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I Don’t Heart Commuting

May 24, 2002

Yet another day where I straggled in to work later than I’d like because my drive to the office was frustratingly slow. Had it not been the day before a holiday weekend, when many people have taken the day off and are therefore not in my way on the roads during rush hour, it would have been worse. Today’s trouble spots were a train, which had me stopped long enough to turn the engine off and finish my Kashi bar breakfast, and the weather, which was just wet enough that it interfered with my ability to use my superior acceleration to pass slow people on the surface streets. It annoys me that I only ran into the train because my usual path to the freeway is under construction; I tried that route yesterday and had to sit and wait while the big digger filled a big truck with dirt. It was evidently impossible for the big truck to get filled anywhere but the one lane which is still open to traffic.

Still, today’s drive went better than a lot of other mornings. Last week, a fellow commuter gave me the finger. I think that was the first time that’s happened; it’s the first time I’ve noticed or remembered it, at any rate. The strange thing was that the guy gesturing was in front of me. I merged in behind him, and he slammed on his brakes and flipped me the bird. It surprised me. My idea of road rage is people getting mad when you cut them off, merge in front of them, impede their progress in some way, not when you put your car into a perfectly large gap behind them. I’m guessing he was annoyed that I had the good luck or good sense to merge into that lane after the pocket of slow traffic instead of before. Of course, his braking meant I had to brake, as did the minivan behind me, and so on, worsening that slow pocket. Why can’t everyone just behave and drive sensibly? That’s probably what Mr. Man was thinking about me.

That incident took place in one of the two predictable trouble spots on my drive in. It’s a rare morning when both are flowing smoothly. They’re both at junctions of freeways, and I sometimes take the less direct route when my chosen path is just too backed up to bear. I’d rather take the long way and be moving than sitting in traffic creeping forward.

My drive to work is about 33 miles each way, with maybe a third of that on freeways, which allows plenty of opportunity for creeping. On a typical day, it takes me about an hour. It would be even slower if I were doing it in the opposite direction, since the heavier traffic along most of my route flows north to south in morning, as people leave their houses in the newer suburbs for offices in the older ones. Some days I cheer myself up by thinking that many people have much nastier commutes than I do. On other days, I bum myself out by thinking that many people, including most of my coworkers, have much easier drives.

So, if my commute is such an irritation, why have I done it for three years with no change in sight? The biggest reason is that like my job. I like the tasks I do, and the people I work with, and the culture of the company. It’s worth it to me to make the drive to keep working here.

“But Karen,” you say, “if you like your job so much, why don’t you move closer to the office?” Well, if I were single and a renter, I might have, but that’s not me anymore. I’m married, and if we moved closer to my job, he’d be farther from his and would have to drive in the bad north to south morning traffic. We have a house that’s five or six years from being paid for, and it would cost a lot more to buy something comparable near my office. We like the area we live in more than the area around my office, anyway.

Why don’t I take public transportation? At least then I could read books not available on tape, or write, and be more environmentally friendly at the same time. Ha. We’re not big on public transportation ‘round these parts. Better you should buy a car. In fact, buy several. There are buses, but they don’t go a lot of places, especially not places in the suburbs.

Why don’t I pursue telecommuting? It’s not really an option. Despite all the flexibility at Purple Systems, telecommuting is not something that’s worked out well here. Even if it were supported and successful for other people, I’m not sure I’d thrive doing it. I like being able to walk down the hall and stick my head in any one of a number of offices and get help with a programming issue without having to wait for a return phone call or e-mail. I like feeling connected to my coworkers through the little interactions we have at the printer or the vending machine. I also like not being surrounded by all the tasks there are to do at home; putting a load of laundry in or cleaning the shower curtain is just not an option when I’m at the office. It’s easier to focus on work when I’m at a place that’s just for work.

So, I drive. I really appreciate the days when it’s not construction season and the roads are dry and the sun’s not in people’s eyes and the Big Three are on holiday. The other days, I try to stay relaxed and think good thoughts about my fellow humans.

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