Miscellaneous Stuff

Lifelong Learning and the Daily Commute

Americans spend an enormous number of hours in their cars. I don’t particularly like to drive. No, let me rephrase that. I HATE to drive. When I was working, I spent just about an hour a day driving the 14 miles to and from my job. It took me about 25 minutes or so each way with traffic lights and trains. I varied my route now and then to get a break from the monotony but there are just so many ways to get from one place to another. The local radio station played the same oldies tunes over and over again. Or I could tune the dial to one of the NPR stations and get the news, a better option. I was in the car an hour a day—or 5 hours each week. 20 hours a month, or a whopping 240 hours a year, minus a vacation or two. That’s a lot less than the commute times of many people. But it bothered me — all of that wasted time.

In college, I had made a four hour commute two days a week. I had spent that drive time listening to audio books. It made the drive bearable and at the end of the year I had “read” dozens of best sellers. The time spent in my car was, at least, worthwhile and not wasted.

And so, at some point during my work commute, I dug into my old college stash of audio books. I borrowed some from the library. I also bought a few for a dollar or even less at the Goodwill thrift store.

Before long, I found the “Great Courses” series and that was even better. It was a catalog that came in the mail where I first discovered them— College courses on everything from history to literature to bible studies and economics were recorded on CD. I ordered my first set, a history of Egypt. Each lecture was a half hour long.  I could listen to one on the way to work and another on the way home. I have always loved learning and this became a great way to use all of that drive time doing something that felt meaningful and worthwhile.

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After the Egypt course, I purchased “Learn Spanish in your Car” while browsing the shelves of a Barnes and Noble. If you want to learn a language or anything else, I can attest that listening to audio CD’s in the car is a wonderful way to do it. Most people, myself included, have good intentions when they start something like learning a language. Most people though, aren’t disciplined enough to sit down at their desk or computer every day and complete the lessons. Instead, they find other things getting in the way and before long the program and the project gets shoved aside and forgotten. Learning during your daily commute however, is easy to stick with. You are already a captive audience inside of your car. There’s nothing else to draw away your attention and the learning can happen quickly.


Switching to a “stay at home” lifestyle hasn’t reduced my desire to listen and learn new things. No longer a captive of the car, however, caused me to wander off in other directions. Since I rarely stay seated in one place, I needed a way to easily listen while moving around the house.

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While technology may have moved forward, my old outdated”Walkman” just might be the answer. Buried in the bottom drawer of my bedside table, I found both a portable CD player and one that plays cassette tapes. Clip it to the belt loop of my jeans and I will be good to go. A new set of batteries is all that will be required. Perhaps I’ll start by brushing up on my Spanish.


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