Blog-a-thon: The Geography of My Commute to Work: Part 1

Sarah Jane Caban is the Editor of the My Wonderful World Blog.  She initiated the Geography Awareness Week Blog-a-thon in November, 2008, and she has been writing and editing for the blog since June 2007.

Working in geography education, it’s my job to think about geography 40 hours a week. But the reality is I think about it more than that…probably more than I’d like to admit. I often find myself contemplating the geography of relatively mundane activities, and I never cease to be amazed by how relevant geography is to just about every aspect of life.

For a while now, I’ve had the idea to document the geography of my commute to work in a blog post. I figure: What better occasion than Geography Awareness Week?! I hope that by showing how intimately involved geography is in a small portion of my daily life, readers will be compelled to consider the simple and more complex geographic connections in their own lives.

When I sat down to start writing, I surprised even myself with the depth of geographic material. So, I’m going to break my post into two installments. Here goes!

Part 1: Apartment to Metro

Thumbnail image for IMG_0211.JPGDuring my commute to work, I have to walk outside for about 15 minutes–5 minutes to the Metro from my apartment, and 10 minutes from the Farragut West Metro stop to National Geographic. I listen to the morning weather report in order to be prepared for the elements I will encounter in the micro-climate of Washington, D.C: boots/umbrella if rainy, sunglasses, appropriate outerwear, etc. This is an aspect of physical geography.


I walk about 3 minutes from my apartment to Pennsylvania Avenue. I always cross over the island in the middle of the road, rather than walking to the crosswalk–J-walking is a much more direct path to the metro than using the crosswalk is! I’m not alone: The grass is worn from so many commuters traversing it, so there are sections of bare dirt. When it’s dry and I’m wearing high heels, I stick to the hard dirt so that I don’t sink into the grass (ladies, I know you can relate). When it’s rainy and I’m wearing boots, I switch over to the grass, since the dirt very quickly turns into mud (physical geography).

IMG_0214.JPGAt the top of the metro escalators, there are two African-American women who hand out free newspapers every day. One distributes the Metro, the other the Examiner. I usually hesitate to take one, concerned about wasting vital natural resources, even though there are recycling receptacles available. If I do, I get the Metro, since it the less politically conservative of the papers. In this extremely liberal city, I see relatively few commuters reading the Examiner, I’d guess the breakdown is about 80-20 (political geography). Before the women began handing out papers, there was a male newspaper distributer who was extremely vocal and friendly; his  enthusiastic daily greetings were a highlight of my mornings. Then, he disappeared; I heard he got sick. In this city with one of the highest rates of AIDS in the world, I wonder if that disease could have been culprit (medical geography).

Sarah-Jane Caban, National Geographic Society

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Sarah Jane Caban: “Dirty Water” Awareness

“Down by the banks of the River Charles…Well I love that dirty water, Oh Boston, you’re my home!”

The song by the Standells is catchy. But tragic. The refrain–“Well I love that dirty water, Oh Boston, you’re my home!”–not only acknowledges the putrid state of Boston’s most iconic river, but effectively glorifies it. Once a  popular swimming and recreation destination in the 19th and early and 20th centuries–my grandparents recall floating along the Charles– sewage, urban wastewater and runoff caused the waterway to become so polluted that, in 1955, an article in Harper’s Magazine called it “foul and noisome, polluted by offal (refuse) and industrial wastes, scummy with oil, unlikely to be mistaken for water.” Beaches were shut down to swimmers, and those who had the misfortune of falling into the river were advised to get tetanus shots.

Unfortunately, the story of the Charles River is hardly an anomaly–more the rule than the exception. When I sat down to write a blog post about freshwater this year, I realized that the “Dirty Water” ditty was the refrain of my childhood.

Continue reading “Sarah Jane Caban: “Dirty Water” Awareness”