next one…in two hours! If you’re a suburbanite like me, the SunRail presents a great opportunity to discover the city. And now it has extended hours, so I have been able to check out the new Doctor Phillips Performing Arts Center, and met people returning from a Solar Bears game, not to mention all the other attractions within walking distance from the station. You can also find a brick in the ground on Church Street with my name on it. It’s been there since the mid- 80s and I’m proud to know it’s still outside the former Rosie O’Grady’s. Orlando is becoming something pretty cool.
Day 2 of my commute, I realize I am a seasoned professional already. I was approached by a wide-eyed first-time rider. I recognized that look- it’s the same look I have the second I walk into a Home Depot. “How long have you been riding?” she asked. I was honest, but I walked her through the whole process, from buying a ticket (how slowly and accurately you must swipe your credit/debit card), to tapping on, to boarding the train and finding a good seat. Oh, I thought, I remember being so clueless (yesterday). I will discuss time more later, butI have found myself more in tune to the passage of it. Some rides to work seem long, while the ride home seems to fly by. Thinking I have fifteen minutes to wait for the train, and all of a sudden the siren blares, signaling the approaching locomotive. I swear I just started this book a few days ago, now I’m on page 180. Let’s face it, I-4 is the devil and will only get worse. No, I didn’t just learn this. But it’s a fact, we all know it, yet most of us still deal with it. I’ve stopped torturing myself and have even become a snob about the nefarious highway. I avoid I-4 at all cost, for any reason, as much as possible. You know what, forget what I said, stick to I-4, I don’t want this train too crowded. When SunRail was first announced I, like many others, was on board with the idea. When it became a reality I realized how much time it would cut into my day. Driving to the station (down the traffic light-infested Lake Mary Blvd), waiting for the train, getting to work a little later, and having to head home a little later. The reality of it is the secret time I have discovered in between. In between waiting for the train and the actual ride, I have nearly finished a book I started on Monday. I enjoy the art of waiting. It has made me a better writer, made me more creative, and made me more thankful for the quiet times. This is my favorite lesson of all. Additionally I learned terms like, “mind the gap,” and that “Segway” in Spanish is still “Segway” but with a little flair. With that, I’ll see you on the train! I’ll be nose-deep in a book, on the first or second level, facing forward. You can’t miss me.