You may have noticed I took a long vacation this weekend. I sincerely hope that’s all right with everyone, because my father’s ribs are not to be trifled with. Not his personal ribs, per se, because I realize we have a problem with possessives here. There’s nothing terribly exciting about my father’s personal ribs. They’re not some sort of melodic human xylophone or anything. But the pork ribs he cooks on the barbecue are extremely exciting in that they are mighty tasty, and they deserved my full and undivided attention this weekend, and so that is what I gave them.
Meanwhile, I found out something that I once knew, and had forgotten, because I have lived within walking distance of my job for some years now.
Commuting is wretched.
I used to have an hour-long commute, each way, and the commute on the way back was sometimes closer to two hours, if my boss managed to come up with some last-minute task for me, which he often did, because he was an evil old man and he lived two minutes from the office. If I could get out the door at exactly five o’clock, I only had to wait behind the few people that worked in close proximity to the bridge. If I got out the door at oh, five-ten, I and all the other suckers whose bosses came up with last-minute tasks for them would convene together, and we would all wait, seething and cursing and breathing exhaust fumes. It was a five-mile long gridlock of boss-hating and hallucinating revenge. Many of us could be seen drawing diagrams on our car windows in soap of how, when, and with what diabolical tools these bosses would meet their ultimate demise.
I have a bit of trivia for you: people who drive Hummers fantasize about using some truly obscene torture devices on their bosses. Word to the wise.
Anyway, commuting sucks, and I have a couple of reasons why.
The hour before arriving and the hour before leaving don’t exist.
This is even before you check the news, your email, and the blogs you like. Even before THAT hour, there’s the hour spent recovering from commuting. This is not a joke. You are in a bad mood. Nobody likes to be trapped in a car moving forward inch by microscopic inch and listening to morning talk radio. If you have a CD player in the car, you’ve probably forgotten to trade it out for a new CD, and have been listening to the same one for the last year or so. You probably liked the CD when you first got it, but you don’t anymore, and you can’t decide if it’s better to listen to that or hear some poor sucker get prank-called into admitting he’s cheating on his girlfriend. You decide on silence instead, and spend the time chanting “I hate work” over and over. By the time you get to the office, you are not fit for human socialization. You need a little time. More specifically, you need an hour. You need to recover for exactly the same amount of time you spent in a commute, because that is how you erase Hell. In equal proportions. Satan is very methodical in that way.
The hour before you get into the car is lost because you are anticipating fearfully how long the commute will be, trying to figure out how to dodge the boss who gives you the last-minute task, and wondering if you could possibly get home just five minutes before you usually do so as to have time to change shoes before meeting friends for a burrito, because yours hurt, and you might actually not be able to evade the boss, come to think of it, because the shoes are not stealthy so much as they are clicky and presence-announcing. You contemplate sneaking out of the office barefoot, and what impact that might have on your career if you were to be caught. That extra five minutes might be worth the risk.
Two hours of work time, down the drain. You might as well come in an hour later, skip the commute, and be able to get down to business. Same thing for leaving. I would have happily worked my tail off if it would have meant sailing home ahead of all the other commuters.
The cost of transportation is high.
I had forgotten about this. I used to go through a tank of gas at least once a week, if not every three days, and that was in a fairly fuel-efficient car. I’m currently driving one of my parent’s cars, an old Buick, and its mileage is lousy, but I’m only driving fifteen minutes over to a cafe and back, and I’ve had to fill the tank twice in the last week. Eighty bucks, for the privilege of not working at home.
Now, I command a fairly good hourly wage these days, but it sickens me to think that when I was working for a fairly low hourly wage, I was sinking about a day’s worth of pay every week into commuting. That’s correct. I lost a fifth of my salary for the privilege of having a job. That is lousy. If your job is far away, it had better be paying you VERY well. If not, I know some guys in Hummers you should hire to do some negotiating for you.
One word. Cops.
I’m not saying I speed, or take U-turns, or drive on the sidewalk when cars won’t move. I will say, however, that people are known to attempt any and all means to get themselves out of the car just a little bit sooner, and cops are waiting to catch you.
By ‘cops’ I include meter maids, and here’s the real clincher. If your office doesn’t have parking (and many do not) suddenly it’s your responsibility to either guard a meter with your life, move your car from one parking zone to another to remain within their 2-hour limit, or pay for parking in a parking garage. Note: parking in parking garages is an excellent way to get things stolen out of your car. Why? Because all the cops are out on the street, writing tickets to U-turners and people who didn’t put their seatbelts on because they were mad at their boss and just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.
Cars are awesome. Commuting is horrible.
The number-one reason I hate commuting is that it takes something that should be glorious – driving – and makes it dirty and evil and just wrong. Forcing an activity automatically makes it cruel and unjust. It sullies it forever. I couldn’t even LOOK at my car for hours after a commute. The poor guy was wondering what on earth it had done wrong (this was before Billy Markham, this particular car was named Sparky, and he was on loan from an ex-boyfriend).
“Why?” he seemed to say. “Why have you forsaken me? Did we not used to take curves too fast and parallel park in impossibly small spaces and race truck drivers through Nevada together? Why did you drag me through two hours of stop-and-go traffic with other, inferior cars and their masters and then abandon me here on the curb, keening over my own inadequately exercised pistons? Why would you do that to me?”
And I had to turn my head away in shame. We all did what we had to do. Those were hard times, before freelancing. I wasn’t good to that car, and I wasn’t proud of it, but it was the job I had, and nobody had told me yet that there were better ways to live. I’m sorry, Sparky. Maybe one day you can forgive me.
Billy Markham never had to commute. It’s why he loves me, why he’s joyous and free and never gazes off into the distance looking depressed and resigned, the way Sparky did. It’s why he got a surname, too, because that’s the other evil of commuting. Sparky never had a surname because there was no chance he’d ever pass it on. You can’t propogate the species sitting in gridlock. Commuting will be the death of us all.
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