Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Reflections on Commuting

I had to notice this Slate piece called, bluntly, Your Commute Is Killing You.

I had to notice, because it happens that I have a reasonably lengthy commute myself, and have sometimes wondered about how awesome that really is. Not very, I have sometimes suspected.

I live about 10 miles from where I work, but it takes me on average an hour and 10 or an hour and 15 minutes to get there, through a combination of walking and taking the train.

In case you wondered, it would certainly take nearly that long to drive, too, plus the additional joys of parking fees and sitting in traffic seething about the precious gasoline that's being quietly burned up to move a couple of feet in a minute. I drove to work for a while years ago and it was maddening. Never again!

I'm not worried about the fact that I take the train. I love the train. At least I can read and not think about traffic. Public transportation! Yay! Woooo! Etc.

Seriously. Public transportation is key. Please use my tax dollars to fund it. Thank you.

Nevertheless, even loving the train, the sheer amount of time I spend getting to and from work is kind of daunting to think about. I mean, that's close to 12 hours a week in travel time. Well over an entire workday. Spent not working, but not not-working. Just getting from place to place.

I'm on salary, but I worked out the hourly rate once, based on my official 8:30-5:00 workday, and it's OK. And then I factored in 2 to 2 1/2 hours per day of commute--which is time that essentially does belong to work, even though I'm not actually accomplishing anything work-related, since I'm also not using it for anything productive in a non-work sense--and that was kind of depressing.

So depressing, in fact, that I immediately forgot it, and am afraid to figure it out again lest I be plunged into despair. All I remember is that apparently it takes better than a librarian's salary to make a 11-hour workday look like a really good deal on an hourly basis.

Especially because I just read this story in the free daily paper--which I now realize is all I can afford on a librarian's salary--saying that the average starting salary for a new college graduate is $50,462 (the figure is in the sidebar). Now I'm going to confess a perhaps shameful secret, given that it's just not nice to talk about money, and divulge that this is only about $1,000 less than I'm making right now, and I've been out of college for 12 years.

So if you want, you can work out my hourly wage yourself, but don't tell me, because I probably don't want to hear about it.

What are new college graduates doing? I don't know. Not studying to become librarians, if they know what's good for them.

Anyway, whatever, I'm not worried about that either. I'll make the big bucks some other way, perhaps with my brilliant novels or my truly excellent cocaine. Or, more to the point, I make big enough bucks to afford housing, food and video games, so I'm good. It's not about the money. And that money is plenty good compared to what plenty of people live on.

But the time, you know. All that time, hundreds of hours a year spent just going from home to work and back. I don't know if I actually even recommend you read that article, because it may just depress you.

Some notes from the piece:

Couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce. 
...every 10 minutes spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer "social connections." in three workers with a 90-minute daily commute has recurrent neck or back problems.

When we spend more time commuting, we spend less time exercising and fixing ourselves meals at home.

Fun, right?

Now I like to put a positive spin on my commute, because I like to not be overwhelmed with the desire to curl up and weep for days, so I think happy thoughts.

For example, my commute involves walking about 15 minutes to the train station, riding the train for about half an hour, and walking for about 15 minutes to work. (The additional 5 to 10 minutes usually come from waiting for or on the train.) That means I'm out and walking for about an hour a day, in 15-minute chunks, and that's good for accumulating some exercise, which all the health-interested people say you should do.

I like getting out and walking, and it's way too easy not to leave the house at all on weekends, what with the video games, or to leave only to get in the car and drive to visit someone (because none of our friends live within walking distance), so it's kind of a good thing I have a commute to get me out and moving around on a regular basis.

Plus, that half an hour each way on the train is nice quiet time to sit (or stand) and read a book. I don't have as much time to read books as I used to, what with the video games and the internet, so it's nice to have some time where there's really nothing else going on and I can delve into that novel I borrowed from the public library. (Public libraries are key. Please use my tax dollars to fund them. Thank you.)

So my commute is not all bad. Not as bad as if I were just getting in the car and driving/sitting in traffic for an hour and 10 minutes. If that's what you're doing, I'm sorry. I guess you can still listen to music or audiobooks, though?

The article talks about how a lot of people make the trade between a larger house and one closer to work, so you basically pay with time for a bigger house farther away from work, but that's not necessarily what's going on for me. Sadly, my gracious spouse and I currently live about midway between our two workplaces, so moving closer for one of us would just make things worse for the other.

We did not play that right, it turns out.

Still, I can think positively that my personal commute is not actively killing me. It gives me exercise and reading time! It's totally awesome!

Around 24 full days a year of awesome.

My best commute ever was the summer in college that I stayed and worked on campus. I stayed in on-campus housing and was about a block from work. It will probably never get better than that.

I've decided you just have to think of the commute time as accomplishing something in addition to travel. Otherwise, you might as well curl up and weep for days.


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