Teacher’s Commute: Dunlap enjoys a variety of podcasts, audiobooks and music during her morning commute

Melissa Chen

Southbound on Highway 85 is the direction to go on a given weekday morning commute to work. This route is better than northbound, where the traffic often mirrors a situation similar to a parking lot. Compared to many working adults and other Lynbrook teachers, AP Literature and World Literature teacher Jessica Dunlap has a shorter morning drive to work, partly due to her being a reverse commuter. On her about 15- minute morning drive from Mountain View, Dunlap has found plenty of ways to pass the time enjoyably and productively. 

As Dunlap is an English teacher, it’s not surprising that she likes reading a variety of books, nonfiction and fiction. Some of her recent reads are the “Dutch House” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” When she needs to be refreshed on a certain novel that her students are reading, Dunlap listens to an Audible audiobook during her morning commute. Recently she’s been reviewing “Great Expectations.”

Besides audiobooks, Dunlap also tunes into podcasts — notably NPR’s “Ted Radio Hour” and “Code Switch,” as well as “Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation” — and occasionally tunes into the radio for news or random songs. 

“If I listen to the radio [for music], it’s because I’m in the mood for something random and so I’m not programming,” Dunlap said. 

Like in other media she enjoys, Dunlap’s tastes in music are pretty eclectic. Some highlights of Dunlap’s current commute Spotify playlists are classical music pieces, Frank Sinatra songs, songs reminiscent of her recent summer and a soundtrack based on the Hulu show “High Fidelity.”

Some music entered Dunlap’s Spotify playlist in a relatively unusual way.

When her younger daughter quit piano lessons, Dunlap decided to take the time slot her daughter was vacating. As a child, Dunlap would grudgingly attend the piano lessons her mother sent her to, and after years of practicing, Dunlap eventually dropped in middle school. 

“My mom said to me, ‘someday you’ll regret it’,” Dunlap said. “And she was right.”

Dunlap had reached a mediocre playing level when she quit, but she had to refresh the skills she had gained during her childhood and continue to develop them more once she restarted piano lessons. She started listening on Spotify to some of the classical pieces she was learning, studying how they were played as she drove to Lynbrook.

Currently Dunlap doesn’t take lessons anymore due to her busy schedule, but a playlist full of Chopin songs still remains on her Spotify rotation, as well as several other classical pieces she enjoys. She was obsessed with “The Carnival of the Animals,” a work full of colorful sketches of different aspects of a carnival by French romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

Sometimes certain songs just strike a chord. Dunlap kept several songs that she and her family listened to consistently throughout the summer of 2019 in a playlist labeled “Summer.” Dunlap and her family vacationed in Paris over the summer, and now she has a song, “Dans l’univers” by French rapper Nekfeu, to keep as a memento of that trip.

“Playing that kind of teleported me back to my summer vacation,” Dunlap said. “So it’s just kind of fun that way.”

Her playlist “Summer” also includes several songs from Ariana Grande’s album “Thank U, Next”, for her daughter.

Dunlap used to have to drive her two daughters to their school, get herself to work, teach a full day, pick her children up, drive them to practices and then go back home. 

“I was easily in my car for an hour and a half a day,” Dunlap said. “I did it for a decade, and it was a grind. But it’s true that they say a person can get used to anything; I got used to it.”

Now, Dunlap’s oldest daughter is able to drive herself to school, which has been a game-changer for Dunlap, who can shorten the time she spends driving but still have some daily space for herself to relax. While her daughters’ presence and conversations were always welcome, Dunlap now has her entire ride to peacefully spend on music, podcasts, audiobooks and herself.

“If anything, [my commute] adds guaranteed solitude,” Dunlap said. “When I’m at home, there’s usually somebody else or when I’m at work, I’m often around about 30 people. As a teacher, you’re sort of on a stage every day.  As an introvert, you do need to have alone time, just to reflect; to not have to be on all the time. You could say that my commute gives me some necessary alone time.”