Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Biggest Failure of Mankind: The Daily Commute

Driving through the snow this morning on a jam-packed freeway going about two miles an hour I got to thinking:  Why in the realm of universal possibilities is it that people have decided to arrange a society that makes it necessary to do this every day?  In hundreds of cities in countires all around the world you see the same thing.  I mean seriously, is this the best manifestation of the potential for structuring our lives?

How long has it really been like this?  I mean, sure there are telecommuters and people that can walk to work either because they’ve refused to settle for a job that was too far away from their home or have refused to settle for a home too far away from their job, but the numbers still aren't significant to allow us a smooth, unfettered, stress-free drive to work.  Despite all the engineering, lane widening, car pool lanes, spurs, and loops, in every major city every single morning it's the same damn thing!  We've had freeway systems now for what fifty, sixty years, and still no one has yet been able to figure it out!  I guess it’s just another one of those things that becomes unquestioned based on the fact that it's been routine for so long.  Routine does a strange thing to the human mind, I think.  Eventually, routine dulls your curiosity and numbs your natural inquisitiveness.  You just accept, without thinking about the method by which something is done as a result of just repetitively doing it every day.  Every once in a while, you do have that “what in the hell am I doing” flash of brilliance, but inevitably it fades all too quickly.  I participated in a no car day last spring I think it was, but that token joke of an attempt at social awareness didn't really seem to do much but give corporations an excuse to advertise on the T-shirts they silk screened specifically for the event.    

I suppose with all my indignant complaining, I could just as easily ride the train, except for the fact that I wouldn’t be able to make it to my other job on time.  If there was a train that went from Orchard Station out to the location of my second job, then I would be all over it.  But unfortunately, that’s not the case and I’ve been unable to work out a solution that would make it feasible--another failure of the transportation planning in this city.  If I had my way, every major urban area would have dedicated train lines going from the periphery to the center so that any two points within a 25 mile radius could be reached in 15 minutes or less.  I’ve gone over the logic several times in my mind about dedicating my commute to the existing Denver Light Rail:  Maybe if I took the train to work, I wouldn’t need a car, thus also removing the necessity to have the second job with all the money I could be saving.  Of course, then I say to myself it’s not just commuting to work that I use my car for.  

I begin to realize all the things I take for granted about my ride:  the opportunity of a summer road trip or drives to the mountains surely make up for the slight inconvenience of the additional (not really even) eight extra hours I work a week.  Also, there are all the little things like not having to reduce the amount of stuff I buy at the grocery store because I know I have a reliable transporter at the ready to carry a month's worth of food.  Or I can relish the ability to go out to a nice restaurant without having to plan a route, find the times, get on the bus, and take an hour to get there.  But for all that,  today I seriously entertained the notion of pulling my car onto the shoulder and just walking down to the next exit and getting a taxi to work, never to return to my commuter ways.  As it goes now, if after I die someone were to do a statisical analysis of the percentage of time I spent doing things, driving in traffic will probably be in the top ten, maybe even five.  God what a depressing thought!