A Commuted Sentence (or Two)
For the first long second, the truck seems like some sort of a hazy mirage. You don’t even react. Then, as your heart suddenly palpitates from the adrenaline rush of imminent death, the truck drifts back. No sweat. You don’t even mention it to anyone later. Why would you? It’s all part of the deal. As are the deer. Based on the zeal with which these ruminants throw themselves into the teeth of oncoming traffic, you’d be forgiven for thinking there are 72 doe-eyed virgins awaiting each of these cloven-hoofed speed bumps upon their earthly demise. Sorry; Bambi has exhausted my patience and gets no sympathy. Having suffered thrice by the whims of the herd, I now root for the hunters.
Anyway, commuting teaches us a great deal about our place in the world. Actually, make that our micro-world. If you really want to get to know a car, spend a couple hours each day locked in its confines, subject to its every fault and foible. No car can live up to this examination. No driver can stand the punishment. I’ve commuted to various jobs from various home locations over the years. Most of my commutes have lasted a half-hour or less. But the thousand-yard stare I have now? It’s the product of an eight year, 40-mile commute. That’s 3800 trips in one direction or other; tedium unmatched in modern times. Except by my fellow commuters, of course.
It was a pleasant-enough drive at first, with reasonable traffic and acceptable scenery. It was long, sure, but who’s in a hurry to get to work, anyway? Then they took my sports talk off the air and replaced it with waiting room quality jazz. That was the first of many slights that beat this commuter into submission. Months of winter snow and ice rendered a lengthy journey even longer, slower and more stressful. Summer months offered little respite, as flagmen and orange barrels replaced inclement weather as my personal bane.
Niggling events and inconveniences became maddening personal assaults. Why, for example, is this corridor so important that the county feels obliged to send a half-dozen patrol units down it each morning; and yet so unimportant that they can’t dispatch a single snow plow? Or why must the window malfunction take the form of an inability to work during warm weather, but not cold?
Even if car and driver survive a close encounter of the endless kind, they won’t be friends when it’s over. One of my longer-term mules, an import family sedan of remarkable unremarkability, did its level best to transport me without committing offense. And yet, after a thousand trips or so, I hated it. Hated it right down to the frame. Even after 250,000 miles of partnership. Even after the car absorbed hit after hit-– deer, curbs, potholes, falling branches, a mailbox and even a hydrant (do NOT loan your car)– it kept on ticking like the proverbial Timex. What did it get in return? Disinterest. Disrespect. Disloyalty. Just . . . dissed. Hey, that’s how it goes in the commuting game.
After a while, I accepted the reality. I quit racing the clock and began sneering at those white-knuckled fools risking everything to pass, to gain one better place in the endless parade. What’s the point? We’ll just be back again tomorrow. That was then. Thankfully, I don’t commute any more. Life has allowed me to trade that worn-out 40-mile drive for a fresh, four-minute walk. Some days (I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this) I don’t drive at all. And when I do get back behind the wheel, I’m happier. I actually look forward to those days when I have errands to run and thus a reason to take my car. The time away from my former commute has given back something I’d lost: the joy of driving.
These days, driving brings back the feelings I had as a teenager, when jumping into a car meant endless possibility rather than endless responsibility. So I’m recovering day by day. It’s a shame that so much of the driving we do today is rote commuting. Our cars deserve better, and so do we.
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Three words for Bryan, and anyone else with commute in an auto - GET SATELLITE RADIO. You will once again actually enjoy listening to radio, because you will have many choices. Whether it's Stern, NPR, ESPN, Opie and Anthony, or any music you can think of - it's there. I personally have both (Sirius is my #1, XM came free with the car) and even though my commute has decreased from 45 to 10 minutes with a new job, I still love it. And for those of you on public transit...an MP3 player is your best friend.
Commuting sucks, but it's better than actually living in the big city where my job is located. The problem is not moving to where my job is, but trying to find a job close to where I live. At least where I live, that is why all the new jobs are being created in the suburbs - no one except singles and gays want to live in the city. I quit working downtown in a heartbeat if I could.