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Whether to Read, Listen, or Silently Stare While Commuting in Chicago

The decision can make or break a commute.

Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune

Chicago is vast, and there’s no one perfect way to move around it. In fact, there are four: by car, by bike, on the CTA, and with your feet.

Less clear: when taking each of these modes of transportation, how does one decide whether to read a book, listen to something, or stare silently to pass the time? It’s a decision that can make or break a commute, so we’ve broken down the pros and cons of each. Your objectively correct guide, below.

Walking Down the Street

Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune

Reading

Pros: You know there must be more than this provincial life. Do not be surprised if somebody yells at you, “The baguettes! Hurry up!”
Cons: People get irritated if you’re walking with your head down. In the words of a stranger who once shoulder-checked me as I mapped my way home outside an improv show I’d fled: “On your phone on the sidewalk? UGH.”

Listening

Pros: Spread joy with your unabashed lip syncing. Twirl down the sidewalk! Dance like everyone’s watching! They might be filming you for Instagram!
Cons: You could get robbed.

Staring Silently

Pros: Going for a long, quiet walk is the perfect way to work through a problem or find creative inspiration.
Cons: You could get too enchanted taking in your surroundings for the first time and forget to look down. (Far too many people in Chicago don’t pick up after their dogs.)

Driving a Car

Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

Reading

Pros: This is the original definition of “speed reading.”
Cons: If you finish a story but no one is watching, does it even count toward your New Year’s Resolution?

Listening

Pros: Roll down the windows, blast The O.C.’s soundtrack, and bask in the glory that is Chicago summer.
Cons: The soundtrack to Chicago winter is “Mad World.”

Staring Silently

Pros: This is how cars were meant to be driven. You may notice that all your other senses are heightened.
Cons: Those senses include the dread you feel in bumper to bumper traffic.

Cycling

Photo: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune

Reading

Pros: Exercise your brain and body simultaneously.
Cons: The accident was totally your fault.

Listening

Pros: Wearing headphones on a bike is dangerous, so cyclists often play their music on external speakers. And man, are they cool. They’re like one-person party floats, but with someplace to be.
Cons: You could pass by someone while blaring a song that reminds them of an ex and ruin their day.

Staring Silently

Pros: The wind in your ears!
Cons: Thoughts!!!

Riding Public Transportation

Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

Reading

Pros: Books are heavier than your phone, which means reading builds wrist muscle, which means more strength for using your phone.
Cons: If you’re riding the train, you’re already mentally exhausted.

Listening

Pros: Drowning out the chatty teenagers.
Cons: Tough to skip songs at rush hour; people on crowded trains have zero tolerance for jabby elbows taking phones in and out of pockets.

Staring Silently

Pros: You’ll actually hear the cheerful conductor’s jokes!
Cons: Unwelcome eye contact. Or worse: someone trying to strike up a conversation.

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