Friday, July 15, 2011

Highway Blues

I miss the train.

Not literally today (although I certainly have done that in the past). Maybe more correctly, I miss the person I am when I commute by train.

Because the train made me a much nicer human being. I'd arrive at work after a half-hour of precious me-time, time that I spent reading or writing or people-watching or even creating: menus, handwork, to-do lists, short-story ideas. Occasionally I'd chat with a co-worker or even a stranger...you never know what might happen on the train.

But now I find myself dallying in the mornings, dreading the traffic clog that I know will await me at the turnpike entrance or exit, the endless jockeying for position between the semis and the SUVs and there's always some Mercedes/BMW/Jaguar driven by a fellow with an enormous ego who doesn't want to wait in line--he is, you know, more important than any of us grunts--and zips ahead, unconcerned about the college student in the dented hatchback he has pushed into the ditch. There's aggression and pointless horn-blowing (buddy, where are we supposed to go? All the toll booths are full up!).

It's gotten so that first thing, when a nurse coworker asks me, "What's up, Doc?" I have to answer with "my blood pressure" or "my stress level."

I've tried to mitigate the aggravation with books on CD--it's the only reading time I usually get and a way to make the 45 min+ drive feel like a little less of a waste of time--but that works only so far. It doesn't prevent other drivers from acting like jerks or the turnpike commission from shutting down a tollbooth during the morning rush.

I admit, the train isn't perfect either--having ridden the precise, spotless Swiss trains I am amused by what Septa refers to as its "on-time performance" give or take 10 minutes. Or how dreary the allegedly "new model passenger cars" appear. I can certainly point to times where we sat on the track in North Philly because of an accident further down the line, or the time we spent 45 minutes underground at Suburban Station and some riders became panicky and claustrophobic. But I could remain calm and immerse myself further into my book, my thoughts. I could tune out and not worry about having an accident--someone else could have the stress.

A co-worker who travels a similar route suggested that I try to drive the highways earlier in the day; he finds there is hardly any traffic when he travels at 6 AM. Which is lovely for him: he wouldn't have to rise at 5 AM and attempt to put makeup on eyes that are still closed. He's not falling into bed at midnight because a teen son needs a ride home from a friend's house, bills need to be paid, the last-minute supplies for a project have to be bought, and the ingredients for the next supper are getting prepped...

So I can start cooking when I get home after six and maybe we can eat before eight.

There's got to be a better way.

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