National News

Gentle Waters Make One Man's NYC Commute A Moment Of Peace -- Thanks To Collapsible Boat

Commuting in New York comes with many challenges, chief among them being stress.

Posted Updated

Steve Overmyer
, CBS New York
NEW YORK — Commuting in New York comes with many challenges, chief among them being stress.

One man has crafted his own unique solution and taken to the water, but not by ferry, reports CBS2's Steve Overmyer.

While riding a bike under the world's busiest bridge is only part of the trip, the main component is what he's pulling: A collapsible boat.

"It sounded a bit crazy, and when we walked into the office with paddles and life jackets on people looked at us like we were crazy, but everybody smiled as well," said Tom Lutz, an engineer at Google.

His job is to solve problems, even when he's not working.

"It's finding a solution in terms of making a more effective use of my commute time," said Lutz. "I've always tried to find ways to make a better use of time on a train or bus. On the bus I'll get sick while reading a book because of motion sickness. I say this it's funny! I'm in a boat."

It took him three months to hand-craft this boat to be engineered like his bike – collapsible – and in just a few snaps, it's seaworthy.

"Yes, you can hear the traffic in the distance over the span of the George Washington Bridge," he said. "But you get the wildlife and the sound of the running water. It's just a great start to the day."

Every day more than 300,000 cars cross the George Washington Bridge, while more than 200 feet below is Lutz, gently rowing.

"When you're experiencing anything in life, if there's no contrast you don't feel it as much," he said. "So being in the middle of the Hudson with a half mile of water on either side and seeing the dynamic skyline in the distance, and seeing the cluttered traffic on the bridge, really puts into perspective where you are right now.

"There's nobody else around you and just the oars moving gently through the water," said Lutz. "There's no fumes, just a gentle reminder in the distance of how peaceful it is in that moment."

Manhattan's horde of commuters pour into the city and endure stop-and-go traffic on the West Side Highway. The average weekly commute for a New Yorker is the highest in the nation by more than an hour.

For Lutz, his trip is actually longer, but that's the point.

"My usual commute is riding the bike from Leonia to Chelsea area," he said. "That takes about an hour… With the boat it takes about two and a half or three (hours). If you leave your house in the morning and your goal is to just get to work, that means you're already at work."

In the morning he'll use the current to take him downtown at about 3 miles an hour. Since the Hudson River's current reverses in the afternoon, he also uses it for his trip home. This journey is not about speed.

"I bring some coffee with me and a sandwich or something," said Lutz. "I like to plan my trips so I'm going with the current. I can just relax when I feel like taking a break and still make some progress. It's like floating in a lazy river."

There's a reason why our best ideas come in moments like these. Psychologists even have a name for it, and its borrowed from the world of computing. It's called "default mode network" – the time that allows inspiration to sprout.

"I have a good hour, hour and a half on the water to just reflect and just be in the moment and enjoy the scenery strolling by," he said. "And to be in a city like this where everything is going so quickly, you get consumed in the day-to-day. So this just re-centers me.

"I hope people get out of this that they really need to take time for themselves and just re-center themselves," Lutz added. "Sit and breathe and observe your surroundings. It doesn't have to be a beautiful day to observe your surroundings and appreciate them."

After navigating the Hudson, he makes land at the 79th Street boat basin. Spectators are there to witness his transformation from aquatic back to terrestrial.

For 40 hours a week, his head is in computer code. And while this isn't a daily commute, to Lutz it's a luxury and, admittedly, a juxtaposition a bit like fitting a square and circle.

"The square and the circle go together," he said. "It's like a painting. If you go about your daily business using the same habits and routines and there's no exploring. It's like a grey painting.

"What I want is a painting that has a lot of darks and lights and sharp areas and smooth areas," said Lutz. "I want it to have different characteristics that meld together to make something beautiful. So, putting yourself in situations where you can experience the busy city life.

"The hi-tech environment that is Google. Then also sitting back and enjoying the birds and the trees and the water around you. It all adds up to something that I perceive to be a complete life."

Lutz suggests anyone can find their "moments" during a commute by listening to music or enjoying the silence.

Copyright 2023 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.