I like writing on the train, as mentioned in this previous post. However, it’s nice to take a break and do other things sometimes. Here’s a list of the other ways I pass time on the train.
Playing video games. The Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) that I have is great for passing time. Each game comes on a little UMD disc and so I can easily carry a library of games with me. I currently am switching back and forth between the Tetris-like Lumines and the racing game Need for Speed. Sometimes, while playing Lumines, I kick off a game at the Big Timber station where I get on the train and, before I know it, I look up and see the Hancock Tower as I approach downtown. Time flies…
Chess. This is a special case of “playing video games” as chess is in a class by itself. Rather than the fast-paced brain calisthenics of Lumines, chess is a deep-thinking exercise requiring concentration in the face of a chaotic train environment filled with overhead speaker announcements, moving terrain outside the window, embarking passengers choosing seats, and the occasional loud conversation. Typically I put the headphones on and listen to music while playing to isolate myself somewhat from my distracting surroundings.
Reading novels. I like to read novels and I get a lot of reading done on the train. When I first started taking the train, I was finishing a 300 page novel every 3 days or so. Now I try to limit my reading to about 30 minutes per day, which is still a lot of pages daily. I finish a book now in 2 weeks or so, making my orders to Amazon.com slightly less frequent.
Reading magazines. I have quite a few magazine subscriptions that I read each month and I usually pick up several magazines per month from the newsstand. I can spend up to 30 minutes a day going through these periodicals catching up with the world.
Reading newspapers. I don’t do this often but if there is something big going on in the world - like Hurricane Katrina - I might scrounge around on the train until I find a discarded copy of the day’s Tribune or Sun Times. There are always a few copies laying around in empty seats by the time I get on the train. I take the 8:40 train in the morning so there have already been hundreds of rush hour passengers on the train before me. There are lots of people who read one of these dailies and then just leave theirs in their seat when they leave. It becomes a free read for me.
Sleeping. There are days when I need some extra sleep. The train is not usually the best place to get a restful nap but there are days that I am so sleepy that I fall asleep even there. This is usually on the train home in the evenings. To this end, I bring my North Face fleece in my backpack. When I want to take a nap, I take out the fleece, form it into a pillow, and put it on top of my backpack. Then I lay down in the seat with my head on the “pillow”. Again, since I ride the less crowded trains, I almost always have a seat to myself so my laying down in the seat does not inconvenience anyone. Also, as a “bonus”, since I get off at the line terminus, there is no risk in oversleeping and missing my stop.
Thinking. Sometimes I put my headphones on, tune out the world, and just stare out the window, thinking. I always have at least a couple of challenges queued up for processing and I use the train time to apply a little brain power to those challenges at hand. The early morning time is often my most creative so I often solve these challenges on the train.
Organizing. I often spend some time on the train figuring out my project and task list, reorganizing my personal productivity data, GTD-style.
Homework. It’s pretty easy to read textbooks and do written or typed homework on the train, provided one has a laptop computer to work on.
Flashcards. In my never-ending quest to learn more words in Turkish so that I might eventually speak Turkish fluently, I write many vocabulary words on index cards, i.e. flashcards. When I am on the train, I take out the deck of flashcards and go through the words, memorizing each one.
Crosswords puzzles. I never understood why people enjoy crossword puzzles until recently. Ahu and I were driving on a long roadtrip and were trying to figure out something to do in the car. For lack of a better idea, I pulled into a truck stop and bought a small book of crosswords puzzles. Ahu would work on the crossword puzzle and ask me for “a word for ‘froth’” or something like that. It’s surprisingly entertaining brain work. So now I do crosswords on the train. It’s almost as consuming as Lumines.
Correspondence. I am attempting to resurrect the idea of composing hand-written letters as opposed to email. When on the train, I write letters to friends in a little notebook and then tear out the pages and send the letter via snail mail when I get home.