Friday morning, 6:20 a.m. I was standing on the train in my favorite spot, leaning against the back wall while holding my coffee mug and staring at my smartphone. At Park Street, one stop away from the hospital station, the train lurched and halted and the crackly voice over the loudspeaker announced,
“Due to a malfunctioning signal this train will not be proceeding. All passengers please disembark here. There will be shuttle buses lined up on the street continuing to Charles/ MGH and beyond. Please disembark as there is another full train directly behind us.”
Our car was packed with folks in scrubs or professional clothing, all, like me, bound for the huge hospital complex where we worked. There were mumbles and groans, and then hundreds of us poured out of the train and onto the platform.
“Hi, Dr. Tello!” I heard, and turned around to see a colleague who was also making their way through the crowd. We joked for a minute and then, when there was a choice between the stairs and the escalator, I chose the former and they chose the latter. Very few people were trudging up the stairs with me, while a glob of humanity bottlenecked at the bottom of the escalator.
At the top, through the glass doors of the station, I could see thick lines of hundreds of commuters awaiting the shuttle buses. Apparently, ours had not been the first train halted at Park street.
It was clear that even after waiting for a spot on a bus, the ride would not be a quick one, as each bus would then have to wend its way through the early morning rush-hour-clogged crazy streets of Boston.
Meantime, it is less than a mile walk to the hospital from Park street, a beautiful walk through the Boston Common (well-tended city green) and then down the antique red-brick sidewalk of hoity-toity Charles street, past cafes and shops, many that are open for business at that hour, selling overpriced french pastries and such.
Here it is, June, and it was already a pleasant 70 degrees and sunny. Perfect walking weather.
I naturally assumed that a healthy handful of folks would choose to walk the relatively short and safe distance, rather than wait in exhaust-fume-contaminated lines with all the crowds, only to sit on a crowded bus for a frustratingly long ride.
But as I veered off through the Common, I looked around, and:
No one. Maybe one or two other walkers in the distance, hard to say if they had also been kicked off the trains.
Basically, I walked alone in complete peace, past the gorgeous brownstones and ivy gardens of Beacon Hill. There was more noise from the birds in the trees than from other people. On Charles street, the smell of roast coffee beans and baking breads (croissants maybe?) was both distracting and enjoyable. There were dog-walkers and joggers and shopkeepers sweeping their sidewalks. The entire distance measured 0.88 miles on my pedometer.
“Geez, I should do this every day!” I thought to myself.
Less than a mile. A short, pleasant, safe city walk. On a perfect early summer day. And hundreds of my fellow commuters chose the shuttle buses instead.
Of course, some folks can’t comfortably walk that far due to pregnancy or injuries or health issues. And, maybe many people didn’t realize how close we actually were, or didn’t know the route.
But seriously, there had to be others among the morning masses bound for the hospital who could have walked. So, why was I the only one walking?
For the same reason that there was a bottleneck at the station escalator, which was right next to the wide open stairs. And crowds awaiting the cramped elevators in my building, when the staircase is clearly marked and inviting, bright with sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. And people at the grocery checkout with a handful of small items in a push-cart, when there are ample carry baskets available at the entry. And road rage to nab the closest parking space, when walking a little extra distance can burn a few extra calories.
These small, unhealthy choices are what put pounds on, weaken the core and sap our energy levels. Fitness is a choice, and all of these small, seemingly insignificant moments in our day add up over the course of our lives.