The soul of the commuter.

Nick Paumgarten’s article on commuting from a recent issue of The New Yorker is stunning. I guess y’all who live in Northern Virginia probably regard the article as blandly obvious, but to those of us who live far from metro areas (and, in my case, telecommute) find the idea of a three-hour round trip commute absolutely soul-sucking. This piece sums up so much of what’s wrong with the state of urban planning. (Via Kottke)

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

13 replies on “The soul of the commuter.”

  1. My husband and I moved 800 miles to stop our commuting nightmare. He was driving 50 miles each way to work and I spent 2.5 hours a day driving back and forth (and dropping off and picking up kids). We commuted the long distances for a combined total of nine years. I refuse to do the math to see what we lost in time with our children and with one another.

    The move to Charlottesville cut my husband’s commute down to a leisurely 10 minute drive. I telecommute. Life is good.

  2. My girlfriend and I are moving 3.5 miles to be closer to the Vienna Metro. This will save her close to 45 minutes to an hour in her commute. All I know is that in a couple of years, we’re looking to move to Charlottesville or Fredericksburg…We can’t wait.

  3. I love my (tele)commute: walk downstairs to kitchen, make coffee, cross hallway to office, work until lunchtime in my PJs… [grin]

    When I worked on O. Hill (at NRAO), I lived on Lewis Mountain Road for four years. After two years in one house, I moved three houses down the street–closer to work–and lived there for two more years. ’twas an easy stroll across UVa parking lots and up through a thicket to my office.

    I did a NorCal commute (Willow Glen to northern Santa Clara) during the late-90’s boom. It sucked. My 10-mile commute went from ~30 minutes to ~45 minutes in a bit over a year–as the boom was peaking. Never again…

    I drive so little nowadays I have to change my oil yearly because, well, I realized it’s been a year since I last changed my oil! (My 1995 Subaru finally broke 100,000 miles, much of which was racked up driving back and forth across the US a few times and then commuting in NorCal.)

  4. My husband was an “extreme commuter” when we lived in Northern Virginia. It was awful in so many ways. I was a stay-at-home mom, so basically one of us was sacrificing every free moment of his life so the other one could raise the kids. Nuts.

    Now we live in Charlottesville and he works for a company in Phoenix via telecommuting and occasional trips to the home office. I would never go back to commuting if it could possibly be helped.

    We still have two cars but one of them sits in the drive most of the time. So nice not to have to worry about a car payment. Or two.

    International business travel must be becoming more and more common. Just this spring my husband, father, and brother-in-law will all travel to Asia for their companies. Not something I would have foreseen just a few years ago.

  5. What Jim E-H said. Some of us who live in metro areas actually live close to our work (my commute is two Metro stops or a 35-minute walk, but lately I’ve mostly been telecommuting), and some of us live in the city so we can walk to the grocery, drugstore, post office, movie theater, restaurants, bars, shops, and so on. Having to drive everywhere is soul-sucking even if there’s not insane traffic.

  6. Certainly, there’s no beating living right in the city, in terms of travel time. By any metric, there are few parts of the nation with a smaller per-capita carbon footprint than New York City. There’s a reason for that. :)

  7. This article is basically about how people are increasingly exchanging daily well-being and personal happiness for material gain — and the first thing I thought when I read it was, “wow, that’s the exact opposite of what I’m doing…” I have, depending on how you count them, somewhere between 3 and 5 jobs right now, and I’m grossly undercompensated for all of them; but I don’t really mind, because I really enjoy my daily life; I love all the work I do, and money is much less important to me than living well.

    Anyhow, my point is that, of my 4-odd jobs, all of them are basically within walking distance of my house. Two of them are less than one block away from each other. One is perhaps more within biking distance than proper walking distance… which is why I’m re-learning to ride a bike. During the summer months, I really only use my car to go swimming in the afternoons.

  8. Dang — I was going to do a post about this article but you beat me to it, Waldo.

    The takeaway phrase in the article is the real estate principle, “Drive until you qualify.” In Northern Virginia, it’s set up this vicious cycle: Congestion is so terrible that purchasers are willing to pay a huge premium to live close in (like, say, in Arlington). This drives close-in prices through the roof, forcing people in search of affordable housing further and further out, making the commute even worse, making close-in housing even more desirable, and so on, and so on . . .

  9. That’s the trap we were stuck in, Bob. The house we could afford was 50 miles west of DC. No way could we have afforded a similar house closer in. And it wouldn’t have made any difference, since my husband didn’t work at the same location for more than 2 years at a time anyway.

    I knew of people who commuted daily from Front Royal to DC. I don’t see how that could be worth it.

  10. People I knew regularly commuted from Sacramento to the bay area in SF, Oakland, etc.

    2 hours each way in good traffic, and it was never good from Alameda to the bay Bridge.

    I always preferred to live close to work. In Sacramento, I lived only a few blocks from work.

  11. When we lived in Takoma Park, MD my husband worked in an office out near Dulles Airport. It’s a distance of around 37 miles. His commute in to the office wasn’t too bad (considering the distance), about 45 minutes. The commute home was a different story. It wasn’t at all unusual for his drive home to take 2-3 hours. By the time he would get home he was so depleted and miserable from his drive that he couldn’t even enjoy his family or leisure time. We lived like this for about 4 years and then gave up. We moved back to Richmond and he now telecommutes. It’s amazing what a difference this has made in our quality of life. I wouldn’t live in the DC area again for anything. I don’t even like to visit. :-)

Comments are closed.