Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Commuting [is] for Dummies

In my twenties, I moved around a bit. My first move, I moved 5,126 miles, from New York City to Chile. Then, I moved 7,246, from Chile to London. But by far the scariest move I ever made was the 12 miles from Manhattan to the New Jersey suburbs. Suburban life is all about trade offs, and many of them were terrifying, but ultimately rewarding for me. But one trade off that still smarts is the c-word. The commute.

So for those working city moms dreaming about play basements, backyard bbqs and free, fantastic schools, let me lay this out for you as best I can. Here is the truth about transit.

The Good:

- Ask any working mom about personal time and you will hear a low, scary cackle begin to form in her throat. It's hard to come by. But the commute can be a great escape - consider it Forced Relaxation. Read your mags, catalogs, play a little scrabble, you name it. Go to sleep. Goof off. Enjoy your coffee.

- Time, personal or otherwise, is precious and the train or bus provides nice, 40 minute chunks of it. You can also be incredibly productive with work work or home work while commuting if you can't bear to relax.

- It's greener than driving yourself.

- There's a unspoken solidarity amongst commuters. You all have to suffer through the snow days and signal failures. And whether you realize it or not, all those peeps are your neighbors so perk up!

- There are really cool, interesting, challenging jobs in the Big Smoke. And there are beautiful places to live in the suburbs. Commuting lets you have both. Amazing! Fantastic!

The Bad

- Mother Nature. Rain, wind, sleet or snow, you still have to go to work. But you will not, I promise you, get there on time. You will get there after shovelling your driveway, slipping, falling and cursing to the station, and waiting through extended delays in 2 degree weather with ice boogers in your nose.

- The Lunar Calendar. Thanks to daylight savings you will be doing all or part of this commute, for half the year, in the dark. And in your really cool black city outfit, you will be completely invisible to motorists, unless, of course, it's snowing again.

- The bookends. It's not just the train, or the bus, but getting to the train and the bus, and then getting to your office. Forget about in arriving in those new platform heels, mommy - because you'll be rocking flip flops for 9 months of the year.

- The Buzz Kills. Not that there is a euphoria to commuting but there are always those folks who just make it worse. You will identify them for yourself, but for me it is these guys: the ones who sit on the aisle with their bag in the center seat who make you ask if you can sit there, then roll their eyes, pick up their bag, stand, step aside, so YOU can sit in the middle, instead of scooting over and letting you sit down. Also, smelly people (includes coffee breath), drunk people and people who berate their girlfriends/dump people on their cellphones at 7AM.

- The schedule. Again, "Time" makes the bad list. No matter where you choose to live, it is unlikely that you will have train service running every 15 minutes throughout rush hour. No, you will have about 4 options inbound and outbound, which means you will spend a lot of your morning and evenings, hustling, I mean hustling, to make your train. It's about as fun as it sounds.

- Delays. As if the limited schedule was not bad enough, whether you are driving, busing or taking the train, delays are inevitable. If you are really unlucky you will get to spend this extra unplanned time in beautiful Port Authority or Penn Station. The clevercommute will fill your email with warnings so you can alert your partner, nanny, kids, boss that you will not be where you are supposed to be at the intended time.

- Driving. Driving is good if you go off peak - no traffic, reasonable parking rates. But by off peak I mean 6 AM in and 9 PM out. Otherwise, be prepared to remain in first and second gear for an hour, not look at your blackberry, get car sick anyway, pay an astronomical toll and then an even bigger parking fee. Oh yeah, and gas.

- The Drunk Train. Work dinner? Long, overdue catch up with old friends? Have a blast! But if you don't feel like spending $70 on a ride home too, be prepared to catch the 11:12 with a whole bunch of people who partied more than you. If you manage to stay awake and get off at your stop, you still have to get home, alone, late at night, in the dark.

The Ugly

-Squandering your most precious resource. This is the true calamity of commuting. No matter how much relaxing, emailing, texting, reading or planning you do during your commute, for working moms caught between trying to succeed at the office and be an engaged parent and spouse, commuting time is a black hole of 2 - 4 hours a day that are not furthering your career or making you a better parent. Because it's all about being present, and you can't be present when you are on the train. It's just a fact. And it sucks.

I don't know any moms who like commuting, although I know a few who don't seem to mind it. If you're out there - let us know how you do it. Me and all the other moms who want it all - or at least of lot of both - would like to know.

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