Are you more familiar with the little trees hanging from your rear-view mirror than the trees in your own yard?
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that in 2018 the average American commute grew to a record high of just over 27 minutes — one way.
(In a related story, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the follow-up survey question: “And of those 27 minutes, approximately how many of them did you spend fiddling with the radio dial, adjusting the air conditioner or...um... existing as an undocumented immigrant?”)
Since 1980, we’ve added nearly an hour a week to our commutes. We’re driving well over nine full calendar days a year just for the privilege of participating in the daily grind. 4.3 million workers have one-way commutes of 90 minutes or more!
Instead of asking, “What’s for dinner?” young commuting couples now focus on their hoped-for reunion by making a morning ritual of inquiring, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”
One cause of the soul-stealing long commutes is that new housing is not being built fast enough in metropolitan areas. Workers seeking the American Dream must relocate to spread-out suburbs and exurban areas, where homes are somewhat more affordable. (One Denver area man sheepishly commented, “I get the evil eye from my co-workers, because human resources instituted mandatory Mandarin classes after I started driving in from that island built by China.”)
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Aging infrastructure is another factor in unacceptable commute times. Many cities have delayed necessary spending on roads, bridges and public transit even as populations soared. (“Darn! That can the city council kicked down the road is moving faster than we are!”)
Certain special-interest groups may have undue influence on road projects. (“Voters, just for fun, why don’t we convert all our cloverleafs into marijuana leaves?”)
Perhaps infrastructure dollars for reducing traffic congestion will free up after the cities have fully funded the new unicycle-only and human-wheelbarrow-race-only lanes.
Long commutes can be made more bearable with audiobooks, satellite radio or Carpool Karaoke (if not its cousin, Carpool Name That Bodily Odor); but if you like getting lost in Deep Thoughts during mundane activities, gardening is a much safer activity than driving. (“Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What is the purpose of those Jaws of Life those sobbing strangers are bringing toward me?”)
Retirees may think they are immune to the problems because they’re no longer in the rat race; but if they visit a store, office or eatery, they must deal with the pent-up road rage of the employees. Imagine being the patient of a suburban doctor who has spent an hour encountering rude motorists. (“Oh, so you sprained your middle finger, did you? Set it? No, I think I’ll amputate it. As Hippocrates said, ‘First, do no obscene gestures...’”)
Work-from-home telecommuting is relieving some of the pressure, but society still needs to take the effects of driving drudgery seriously. Research shows that long commutes can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, higher divorce rates, emotionally troubled children, worker absenteeism, lost productivity, job turnover and wasted fuel.
At least I think that’s what the research says. The report is in Mandarin and our human resources director was last seen near an underpass in a different time zone, trying to flag down a human wheelbarrow.
Danny Tyree welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.