Thursday, June 07, 2007

Commuted Sentence

After more than a full decade enjoying the convenience of walking to work, I find myself once again piloting an automobile back and forth daily. My commute is not terrible when compared to averages calculated by the Census Bureau, but it sucks nevertheless.

I live less than five miles from where I work "as the crow flies." Were I Carlos Castaneda I could grow wings on the sides of my skull and be at the office in no time. Of course the ingestion of massive doses of mescalin would render any curricula written a bit wonky.

How long does it take me to get to work? If I leave the house before 6am I can get to work in 20 minutes. If I leave after 6am I can get to work in 30 minutes. I travel against the grain of heavy traffic jamming into the City each morning from points north, but nevertheless once I get off the highway it's start and stop.

Driving home is the worst. It takes between 10 and 20 minutes simply to get out of Towson. There are several possible routes to I-83, or to the Beltway, and none of them are quick. I must run a gauntlet lined with many traffic signals before achieving the highway, and often end up sitting at a couple intersections for two or three full cycles because there are simply too many cars for the roads. This is especially true when Towson University is in full swing with its 10,000 student commuters and its 12,000 resident students. So in order to minimize my time commuting, I drive north out of Towson to the Beltway, adding a few miles to the drive home. At least this way I'm moving rather than sitting and stopping. If I leave work by 2:30 I can get home in 25-30 minutes. If I leave work at 3 the time jumps to 30-40 minutes. If I leave work later than 3:30 the commute can take 45 minutes to an hour. If there's an accident or water main break? Fuhggetabouddit.

An hour. 5 miles. Ridiculous. And there are no public transportation options for me. The Metro goes nowhere near were I need it to go. The Light Rail misses Towson entirely. The MTA bus? I could ride it from my house over to Charles Village and up to Towson, but that's an hour and a half trip one-way. And the bus experience is often Dante-esque.

Needless to say I've taken advantage of the flexible work schedule they offer at my office. I leave home just after 5:30am in order to minimize the amount of time spent sitting in a car. I still spend five hours a week in the car commuting to and from work. Five hours a week I could spend doing anything else. In my early 20s I spent more than ten hours a week commuting, so I know it can be worse. Yo! Adrienne commutes from Reservoir Hill to DC daily, which is a nightmarish journey by car, and is barely palatable by train. She has to drive to the train station, ride the train, and then walk more than a mile upon arrival. Were she to drive it would take her 3 hours each way at rush hour. I know, because I used to drive to DC for monthly meetings. If you don't get to 495 before 7am you are FUCKED. Even taking advantage of the train Yo! Adrienne spends 3 hours commuting a day. At least riding the train you can read, or knit, or meditate, or ingest massive doses of mescalin.

There are no less than four police and media traffic 'copters flying over my neighborhood every evening, recording what everyone already knows: our automobile/road system is a nightmarish failure that sucks our souls dry, and the situation gets worse yearly. Currently there is a major construction project in the heart of Towson which is likely to cram thousands more residents into an already overtaxed suburban road system. There already is insufficent parking for all the students and residents and business patrons and employees.

I've not even touched on the idiocy I encounter daily on the roadways. Nobody knows how to drive but me. Everyone who goes faster than I do is insane, and everyone who goes slower is an idiot. Nobody uses signals to change lanes or make turns. Etc, etc. Every driver zigs madly back and forth, and is engaged in a phone conversation, holding the handset with one hand and gesticulating wildly with the other while applying makeup and steering with the knees. You see if yourself every day.

I could bike to work were it not for such people. I know an SUV piloted by some overpriviliged Roland Park teen barely out of driving school would smoosh me. That dorky bike helmet would make no difference.

The sad thing is, I could do my job at home. There is no reason for me to drive here daily. I could come to the office once a week and have no problem meeting my deadlines. That would save me hours of wasted time, about $80 per month in wasted fossil fuels, and would make me much more productive than I already am.

I plan to suggest this option to my boss soon. Because I don't see any grand plan--any "Apollo" mission--to build a sensible public transportation system that would make our lives easier, and perhaps go a long way towards saving planet Earth for all the wee bairns to enjoy decades from now.


Heather said...

Yes, I agree, especially with the idea that I am the only person on the road who knows how to drive. If it weren't for my commute, I think that most of my anger issues and anxiety would disappear. I leave home in Hamilton at 6:30 and get to UMBC at 7. I leave UMBC at 4:15 and get home at 5:00 during the summer and 5:15-5:30 during the school year. It's a 16-mile commute, one way. If I were to take the MTA bus, it would literally take 4 hours each way.

ellen cherry said...

Shaun (or as he is known to the material world as "#1 Band B****") was driving from our house in Parkville to Reston, VA, last summer. A roundtrip, hellish commute of usually 4 hours per day. He regularly got stuck on 295 after having jumped off gridlocked Northbound 95 and would begin leaving the house at 4:30AM just to avoid *some* of the traffic. I've never seen a young man look so old before. Now he's working in Towson, a mere 15 minutes away and part of the decision to switch jobs was that he was spending so much money on gas, but more importantly, he was adding 20 hours to his work week. Insane. After trying to help him ease this commute by letting him go to bed at 8PM to be prepared, it just seemed insane. There was no life outside the commute! So we sympathize. I hope your plan to work at home (maybe even just starting with 3 days a week at home would work for your boss? there's no reason why you couldn't tele commute) eases the stress and burden. I think it seriously is a situation that therapists are going to have to come up with a new term for.....besides road rage...because so many of us just completely internalize it.

sorry for the long post. duh.

geoff said...


I'm amazed you can do a 16-mile commute in this area in under an hour, even over the summer. It's bullshit. They should let you catalog from home, but I assume you have desk duties too?


Band Bitch's is a nightmare scenario. I'm glad he got a new gig because that's simply throwing a huge chunk of life away.

My stepdad used to commute from Red Lion PA down to near BWI. Two hours each way! I used to commute from Philadelphia to Baltimore and from Red Lion to Baltimore routinely. UGH. Sometimes I would sit on I-95 for two hours without moving. Terrible. Far too many people spend 2 hours or more sitting in cars daily.

I'm amazed it only takes him 15 minutes from Parkton to Towson. I lived up there when I was a teen (went to Hereford High, yee haw) and it typically took 20 minutes just to get to Hunt Valley from Middletown Road. In traffic it could take longer.

Long posts are awesome!

alicia said...

Hey, back in the day I used to haul my poor little car (smoking and hurling, I didn't fully understand the importance of oil changes til years later) from Downtown Frederick to Baltimore every work day. Then on the weekend I'd take the bus to NYC to see John then take the bus sometime VERY late on Sunday, get into Baltimore Travel Plaza (Oh too many memories) drive back in the middle of the night (oh, don't forget the $1 Fort McHenry Tunnel which was strategically located just after the bus station) then barely keep myself awake for the little over an hour ride back to Frederick, where I'd have to wake up early just to drive to Baltimore again. Actually I-70 for the most part was ok, it was the traffic in the cities that always got me. But I often thought about how much of my life was driving on I-70. It was a lot of wear and tear on me and my car. Back when I had the poor car that hadn't seen fresh oil in years, and whose brakes went out on me (not only were there no brakes, I had ground down the discs that hold the brake pads.) In it's last dying days it would also make tremendous banging noises, and it wouldn't run unless I continually gave it gas...which made for interesting scenarios at red lights. I knew my car was bad when I would finally make it to the parking garage across the street from my work and the poor garage guy would watch as I drove up each floor looking for a space...and since my car was so loud it would set off all the car alarms. You knew what floor I parked on based on the sound of the car alarms. The poor guy, he was always just sitting in the booth trying to read a book...I don't know he thought of me. BUT he was probably happier then I was when I finally made the plunge and bought a new car (which I still own today). I'll never forget his face, I drove up and showed him my parking pass and he had a big smile on his face and said, "Now, that's a good car." :)

geoff said...

That's horrible. I used to put more than 40,000 miles on my car per year. The first year I had my little Geo Metro I put 42,000 miles on it. When I sold it seven years later it had 46,000 miles on it. Walking to work made that much difference.

alicia said...

My car has over 160,000 miles on it, I bought it when it had 11 miles on it. I put the majority of the miles on it from the Frederick to Baltimore to Frederick commute the first couple years. Now that we live in NYC and can walk or take the subway anywhere we only drive it back to Baltimore. It's really mindblowing the mileage you can put on. I think when I moved up here in 2002 it had nearly 150,000 miles...

geoff said...

When we lived in Red Lion on the farm I went to Loyola College and worked in Hunt Valley. I'd get up at 5:30 and leave before 6 to get to Loyola early because they had two parking spaces for commuters and I had to get there by 7 to get one. Then I'd work until 11 at night and drive home.

While doing that back-and-forth I put 35,000 miles per year on my cars. Crazy. Occasionally I'd drive to OC or the Poconos, but mostly that mileage came from the daily commute.

Those Saturns last a long time. My friend had one for 9 years, but didn't have the kind of mileage on his that you have.

March said...

Go to the library and get a copy of "Baltimore's Streetcars." The endpapers are a map of the old Baltimore trolly system, in use up to the early 1960s, which went everywhere in the city. Like Los Angeles' excellent transportation system, it had to be ripped up in the name of progress, urban renewal, and the automobile. Read it and weep. (Now, in Atlanta, which has the worst traffic I've ever seen, I live 4 minutes from work...a luxury I have never had in my life).

I suggest you get an ipod and download books-on-tape onto it. "the Devil In The White City" kept me company for many hours on I-75 in Florida.

geoff said...

At the intersection of Madison Ave and Druid Park Lake Drive, just a couple blocks north from our house, is an old trolley station, now home to some mysterious business which never opens. The trolley rails are still in the road, and once were buried beneath asphalt, but now poke out just inside the arched entry to the park, as if to taunt passing drivers by ruining their automotive suspension system and tires.