Rogue Ink

May 27, 2008

Commuting is the Mind-Killer

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

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.

Subscribe. Join the non-commuting revolution.



  1. Have you read the Ben Elton book “Gridlock”? It is so effing funny (of course, like everything else he writes) and then you realise that he’s secretly talking about how the whole cars/oil thing is making our lives horrible (as you so accurately describe) when it was supposed to make it easier ie you didn’t to saddle up yer horse every morning.

    I decided that paying extra for rent somewhere closer to work is worth the freedom of not driving/owning a car.

    Comment by Sunili — May 27, 2008 @ 6:07 am | Reply

  2. I avoided the angry drive by walking everywhere. And I mean forty-five minutes to get to work. It used to drive me nuts taking so long to get somewhere but it was worth it. Now that I have a car, I work from home. Huh. But it does keep the car and me happy!

    Comment by steph — May 27, 2008 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  3. I hear ya.

    I drive 10 mins to the train. Park 6-10 blocks away. Walk to the train. Wait. Fight for a seat (preferably not btw two large people). Ride for 25-30 mins. Climb four flights of stairs. Walk 15 mins. to work. Rain, sleet, or shine. The ticket is $160 a month too.

    Commuting sucks no matter what the circumstances.

    Comment by Nicole — May 27, 2008 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  4. I recently got transferred…I’m now working in the Administrative Offices of the Widget Factory, right here in town.

    From my house, it’s a seven minute WALK to work. I can almost (but not quite) see my house from where I work.

    In terms of stress reduction, I think this alone is the equivalent of a $15,000 pay raise.

    (But don’t tell my boss I said that!)

    But before anyone gets too jealous, I dont’ know how long this will last (They’re constantly shuffling us around here). It could change next month.

    Plus I’ve paid my dues. Not to long ago, I used to commute 40-90 minutes each way, depending on traffic.

    Comment by Friar — May 27, 2008 @ 8:41 pm | Reply

  5. The “Guess Who” expressed it eloquently:

    Get up in the mornin’ get on the bus
    Get up in the mornin’ like the rest of us
    Places to go, important people to meet
    Better not get up or you might lose your seat
    Bus Rider

    Leave the house at six o’clock to be on time
    Leave the wife and kids at home to make a dime
    Grab your lunch pail check for mail in your slot
    You won’t get your cheque if you don’t punch the clock
    Bus Rider

    Grab the evenin’ paper and sit down in your chair
    Grab yourself a toupe, cause you’re losing’ your hair
    Doesn’t matter what you do you’ve nothin’ to lose
    I’m so awful goddamn glad I’m not in your shoes
    Bus Rider

    Comment by Friar — May 27, 2008 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

  6. The only thing that made my 40-minute commute bearable in my Old Life was knowing I was going against the bulk of traffic each way. I lived in the city and worked in the suburbs, so every morning I’d sail out of town on practically empty highway watching all those poor souls crawling–CRAWLING–the other way. And every morning I’d think to myself, “Those people do that every day.” Going home, the same in reverse: Me sailing home, them inching along.

    It was still a long drive. Glad I wasn’t doing it at ~$4/gal.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — May 27, 2008 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  7. I kinda don’t mind commuting. It gives me an excuse to read for two hours every day.

    Of course, I commute by train. If I commuted by car, I’d want to kill myself.

    Comment by Elizabeth — May 28, 2008 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  8. @Elizabeth

    Even though I walk to work, sometimes I still want to kill myself!

    (Hmmm…note to self: Mabye I need to look into finding another job!)

    Try about $5.20 a gallon (that’s what it’s going for in Canada right now!)

    Comment by Friar — May 28, 2008 @ 2:37 am | Reply

  9. You have hit a tender spot here – the entire morning preparation and commute schedule for an office drone is counter-productive and soul destroying.

    In full: wake up stupidly early, attempt to put together a vaguely fashionable ‘office’ ensemble using clothes that are clean and ironed, give up because you can’t think this early and resort to all black outfit, shower, hair, makeup, stockings (hate), heeled shoes (HATE, HATE), drive to train station, climb stairs in heeled shoes (MORE HATE), wait for train that is cancelled and then have to go over to other platform (ARGH THESE GOD DAMN SHOES), stand on train pressed in between smelly blokes (it’s the MORNING for god’s sake, didn’t you JUST SHOWER?!?), arrive at crowded city station, move with crowd (trying to take a different path leads to stomped, hateful shoes), walk from station to work, arrive at work feeling like you already worked a day and want to go home.


    Every day of office work hones my determination to become a full-time freelancer so I need never do this again.

    Comment by Rebecca Leigh — May 28, 2008 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  10. @ Friar – $5.85 a gallon where I live, and that’s if you shop for the best price.

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — May 28, 2008 @ 12:53 pm | Reply

  11. Oh, and in my past life, my corporate job was a three to five hour round-trip commute. I will never do that again in my life. Ever. EVER.

    Comment by James Chartrand - Men with Pens — May 28, 2008 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

  12. Sunili: I know. My rent is probably a third again what it was back then, but my house is bigger and my expenses are the same since I walk everywhere.

    Steph: Walkers rule.

    Nicole: That is a damn expensive train ticket. You should pull a Charlie.

    Friar: I heart you and your lyrics.

    Elizabeth: Ah, but in the train, you are not in control of your own destiny. That was always my theory about the car. I hate planes for this reason, too. I prefer a cross-country road trip to an eight-hour flight.

    Matt: We HATE you people. We HATE you. We sit there in our cars and SEETHE. Or we did. I’m a reformed commuter.

    Rebecca: Do it. There are SO MANY REASONS. Join us!

    James: Oh. Sweet. Monkeybiscuit. That sounds like hell in therapy.

    Comment by Tei — May 28, 2008 @ 4:50 pm | Reply

  13. @Tei Aw, Tei, don’t be hatin’. Besides, that was my old life. I work from home now, too. 🙂

    @Rebecca What will you do TODAY to make that happen? Find one thing–just one–to do today, and do it. Tomorrow, do another one. Before you know it… 🙂

    Comment by Matt Tuley — May 28, 2008 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

  14. IBM agress: Commuting sucks.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — May 30, 2008 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

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