Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rush Hour: How 500 Million Commuters Survive the Journey to Work

From Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit to Einstein’s theory of relativity, the everyday commute has inspired some extraordinary ideas

The Guardian,

Rush hour in Beijing
An unlikely tourist attraction … rush hour in Beijing. Photograph: Getty Images
In his 1967 book The Revolution of Everyday Life, the Belgian situationist thinker Raoul Vaneigem wondered how much humanity could possibly remain in people “dragged out of sleep at six every morning, jolted about in suburban trains” and “tossed out at the end of the day into the entrance halls of railway stations, those cathedrals of departure for the hell of weekdays and the nugatory paradise of weekends, where the crowd communes in a brutish weariness”. While they might flinch at the unflattering wording, quite a few of the world’s half a billion commuters would surely agree with Vaneigem that the part of the day they spend getting to and returning from work is dead time that simply has to be endured.

And yet there is a small but distinguished body of literature about this banal routine. I can think of three minor classics – Roger Green’s Notes from Overground, Marc Augé’s In the Metro and Christopher Ross’s Tunnel Visions – that have found a strange, melancholic poetry in the somnambulant iterations and thrown-together community of the daily commute. To this list we can now add Iain Gately’s Rush Hour. It is not as lyrical as these books, nor as personal, although it does begin with him shivering one wintry Monday on platform one at Botley station in Hampshire, waiting for the 07.01 to London Waterloo. But he too finds this daily ritual full of anthropological interest and surreal juxtapositions.

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